The Story of Inyo

“The Story of Inyo” by W.A. Chalfant is a comprehensive history of Inyo County, California, first published in 1922. W.A. Chalfant (1865-1943) was a newspaperman and historian who spent much of his life in the Eastern Sierra region of California. His work is considered one of the seminal histories of this part of California, detailing the early exploration, settlement, and development of Inyo County.

The book covers a wide range of topics, including the area’s indigenous peoples, the impact of European settlement, mining, and economic development, and the natural history and geography of the region. Chalfant’s writing is noted for its detailed research, engaging narrative style, and commitment to telling the stories of the Native American inhabitants and the settlers who came to the area.

Inyo County is a region of great diversity and contrast, home to some of the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States, including Mount Whitney and Death Valley. This geographic and environmental diversity is reflected in the stories Chalfant tells, from tales of survival and adaptation in harsh landscapes to the boom and bust of mining towns and the ongoing challenges and conflicts over land and water use.

Mono Lake

“The Story of Inyo” remains an essential resource for historians, geographers, and anyone interested in the American West, offering insights into the complex history of human and environmental interaction in this unique part of California.

Naming Phelan


Phelan, California

A high desert community NW of San Bernardino. The area was known as Sheep Creek in the early 1900s ) and when the AFPO was filed on 2 May 1916, the name “Renfroe” was requested, allegedly to the surprise of natives who crossed it off the application and substituted Phelan. Phelan was for former San Francisco mayor James Phelan, and again, the locals claimed the name was “foisted” off on them against their wishes by the P.O.D. At any rate, the name was given the P.O. and remains the community name. Before the P.O. was established, mail was delivered from Victorville 3 times a week for five years by Isaac McAllister, who had homesteaded in 1915.

Postmaster Ruth McDaniel states the office had four different locations in and around the small town since 1916 and is presently located in a mall at 4184 Phelan Rd. It has over-flowed its building and has a permanent trailer for retail sales in front of the facility. The office has ten employees making 4,000 deliveries to an estimated patronage of 10,000.

From Postal History of San Bernardino County
by Lewis Garrett

Borax Wagons

The 20-mule team borax ore wagons used in the late 1800s to transport borax from the mines in Death Valley, California, were quite large and had specific dimensions.

Here are the approximate dimensions for a typical 20-mule team borax ore wagon:

  1. Length: Approximately 30 feet (9 meters)
  2. Width: About 8 feet (2.4 meters)
  3. Height: Around 7 feet (2.1 meters)
  4. Weight: These wagons weighed approximately 7 tons when fully loaded with borax ore.

These massive wagons required a team of 18 mules and two horses to pull them across the harsh desert terrain. They were an iconic part of the borax mining industry in the late 19th century and were crucial in transporting borax to the nearest railroad for distribution.

  1. Two large ore wagons were used to transport the borax ore from the mines in Death Valley to the nearest railroad for shipment. They were massive and could carry a significant amount of borax.
  2. One water tank wagon: There was a specialized tank wagon in addition to the two ore wagons. This wagon carried water for the mules and horses that pulled the wagons. The desert environment of Death Valley was harsh, and providing water for the animals was crucial to their survival during the long and arduous journey.

So, the 20-mule team borax wagons actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses pulling two ore wagons and one water tank wagon. These wagons became an iconic symbol of the borax mining industry in the late 19th century.


20-Mule Teams



PALEONTOLOGY – Mojave Desert – Glossary of Terms and Definitions › glossary › paleontology

The study of fossils and their relation to geologic time. … Paleontology Miocene fossils have been found in the cliffs of Red Rock Canyon. Scientists continue …

Mojave Desert Paleontology

The study of fossils and their relation to geologic time.

Paleontology in Red Rock Canyon

Wrightwood, Ca. Mountain Hardware Wrightwood, Ca. Canyon Cartography · DesertLink. Links to Desert Museums, Grizzly Cafe Family Dining …

Geology of the Mojave River › mojave-river › geology

The river flows below the surface for much of its length and only intermittently at the surface. The Mojave River, an arid desert lifeline, supplies water and …

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: Fossils and Rocks › paleontology › fossils-rocks

Geology : Paleontology. FOSSILS AND ROCKS. To tell the age of most layered rocks, scientists study the fossils these rocks contain. Fossils provide important …

Red Rock Canyon California State Park › red-rock-canyon

Red Rock Canyon State Park, Mojave California, Mojave Desert.

