Boron, California. Patches on the soles of its shoes


Highway 58 east of the Mojave Preserve is a well-traveled and unremarkable stretch of road. Flat, open, no stores or gas stations, which caused me some anxiety until I hit Four Corners, a busy crossroads with at least three gas stations. Six miles farther, I pulled into Boron.

The weather was blowing cold and wet, and Maria at the little RV park in town said, “Oh, yes. We have a library about a block away, and it has Internet.”

I should have been more clear. There was indeed a library nearby. But it was only open two days a week, and it didn’t have wifi, which is what I need to do things like upload this blog. In fact, the only other place that had Internet of any sort (“But please don’t download anything”) was Haynes Hardware. Obama was right—there are places in America where high-speed Internet is a novelty.

20 Mule Team--the main street

The first thing you notice about Boron is the emptiness: empty houses, empty stores, vacant lots. What you also notice are the kids, adolescents mostly, who walk around in small groups. They don’t seem neglected or menacing—they’re just hanging out the way kids do. Boron doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment, but the kids seem to deal.

The next thing you notice about Boron is that, except for the four restaurants in town (no bars), any store that managed to survive—all two of them—contained an improbable variety of merchandise. Thus, Haynes Hardware was a well-stocked little hardware store of the old-timey variety, a movie rental place, an Internet café (sans coffee), and a Western Union wire service. “My business is geared toward the needs of the community,” says Lynda. “If customers request items regularly, we try to add them. That’s how we stocked the store.”

The place was buzzing. Lynda Haynes bustled around like a mother hen behind the large and cluttered counter.

“Honey, are you sure you know where you’re sending this money?” she asks a woman who seems confused about the recipient of her wire transfer. “I just don’t want you to lose your money.”

She continues in this vein, answering questions about wax rings for toilets with the same aplomb that she addresses Internet connection problems or figures out a new interface that Western Union suddenly threw at her.

Lynda came to Boron from San Diego in 1979, and now it’s home. “People are friendly and caring,” she says. “They help each other. Parents are very active and involved in the schools, sports, and the churches.”



I heard similar sentiments from Barbara Pratt, the chipmunk-spry 90-year-old caretaker of the Twenty Mule Team Museum. Barbara came to Boron in 1932 when her father got a job at the mine during the Depression. She’s lived here all her life, at one time driving the only taxi in town. She authored a book about the history of Boron, and acted as guide and interpreter for the Hollywood crew who came to Boron to film the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Barbara and I

Candid snapshots of Julia Roberts, often looking decidedly ordinary, fill one case in the museum. “They couldn’t film the movie in Hinkley, because no one lives there anymore because of the contamination, so they came here,” said Barbara. Clearly, this was Boron’s 15 minutes of fame.

The surprising thing about Boron is that, although it is less than three miles from the richest deposit of borates in the world, and although the mine, which is owned by Rio Tinto, a huge conglomerate, employs about 800 people, Boron could be in the middle of the Himalayas for all the good the mine seems to have done it. “The mine employs a lot of people from other towns who commute to work,” said a guide at the visitors’ center, tacitly acknowledging my comment.

“People on public assistance from other counties are told to come to Boron,” said Barbara. “They don’t work, and they don’t want to work.” I also heard that comment more than once.

Still, one would think the presence of a thriving mine would have some effect on the town beyond the pride locals like Barbara feel about its history. But I couldn’t see one.

The town seems content to make do with leftovers as people without choices often do. In an odd way, I enjoyed the few days I spent in Boron.

super moon over Boron






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25 Responses to Boron, California. Patches on the soles of its shoes

  1. Gabbar Singh 4 June, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    I’m planning on moving to Boron sometime soon. You definitely want to visit these sorts of places a few times and talk to as many folks as possible before considering a long-term stay. Best to talk to the scary looking folks as well, since that’s the only way to really know what you are getting into. Asking some guy with tattoos on his face whether he’s likely to come into your home and murder you for entertainment is a good way to meet new friends.

  2. Kerry 5 August, 2014 at 5:31 am #

    Interesting statements about this High Desert area. I have lived in Boron for about 4 years now. I grew up in Upland, California. My father was an aerospace engineer and I grew up in a privileged sort of way. Was in the Army for 4 years, got out and joined the Air-Force. I retired from the Air-Force and worked for Lockheed out at China Lake (NAWS) for five years. I am presently working for the Air-Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB as a aircraft mechanic.

    I have been to Trona several times just out of curiosity. It is a devilish place to be. I have heard there are many drug producing places there, illegal that is. They filmed parts of Planet of the Apes there close by to Trona. Would I want to live in Trona? I do not believe I would.

