The Maturango Museum is located on East Las Flores Avenue. PHOTO BY AARON CRUTCHFIELD
A brief stay in Ridgecrest, California – located at the southeastern base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and on the upper Mojave Desert – will allow you to experience and enjoy the quiet yet active life that the area brings. The three museums below will help you understand and appreciate the phenomenon of history that the U.S. Navy and Civilian workers have brought to our region.
The Maturango Museum, founded in 1962, features the natural and cultural history of the area. This museum has an array of inside and outside display areas that are fascinating and educational. Spend an hour (or more) looking at geological, botanical, and zoological stories, or at the creations of local artists. Go outside and walk among historic and Native American artifacts on your way to the Desert Tortoise Habitat near the museum. One can register in advance in the early Spring and Fall to take a guided tour onto the nearby Naval Air Weapons Station to see ancient petroglyphs – the greatest (both the largest and the best preserved) concentration of Native American rock art in the country.
The Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, founded in 1986, features the records and artifacts of the history and development of Ridgecrest, the Indian Wells Valley, and the surrounding areas. This museum owns and has restored the community’s first civic buildings for you to explore. These include the Historic USO Building – this USO Club started in World War II when Ridgecrest had about 100 citizens! There is also the first county jail in Ridgecrest, the first firehouse, and the first fire engine houses. Recently, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1905 has been restored and used to create the region’s only Veterans Memorial Building.
The China Lake Museum, founded in 1993, features the history of the U.S. Navy and Civilian workers accomplishments in the Indian Wells Valley. This museum displays a large variety of weapons systems – past and present – as well as technology developments used by both military and civilian. At their new facilities in Ridgecrest, you can view a variety of displays inside and walk outside around some of the military aircraft that have been used by the Navy here in China Lake.
The China Lake Museum is located on East Las Flores Avenue next door to the Maturango Museum. PHOTO BY AARON CRUTCHFIELD
All three of these museums have gift Shops that offer books, DVDs, hats, shirts, and many other gifts that capture the histories of the area.
But that is not all there is for you!
After enjoying your stay in Ridgecrest and visiting our three museums, you can head east toward Death Valley using Highway 178 Scenic Corridor. You can stop by the nearby Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse and Burro Corrals (BLM) four miles straight east of the Historic USO Building to feed or pet wild burros and horses – or maybe even adopt one! If you continue on toward Death Valley you’ll run across the Trona Pinnacles, a geological feature that has more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet. These have been featured in many films (like Star Trek V or Planet of the Apes). When you pass through the remote town of Trona, you can stop by the Searles Valley Historical Society and visit the Old Guest House Museum, built in 1917.
When leaving Ridgecrest heading west into the Sierra Nevada Mountains using Highway 178 Scenic Corridor, you can stop by the Kern Valley Museum in Kernville. At this museum they have thousands of photographs of the early settlers, miners, cowboys and Indians, a wonderful back porch and yard full of historical artifacts. Plus, a restored and furnished 100 year old cabin.
If you’re heading north from Ridgecrest using Highway 395, you can stop in Independence and visit the Eastern California Museum. At this museum there is a rich display of artifacts and narratives of the history of Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra, from Death Valley to Mono Lake.
According to China Lake Museum Foundation officer Alice Campbell, conceptual art for Phase II was recently unveiled. The second phase includes a building designed to look like a hangar.
The Historic USO Building, home of the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, is on West Ridgecrest Boulevard. PHOTO BY AARON CRUTCHFIELD
Campbell said the foundation is still researching the costs and stages of construction for the second phase, but once complete, could host the majority of displays still located at its old site aboard China Lake.
Funding for Phase I came from years of donations and fundraisers, and a $250,000 grant secured written by now-CLMF President Laura Hickle from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment Museum Grant Program.