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: The Relative Time Scale › paleontology › relative

Geology : Paleontology. THE RELATIVE TIME SCALE. Long before geologists had the means to recognize and express time in numbers of years before the present …

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: The Numeric Time Scale › paleontology › numeric

Geologic time scale showing both relative and numeric ages. Ages in millions of years are approximate. Nineteenth-century geologists and paleontologists …

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: Fossil Succession › paleontology › succession

Geology : Paleontology. FOSSIL SUCCESSION. Three concepts are important in the study and use of fossils: (1) Fossils represent the remains of once-living …

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: Putting Events in Order › paleontology › order

Geology : Paleontology. PUTTING EVENTS IN ORDER. Scientists who study the past try to put events in their proper order. When we discuss events that happened …

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: Table of Contents › paleontology › index-frt

Geology : Paleontology. FOSSILS, ROCKS, AND TIME. INTRODUCTION. We study our Earth for many reasons: to find water to drink or oil to run our cars or coal …

FOSSIL – Mojave Desert – Glossary of Terms and Definitions › glossary › fossil

The Fossil Canyon Loop Road is an interesting route for vehicle touring. … Mojave Desert Paleontology The study of fossils and their relation to geologic …

Fossils, Rocks, and Time: Rocks and Layers › paleontology › rocks-layers

Geology : Paleontology. ROCKS AND LAYERS. We study Earth’s history by studying the record of past events that is preserved in the rocks. The layers of the …

Mojave Desert – Scavenger › glossary › scavenger

Paleontologists are … Raven – Desert Wildlife. Raven – Raven Also see > Bird: Omnivore : Scavenger: Predator: Diurnal Mammals – Predators Mountain Lion · …

Mojave Desert Geology › geology

Paleontology. The scientific study of prehistoric plants and animals in their geologic context. Alluvial material in dry wash. Dry Lake – Playa Desert Varnish …

Red Rock Canyon – Mojave California › red-rock-canyon › introduction

Located in the southern El Paso Mountains, these colorful cliffs with their stark beauty and unique features have attracted hikers, geologists, paleontologists, …

Cajon Pass Geology › cajon-pass › geology

Pliocene and Pleistocene evolution of the Mojave River, and associated tectonic development of the Transverse Ranges and Mojave Desert, based on borehole …

Dr. Joan S. Schneider › people › schneider-joan

Mojave Desert History > Names in History. Dr. Joan S. Schneider. Photo of Dr Joan Schneider at Joshua Tree National Park Joan S. Schneider, Ph.D.

ANTIQUITIES – Mojave Desert – Glossary of Terms and Definitions › glossary › antiquities

ANTIQUITIES – A general term for archaeological or paleontological resources which are at least 100 years of age and which tangibly represent or have the …

Lake Mead › lake-mead

Three of America’s four desert ecosystems–the Mojave, the Great Basin, and the Sonoran Deserts–meet in Lake Mead NRA. As a result, this seemingly barren area …

References – Mojave Preserve – California Mojave Desert › mojave-preserve › geology

Hewitt, D.F., 1956, Geology and mineral resources of the Ivanpah quadrangle, California and Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 275, 172 p.

The Grand Canyon › grand-canyon

Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid …

RELATIVE DATING – Mojave Desert – Glossary of Terms and … › glossary › relative-dating

RELATIVE DATING – A method of dating rock layers by their relationships or proximity to each other. Both archaeologists and paleontologists use relative dating.

Elizabeth Campbell › people › campbell-elizabeth

Elizabeth Campbell. Photo of Elizabeth Campbell, Mojave Desert archeologist. NPS photo – colorized. Elizabeth Warder Crozer was born in August of 1893 into a …

Grand Canyon natural environments › grand-canyon › natural

Near the Colorado River, riparian vegetation and sandy beaches prevail. Just above the river corridor a desert scrub community exists complete with a wide …

Kokoweef Caves › desert-fever › kokoweef

Kokoweef and the mysterious river of gold in the Mojave Desert.