    Boron is bad enough. Yes, Boron has many older generation people here who work, raise their kids and live a decent life. It is a mining town, many of the kids growing up here are decent young people who work at being part of the school sponsored activities, football is the biggest thing here in Boron. I was advised that if I would like to fit into this town just support the football team.

    I am retiring soon, then I will move away as another chapter closes on my very well traveled and rewarding life thus far. I lived 15 years in Europe and many other places as well. Traveling lets you learn and grow. The flip side though is that never really settling down has alienated me from being part of a micro-culture provincial type mindset. Traveling and learning and the changes it permanently makes upon me is not necessarily an asset. Most people live in their comfort zone. My wider vision does make many people very uncomfortable. I have learned to not talk about my travels.

    • Kate Convissor 8 August, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

      interesting perspective on your well-traveled life. While i do have roots of a sort, I realized that by pulling up stakes and moving a bunch of times, I’d be losing something, as you say. You lose the cozy familiarity of place. Your perspective changes, and for sure yours is different from the folks in Boron. (Although maybe you’ve run across Fred who left the messages below.)

      I don’t talk about my travels, either, unless someone is really interested. What are you going to say?

      I do, however, tell people that the world is an incredible, marvelous place, and I am so happy to have stopped by.

      Sounds like you’re ready to move on. Bet you’ll enjoy retirement. Best wishes.

  3. Fred 13 February, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    Huge bobcat shot. Recently a gigantic bobcat was caught stalking a 4 year old boy in the back yard of a residence in the Pioneer Point section of Trona,Ca. The nasty bobcat intended to attack,kill and eat the boy. The homeowner ran outside with a gun and blew Mr Bobcat away. Being attacked by coyotes,mountain lions and bobcats is a common situation in Trona. If you’re alone in the desert and a bobcat or mountain lion starts tippy-toeing up to you;DO NOT RUN. If you run you’ll be eaten for sure. The proper way to handle this (if you don’t have a .44 Magnum revolver) is to act manly. Don’t run. Scream obscenties at the hungry mountain lion. Dare it to fight. Call it’s mother bad names. Throw rocks at it. Pump your chest out and glare at the mountain lion. That way,when the mountain lion is eating you you can say “Well,I did everything right”

  4. Fred 26 December, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    Unfortunately,this is common in the desert. There’s a lot of theft due to
    drug addiction and poverty out here. California City is a stone’s throw from Boron.
    Three arrested on suspicion of stealing Christmas gifts

    Three suspects were arrested Tuesday after stealing Christmas gifts meant for the victim’s children, according to California City police.

    Michael Park, 20, Micchory Park, 18, and a juvenile were arrested on suspicion of residential burglary, and police are looking into whether they’re also responsible for several other burglaries in California City during the past few months. The burglary happened in the 8700 block of Aspen Avenue.

    The stolen gifts were returned to the family

  5. Fred 24 July, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    As regards government in the teensy,horrifically remote from society desert villages there’s no official town government. The only government in such seperated from the larger society towns since hell froze is usually matriarcle. The men generally kick back,relax and let time pass,uninterested in running things. I think women are far more socially oriented. Every tiny desert village has a museum/historical society. This is the center of town. It’s where who’s who congregates. When I tour the vast desert and come across a remote village I don’t go to the police department to find out who runs the town. I go to the town’s museum. Those ladies wield the true power in town. Mess with them at your own peril.

    • Kate Convissor 26 July, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      Ha! Then I accidentally stumbled into the center of power in Boron with my little museum visit. (But it also felt like the hardware store/wifi hotspot/movie rental place was a secondary hub of activity. Actually, I don’t think Boron is as remote as it sounds like Tron may be.

      Really interesting glimpse into an alien culture. Thanks, Fred.

      • Fred 27 July, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

        Trona is beyond remote. There should be a warning sign on the highway ‘Hell 10 miles…Trona 15’. Passing tourists are afraid to stop here. Hollywood uses Trona to make End of the World movies. When I came here in 2003 I thought there had been a riot and half the town had burned down.

        • Fred 27 July, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

          To the people of Trona (who I call Tronians but they call themselves Tronites) going to the Stagecoach Hotel in Beatty,NV for a big vacation is like other people going to Hawaii First you drive thru Poison Canyon then between two U.S. government military bombing ranges on your left and right then thru forbidding Trona then Death Valley to reach Beatty. I have made the trip a dozen times. First thing I did was visit the Beatty Museum/Historical Center checking out the resident ladies to see who runs the town. At the hotel,Tronians get a big discount for rooms. For $10 you can have a good time in the casino. Feeling deep sympathy for a waitress at the hotel diner once I gave her a $20 tip for a $5 sandwich. She latched on to me with a death grip in hopes of finding a way out of Beatty thru me. I pried her off me and ran away.

