Trek Date: Many visits.
Whether you call it the Ohlson House, the Wonderland Ranch or Uncle Willie's Health Food Store, the pink ruins near the Wall Street Mill trail are certainly photogenic and definitely enigmatic. They cause me to wonder many things and take many pictures, ask many questions but find few answers. Which makes me return again and again to see what I can find. This is another of my favorite spots in J Tree.
The property was apparently owned for some span of time by the Ohlson family. When they acquired the property, how long they owned it, why they chose to live here, who built the house, what they did when they lived here....I don't know. I have seen a picture of the house taken in 1975, and at that time it was intact with a complete roof. It's amazing how quickly things can change. My guess is that the house caught on fire at some point and when all was said and done, these ruins were all that were left standing. Death records list that a Signe Ohlson died in the town of Joshua Tree in 1986, at the age of 100. Who was Signe? I'll bet that he (or she) had some connection with the Ohlson property, perhaps being the last resident of the house before it burned down. More research needs to be done.
So it's easy to see why the place is referred to as the Ohlson House. And Wonderland Ranch kind of makes sense, being right on the edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. But who came up with the name, "Uncle Willie's Health Food Store?" My guess.....rock climbers. They like to name everything.
At present, the ruin is filled with rubble, fallen walls, bricks, pieces of metal, bits of glass and assorted pieces of junk. Desert gold, in other words. It's a great spot to visit and poke around in for an hour or two. Each time I visit, I run across something I didn't see before. It's easy to get to and the payoff is greater than the effort spent. Here's a brief tour of the Ohlson property, which I usually refer to as the Wonderland Ranch.
I generally park at the dirt parking area located about a quarter mile northeast of the paved Barker Dam Trailhead parking lot ("Park Here" on the map at the end of this post). The trail heads northeast towards the Wall Street Mill, but about 100 yards in a fork will branch north. That's the trail to the Wonderland Ranch.
From the fork, the trail heads north for a couple hundred yards and takes you right to the Wonderland Ranch. You'll be able to see the pink walls long before you get to the ranch, so keep your eyes open.
And there it is, the Ohlson House, the Wonderland Ranch, yea, even Uncle Willie's Health Food Store. I'm always thankful to see what still remains standing each time I visit. There's always this fear that on some future trip, another one of the walls will have fallen or something will be missing. I'm pretty sure that most visitors to J Tree are amazed at the giant piles of boulders, the strange geologic formations, the animals they might catch a glimpse of and of course, the Joshua Trees. But for me, the remains of what the early settlers, miners and ranchers left...in the way of building ruins, machinery, pieces of cars and trucks....have more of an attraction than the natural scenery that abounds in the park. It's interesting that in a 1983 Historic Research Study, this property was described as "not historically significant and is an intrusion on the natural scene and on an archeological site. it should be obliterated subject to archeological control." I'm certainly glad that the Wonderland Ranch hasn't been "obliterated." Let me show you around the place.
This cistern is located at what I think would have been the back of the house. Water would have been piped in from dams built upstream in the wash. I have seen two such dams and wouldn't doubt that there are more.
The low dam in the picture above left is pretty close to the house, and may have been higher at some point. As with many of the dams and tanks in J Tree, tons of sand has settled in behind the wall, so this low dam could have held back a considerable amount of water at one time. The picture above right is of a stone dam quite a way back up the wash, deeper in the Wonderand of Rocks, on the way to Punk Rock and Garrett's Arch. It looks to be in fairly good condition.
A few views of the fireplace, front and back, inside and out. Was that recessed section to the right of the fireplace a spot for built in shelves? The room directly in front of the fireplace appears to have been a good-sized living area.
Another large room. Perhaps that doorway was the front door, with a nice picture window beside it. It certainly provided a nice view outside from inside. I can imagine looking out the window at all kinds of weather, or early in the morning seeing big horn sheep up on the rocks.
A view of the front of the house. Or maybe it was the back, it's hard to tell but fun to wonder about.
Were these propane pipes?
About forty yards northeast of the house is this cement pad foundation, perhaps a storage shed once stood here. The platform in in pretty good shape. Nearby is a small stone and cement monument, for what purpose I have yet to discover. Nothing written on it, or stuck to it, just another thing in the desert to wonder about.
West of the house, the wash makes a sharp "S" turn, and then heads north into the Wonderland of Rocks. There are several interesting things along the wash, a couple of which have me baffled.
There are three cement footings on the house side of this branch of the main wash. Was there at some point a bridge to the other side? What were these footings or moorings for?
I took this picture in 2006. It appears to be a metal shelf attached atop a stone and cement foundation, and attached at the top by a blob of cement. Was it an outdoor barbeque? Maybe a smelter of some kind?
Here's a picture I took in 2009. As you can see, it's been abused a bit since my previous visit. The last couple of times I've visited, the metal contraption has been missing. That's the kind of thing that's disappointing to see. I believe in sharing information about places like this so that people can visit and explore them. I appreciate it when I find information online about historic sites and think others would too. Fortunately, the percentage of people who search for such places with intent to do harm is minuscule, at least that's what I prefer to believe.
The history of people living in the J Tree area goes back several hundreds of years. I sometimes forget that when I'm vising places like the Wonderland Ranch. It's easy to see ruins that are maybe 50-60 years old, or some of the older ones in the park, and think that the people who built those places were the first people here. And then I wander about a bit and find a bedrock mortar, or a faded pictograph that could be 300 years old and a whole new excitement takes over. What else can I find, are there any rock shelters around, or petroglyphs, maybe a bit of broken pottery. It's easy to spend hours searching...
These small caves were likely formed by water rushing down a wash draining a portion of the Wonderland of Rocks. They look pretty creepy. My guess is that someone in the Ohlson family created a cold storage area in the cave on the right. Enclosing the opening with stone and cement walls, and probably a door at one time, it would have been quite secure. But note the circular hole in the foreground of the picture. Native Americans used this location long before the Ohlsons, as their bedrock mortar attests. There are also a few very faded pictographs inside one of the caves.
Ok, so where did the truck come from? Did it belong to the Ohlsons? Was it once part of Bill Keys fleet of vehicles? I don't know, but I'm glad it's out here. I enjoy taking pictures each time I'm on this trail. The truck is located a couple hundred yards east of the Wonderland Ranch. It's easy to spot and is always willing to pose for a picture or two. I don't know if it was associated at all with the Ohlson House, or the Wall Street Mill, or who it belonged to, but as it's so close to the Ranch, I decided to include it with this post.
As with all of my posts, feel free to use any of my pictures for your own projects. Credit back to Cali49.com would be nice, but it's not required. Life's too short, I'd like for people to enjoy and use what I've created, without fear of copyright reprisals.