Cajon Pass Heritage › cajon-pass › cajon-fs-heritage

Heritage resources in the Cajon Pass region of the Mojave Desert.

Mojave Desert – Glossary of Terms and Definitions › glossary

Mojave Desert Glossary. The following definitions may be helpful. In most instances, they may not be specific to, or, all-inclusive of, the Mojave Desert.

Kokoweef › kokoweef

If there were what may be trillions of dollars in gold lying at the bottom of an ‘unrediscovered’ river running from the Great Basin under the Mojave Desert to …

Rainbow Basin › rainbow-basin

Land ownership status can be found on the “Cuddeback Lake” Desert Access Guide. These BLM maps can be purchased from any California Desert District BLM …

Saline Valley Salt Tram


Photo of tramway tower in Saline Valley

The Saline Valley Salt Tram, also known as the Saline Valley Tramway, is a historic tramway system used to transport salt from the Saline Valley in California, USA. The Saline Valley is located within the Death Valley National Park.

The tramway was constructed in the early 20th century to facilitate the transportation of salt from the salt flats in the Saline Valley to the Owens Valley. The system consisted of cables and tramcars that carried salt over the Inyo Mountains. The salt was then transported to market via the Owens Valley.

The operation of the Saline Valley Salt Tram ceased in the mid-20th century, and the tramway itself has since fallen into disuse and disrepair. The remnants of the tramway, including some of the infrastructure and cables, can still be found in the Saline Valley. The area attracts historians, hikers, and those interested in exploring the remnants of historical infrastructure.

Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner


Peggy Sue's Diner, Yermo, Route 66, nostalgia, 1950s

Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner is a well-known retro-themed diner in Yermo, California. It’s designed to resemble a classic 1950s diner, with vintage decor, neon lights, and a nostalgic atmosphere.

The diner typically offers classic American diner fare, such as burgers, shakes, fries, and other comfort food items. Additionally, Peggy Sue’s may have themed events or activities to enhance the 1950s experience for visitors.

Mormon Battalion

Mormon Battalion, flag

The Mormon Battalion was a United States Army volunteer unit composed primarily of Latter-day Saint (Mormon) men. It was formed during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The battalion played a significant role in the western expansion of the United States and the development of the American West.

Here are some key points about the Mormon Battalion:

  1. Formation: The Mormon Battalion was officially organized on July 16, 1846, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, had been forced to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, and were headed west to the Salt Lake Valley.
  2. Purpose: The battalion was created to support the U.S. war effort in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The U.S. government, in need of troops to secure the territory acquired in the Southwest, allowed the Mormons to form their unit.
  3. Service: The Mormon Battalion marched over 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs to San Diego, California, through harsh and challenging conditions. They were mustered out of service in July 1847.
  4. Contribution to Western Expansion: The journey of the Mormon Battalion played a role in opening up a southern wagon route to California and exploring potential routes for future transportation and communication lines.
  5. Legacy: The legacy of the Mormon Battalion is still remembered today. Many battalion members settled in California after their service, and their contributions are commemorated in various historical sites and monuments. The battalion is also remembered as a unique episode in American military history and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Mormon Battalion’s journey was a remarkable chapter in the American West’s history and the United States’s expansion during the 19th century.

Draft Oxen

Draft oxen are domesticated cattle trained to work as draft animals, primarily for agricultural purposes. They have been used for centuries in many parts of the world to pull plows, wagons, and other heavy loads. Oxen are typically castrated male cattle, and they are trained to respond to commands from their handlers.

NPS photo of oxen - ox tream
Oxen – NPS photo

Here are some key characteristics and advantages of using draft oxen:

  1. Strength: Oxen are strong animals, capable of pulling heavy loads, plowing fields, and performing other tasks requiring significant physical strength. They are often used for tilling soil and other agricultural activities.
  2. Endurance: Oxen are known for their endurance. They can work long hours, making them suitable for tasks requiring sustained effort, such as plowing large fields or pulling heavy loads over extended distances.
  3. Steadiness and Reliability: Oxen is generally known for its steady and reliable work. They are patient animals and can handle repetitive tasks at a consistent pace.
  4. Adaptability: Oxen are well-adapted to various climates and terrains. They can work in different conditions and are particularly useful in areas where mechanized equipment may not be practical or accessible.
  5. Low Maintenance: Oxen are often considered low-maintenance animals compared to some other draft animals. They can graze on pasture, and their dietary requirements are relatively simple. They also have sturdy hooves, which reduces the need for frequent hoof care.
  6. Draught Power: Oxen have been historically crucial for providing draught power in agriculture. They were widely used before the advent of mechanized farming equipment and are still used in some regions where traditional farming methods persist.
  7. Manure Production: Aside from their work capabilities, oxen also produce manure, which can be used as crop fertilizer. This contributes to the sustainability of agricultural practices.

While draft oxen have been widely used historically, the prevalence of mechanized agriculture has led to a decline in their use in many developed countries. However, in certain regions and for specific purposes, draft oxen continue to be valued for their strength, reliability, and suitability for sustainable and traditional farming practices. Training and working with oxen require skill and patience, as they respond well to positive reinforcement and consistent handling.

Bagdad Cafe


Sidewinder Cafe - Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs, Route 66
Bagdad Cafe (formerly Sidewinder Cafe) Newberry Springs, Ca.

“Bagdad Cafe” refers to a 1987 film and a subsequent television series. The film, originally titled “Out of Rosenheim,” was directed by Percy Adlon. The story revolves around a German tourist named Jasmin Münchgstettner, played by Marianne Sägebrecht, who finds herself stranded in the Mojave Desert. She ends up at a run-down motel and café called the Bagdad Cafe, where she forms an unlikely friendship with the cafe’s owner, played by CCH Pounder.

The film explores themes of isolation, friendship, and cultural differences, and it gained acclaim for its unique characters and quirky charm. The original German title, “Out of Rosenheim,” refers to the character’s departure from her mundane life in Rosenheim, Germany.

The film’s success led to creating a television series titled “Bagdad Cafe,” which aired from 1990 to 1991. The TV series continued the film’s story, featuring some original characters and expanding on the adventures at the Bagdad Cafe.

The film and the TV series have garnered a cult following for their offbeat and heartwarming storytelling. The Bagdad Cafe, located in Newberry Springs, California, along Historic Route 66, has become a popular tourist attraction.


Serrano Indians

Communal grinding stone in San Bernardino Mountains

The Serrano are a Native American people who historically resided in the San Bernardino Mountains and the surrounding areas of Southern California, including the Mojave Desert. They are part of the larger Serrano branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. (also see Vanyume)

Here are some key points about the Serrano Indians:

  1. Language: The Serrano people traditionally spoke the Serrano language, a member of the Takic subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Like many Native American languages, the Serrano language is endangered, and there are limited fluent speakers today.
  2. Lifestyle and Subsistence: The Serrano were traditionally hunter-gatherers, relying on the region’s rich natural resources. They hunted game, gathered plants, and engaged in fishing. Acorns were a significant food source, and the Serrano developed various methods for processing and preparing acorns for consumption.
  3. Houses and Shelters: The Serrano traditionally lived in dome-shaped structures known as kish, which were constructed from a framework of willow branches covered with brush and reeds. These structures were well-suited to the climate of the region.
  4. Cultural Practices: The Serrano had a rich cultural and spiritual life, with ceremonies, rituals, and traditions that were closely tied to their environment. They believed in a variety of supernatural beings and spirits.
  5. Contact with Europeans: European contact with the Serrano people began with the arrival of Spanish explorers and missionaries in the late 18th century. Like many Native American groups, the Serrano experienced significant disruptions to their way of life due to the introduction of new diseases, cultural changes, and the influence of European settlers.
  6. Reservation: In the mid-19th century, as Euro-American settlers expanded into Southern California, the Serrano people faced displacement from their traditional lands. In the 20th century, some members of the Serrano Nation settled on the San Manuel Indian Reservation near Highland, California.
  7. Contemporary Issues: Today, the Serrano people, like many Native American communities, face challenges related to economic development, healthcare, education, and cultural preservation. Efforts have been made to revitalize cultural practices and traditions.

It’s important to note that the history and experiences of Native American tribes are diverse, and individual tribes have unique cultures, histories, and contemporary challenges.