          • Fred 27 July, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

            This is embarrassing. Two Brits came all the way from England in 2010 to interview me and make a documentary video. The video’s been shown at the Sundance Festival,etc and is popular thruout England. No way am I going to show the video to Americans. I was antsy during the filming. Did’nt dress up for the part. Wanted to give the Brits reality not illusion. There’s a short trailor of the film at the website

  6. Fred 21 July, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    California’s Mojave Desert region can be scary. Back during the mid 1950s I accompanied my parents towing a house trailer thru the desert. A little boy seated in the back seat paying rapt attention to the passing view. I vividly recall the Burma Shave signs. And the strange signs advertising religious enclaves. All had something about ‘blood’ and ‘Jesus’. As in ‘Next Stop 20 miles:Church of the Bleeding Soul of Jesus Christ’,etc. I thought “Hoo boy,these people have gone nuts out here in the vast desert”. Well,here it is the year 2013. Now I live in that desert. Been here ten years. And yes the folks out here are still crazier than a hootowl. It’s the XFiles out here. You expect to meet Mulder and Scully any moment wherever you go.

    • Kate Convissor 21 July, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

      OK, Fred. So now the million-dollar question is “Why?”

      I’ve often wondered how people end up on places like Tron. Or Slab City. Sometimes I find out, but I never cease to wonder.

      Would you say it’s dangerous? Or just weird? Is there a community or are people scattered around in solitary places? Are there children? (I saw kids in Boron.)

      Will you continue to live there…until?

      • Fred 22 July, 2013 at 11:52 am #

        Hi Kate. I moved to the desert partly thru economics. Had sold my property in Orange County,Ca. Had 90 days to vacate my house. During my childhood I fell in love with the Mojave Desert. From a kid’s point of view in my parents’ vehical during the 1950s I left the congested city then found the desert a vast,seemingly unexplored,uncongested vista. Looking out the window of my parents’ car I fixated on every mountain range,every distant canyon. Wondered if real indians had once lived there and what might they have left behind? So now I’m 67 years old,live in the desert in a large three bedroom home that only cost me $24,000 and I’m finding indian artifacts every day and donating them to a museum. We all dream when we’re kids. I finnally made my dreams come true. I have found my Nirvana.
        Yes,it can be dangerous out here. And there’s a ton of wierdos here. But unlike life in a large city the dangers here are natural not man made. I can deal with nature. I can’t deal with the city’s homocidal gang members,etc.
        Everyone here in the desert has a story. Many come here from broken lives. There is a peace here. There is only the sound of wind and birds chirping. You can see to the horizon. My desert ghost town had 5,000 people during it’s hayday. There’s only a few hundred people here now. The desert is a wonderful place to retire.

        • Kate Convissor 22 July, 2013 at 2:06 pm #


          It’s been so interesting to hear your perspective. I’ve not met anyone who chose to live in such a harsh and remote place. I understand the allure of the desert, I love being there, too–in winter. Living there year-round would be extremely challenging both physically and emotionally.

          If you don’t mind, I’d like to create a post just about our conversation. Any last words? What has been one of the weirdest things to happen to you there? What’s the most difficult part of living there?

          Thanks so much for such an interesting dialog. You’ve probably gotten the hang of the spam filter by now, too. 😉

          • Fred 22 July, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

            The desert is’nt for everyone. There’s no bright neon lights out here. No police sirens. No milling hoards of people rushing to something they think terribly important to be there on time for. It’s still much like the 1800s here. As though time had stopped. Brings to mind the old Twilight zone episode ‘Next Stop at Willoughby’. Must-have things here are a good house cooling system. We all use modern evaporative house cooling systems. Cost $1 a day to run. And high speed Internet access is vital. I have the hughes satelitte system. I even have satelitte radio and of course satelitte tv. You’ll need a floor freezer too. Nearest REAL shopping is in Lancaster or Palmdale. It’s good to have a pickup truck. I have a Nissan Frontier 4 wheel drive truck. It’s important not to turn into a couch potato out here. It’s easy for a person to zone-out thru inactivity,then develope cabin fever. That’ll make you lay outside on a lawn chair chugging beers and watching the ufos fly overhead.

          • Fred 22 July, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

            Hi Kate. As for the wierdest thing that’s happened to me in the desert,I was confronted at a roadside diner in my ghost town several years ago by a stranger. He pulls out a bunch of poloroids that he said were pics of his sister. Asked me what I thought of her. I took a long look,replied “She looks like she could beat the crap out of me”. Omigosh he went nuts. Almost cried. Told me that broke his heart. I asked why. He replied “Because that’s not my sister,that’s me in drag”. Well,I thought I had seen everything out here in the desert but I guess not. Where are Scully and Mulder when you need them? Me being a nice sort of guy not wanting any trouble I told him he looks fetching in the photos. I got out of my truck,entered the diner,told the cashier lady “Gimme two fish tacos” then I sat in a booth. Oh golly Mr wears weemens’ panties and bra sat down next to me. There was only a handfull of people in my desert ghost town diner. They all turned towards me,glaring at me. I thought oh crap they think I’m pals with Mr Panties. I ran to the counter,yelled at the cashier lady “Are my tacos ready yet?”. The next ten minutes were the longest minutes in my life. Finnally got the fish tacos and hoofed it to my truck then burned rubber getting home. Days later Mr Panties starts knocking on my door at my house. I was decent. Did’nt insult him but it was obvious he had mucho affection for me. So one day I asked him why he kept coming to see me. He told me “There’s a woman in town who told me you’re queer”. Alright,mystery solved. I had gotten in a big argument with a woman in my ghost town. She spread the word I’m a gay blade. Small towns can be a hotbed of gossip. Glad I’m not married to her.

  7. Fred 17 July, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Anyone planning to tour the tiny,remote towns in the Mojave Desert ought to see/buy this film first I paid $10 for the DVD. It’s a 1955 film starring Spencer Tracy. I think it’s his best film. It perfectly describes what happens to people stuck in hell,seperated from the larger human community for long periods of time. Out here we call it ‘cabin fever’.

  8. Fred 12 July, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Hi Kate. I’ll try again a second time. Your site’s anti-span wordages defeated me. Well,I think the Aussie commies were interested in Boron because the mining activities there produce vital materials for national defense. I spend most ofmytime excavating artifacts here in Trona from the Old West era and donating them to the local museum to be protected and displayed for future generations. Other than that I feed hundreds of desert critters food and fresh water. Death Valley is just across the road from me so temps here reach 130F during summer. And beyond that I spend time reading and posting at the MOTU site I’ve searched the web for two decades trying to find a no-troll site and MOTU is it. No way Am I going to tell you my posting nickname.

    • Kate Convissor 13 July, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      I must have been right in your backyard when I visited Death Valley.

      How do you survive 130 in the summer?

      “No troll” site? The MOTU site looks really interesting, but I won’t ask for your nickname. 😉

      My anti-spam filter kicks my butt every so often, too. Sorry for the annoyance. Probably didn’t like that link in your comment.

      • Fred 13 July, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

        Only way to survive in the desert is to have one of these installed The new one I purchased two weeks ago blasts 6,800 cubic feet per minute of cold air thru my house. It’s an evaporative cooling system. Just uses a powerful fan and water. Costs me about $1.50 a day. A standard air conditioning system would cost me $1,800 a month for the electricity.

  9. Fred 9 July, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    I live in another desert ghost town,Trona. I drove to Boron in 2010 to check out the union strike going on then. Wanted to find out why strike supporters from the Australian Communist Party were on the scene. I spent a night there at a motel on the main street that had much of the lights on it’s welcoming sign burned out. All in all I had a good time. These hidden desert towns are fascinating. Next time you should visit Trona or the Salton Sea villages.

    • Kate Convissor 12 July, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Wow. Why WERE strike supporters from the Australian Communist Party in Boron. (I assume the strike was at the mine outside town?)

      And how does it feel to live in one of those little towns? Man, how far do you have to drive for groceries? What do you do on a fine March evening? What do you do in summer when it’s so blazing hot?

      I have circumnavigated that weird old Salton Sea and stayed for a week at Slab City outside Niland–another desert ghost-ish town. Wrote about it on the blog. Check out the Slab City tag.

      Thanks for connecting. I’ll look up Tron. Sounds like an alien planet.

      • Fred 6 August, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

        Death comes easily out here in the desert
        Every time I go into the deep-desert I look above me and record in my mind the position of the sun in relation to distant landmarks. Later,when the sun has cooked my brain like a hamburger and I’m beginning to lose consciousness I look around me then up at the sun. And I know where to go to survive. Subjected to the heat out here you will have one hour after your legs start giving out to rescue yourself. No angels will come down from heaven to rescue you.
        Adelanto woman found dead after getting lost in desert

        August 06, 2013 12:37 PM
        ADELANTO • A 40-year-old Adelanto woman was found dead Monday night after getting lost in the desert, authorities said.

        Erica Deanna Cawthorne called 911 Monday at 12:32 p.m. to report that she had been walking in the desert since 7 p.m. the previous night and became lost, according to a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department news release. Her cell phone died soon after.

        According to the release, deputies searched for Cawthorne with the help of the sheriff’s aviation division and search and rescue volunteers. Tracking dogs helped find Cawthorne’s body at 10:03 p.m. Monday in a desert area on Hermosa Street south of Auburn Avenue in Adelanto.

        The body was found less than 600 yards from a residential area, according to the release.

        Sheriff’s spokeswoman Pamela Hoffman said there were no signs of foul play. The San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner will determine the cause of death.

        Hoffman said it was unclear why the woman was walking or where she was going.

        “She said she’d been walking since the previous night; we don’t know why,” Hoffman said. “That’s the only information we have.”

        • Fred 20 November, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

          It’s dangerous here in the desert..
          Two months after the body of an aspiring writer and filmmaker turned up in the California desert, his family is desperate for answers and certain foul play was involved.

          Ryan Singleton, a 24-year-old former model, flew from his family’s Atlanta home to Los Angeles in July for a short vacation. Once there, he rented a car for a trip to Las Vegas, but things apparently went awry on the return trip as he drove through the desolate Mojave Desert on July 9. Near the tiny southeast California town of Baker, the car broke down and Singleton called a friend from a rest stop.

          “I’m waiting for answers.”
          – Iris Flowers, mother of man found dead in desert
          It was the last time anyone would hear from him. Tight-lipped investigators have released little information about any progress on the case, and Singleton’s family knows little more than they did when he was initially reported missing.

          “I’m waiting for answers,” Singleton’s mother, Iris Flowers, told “I’m in a holding pattern right now.”

          Joggers would find Singleton’s body two-and-a-half months later, its organs gone. While the autopsy report has not been released, law enforcement officials passed the gruesome detail on to Singleton’s mother, she said, leaving her to speculate about her son’s fate. Although experts told the organs were likely taken from the body by scavenging animals, Singleton’s family remains suspicious.

          Investigators trying to reconstruct Singleton’s final hours have told his family they believe he was picked up by a Highway Patrol officer after his car broke down and driven to the rest stop in Baker. Once there, Singleton called the friend who lived three hours away, and asked to be picked up, according to the family. But when the friend arrived and could not find Singleton, he reported him missing.

          The family said authorities have said little to them about what happened to Singleton and have not yet disclosed a cause of death. Singleton’s mother and same-sex spouse said they are convinced foul play was involved, but said they are unaware of a possible motive.

          “I don’t know anything other than that my son was found with no organs in his body,” Flowers said.

          Singleton’s spouse, who asked not to be identified, said the “lack of answers” from authorities has led him to question various theories: Was Singleton the victim of an organ theft ring? Or was the 6-foot, 4-inch man, described as “kind and gentle,” the victim of a random abduction and murder — with his body dumped in a hot desert for wild animals to dismember? Finally, given Singleton’s sexual orientation, he wonders if the openly-gay man could have been the victim of a hate crime.

          Singleton’s spouse said he was certain of one thing — that the 24-year-old did not simply collapse and die in Death Valley.

          “I believe that he was taken from there [Baker] and later put back there,” his spouse said. “I just don’t think he passed out there and was there for two and a half months.”

          A spokeswoman from the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office told that the coroner is not releasing any information on Singleton’s death at this time. She referred all media inquiries to the sheriff’s public information officers, who did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

          Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a medical anthropologist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it is “highly unlikely” that Singleton was killed for the purpose of harvesting his organs on the underground market.

          “There are a lot easier ways to get tissue,” said Scheper-Hughes, who in 1999, along with other professors, founded “Organs Watch,” an organization that investigates the illegal trafficking of human organs worldwide. Scheper-Hughes’ probe into international organ sellers based in New York, New Jersey and Israel led to several arrests by the FBI in 2009.

          • Fred 21 November, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

            The desert is a good place to dump bodies. It’s actually pretty safe out here. It’s people in the large coastal cities that commit murders then dump the bodies our here in the vast desert. The practice is so common that when I’m in the desert I watch where I step. Don’t want to step on a corpse