Visit Date: March 14, 2016
Rice, California. Formerly known as Blythe Junction. Population: 0 Abandoned Train Cars: 0 - 200
But still worth a visit.
I’d just finished exploring Desert Center and was on my way to see what I could find in Rice. It would be a 50-mile drive, and would take about 30 minutes to get there, unless I saw something interesting along the way. I made it to Rice in 30 minutes. Not to say that there aren’t interesting things to see along U.S. Route 177 between Desert Center and Rice, besides huge expanses of Colorado Desert. There are several U.S. Army Desert Training Camps which were in full operation during WWII, but the sites are well off the highway and have been almost completely returned to native habitat. There are also a number of off-road tracks leading to who-knows-where. But those are things for another day. I was in the mood for Rice.
Having a good imagination helps when you get to Rice, as there isn’t much left of what was once a very small outpost/settlement. The place probably got its start as a Railroad siding, with a small café and store, a few homes. Perhaps the railroad stopped here to pick up produce, crops or minerals mined in the nearby mountains. I don’t know, there’s not much information to be found. But what follows is my true story, of the Day I Spent In Rice, and What I Saw.
The withered remains of an old gas station stand on the south side of Hwy 62. A store once stood behind the gas island, but it's only a pile or rubble now. The palm tree seems to be doing ok.
Only 1-1/16 of the walls of this old stone building still stand. It looks like it might have been a very nice place when it was built. The fireplace is definitely well constructed. Maybe this is where the owner of the gas station lived. Maybe is was a saloon. Who can say.
On the north side of Hwy 62, opposite the gas station ruins, a number of cars sat on the tracks. Who knows how long they'll have to wait to get wherever they're going next. Getting back in T Red, I continued east.
I had heard stories of the world famous Rice Shoe Tree and was hoping to be able to take some photos of it. Alas, my information about it was severely dated, as it apparently was set on fire back in 2004 and nearly totally destroyed, I wept for all those lost soles. However, a new phenomenon arose from the ashes of the shoe tree and the Shoe Fence was born.
Located right alongside Highwy 62, the Shoe Fence can’t be missed, no matter how fast you’re driving. Might as well stop and take a look, you might find something in your size. If you do, leave a pair of your own in trade.
There is a finite limit on the number of pictures one can take of "Shoes on a Fence." After reaching that limit, I spun out back onto the road. I knew I was close to my main goal of the day. However, as often happens while exploring, something caught my eye and I had to pull over almost immediately.
I had discovered the legendary "House of Koop."
I don't think anything more needs to be said of this place. Let it remain a mystery to you.
Rice Army Airfield was the main place I wanted to visit on this roadtrip. Rice Municipal Airport was acquired by the IV Air Support Command on September 29 of 1942 and by October 26 of that same year, Rice Army Airfield was operational. It was used to train pilots and crews of aircraft whose mission it was to support ground troops.
The army built barracks, recreation and mess halls, operational buildings, dormitories and power houses to support the 3,000+ men living at the base. They also built two paved runways, each measuring 5,000 by 150 feet, with dispersal pads extending off the runways.
The base saw a lot of activity during the later part of WWII. For a much more in-depth history of the airfield, click HERE. Rice Army Airfield was inactivated and turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers on January 1 of 1946. And for perhaps the most detailed resource I was able to located, click HERE.
Today, there's almost nothing left to testify of all that happened here during the latter years of WWII. The large "V" in the Google Earth satellite image above were the two 5,000-foot-long runways. To the south of the runways, are numerous pullouts where aircraft were parked. There were a number of roads leading all over the base. The large cement slab at the top middle, could have been a parade ground or deck, used for mustering and review troops and equipment or the airfield apron, where aircraft may have been parked for short periods of time..
The field was reopened as a civilian airport in 1949, and was then privately owned from 1951 through 1955. Sometime between 1955 and 1958, the field was abandoned. I imagine when the Army left, they took with them a lot of stuff, and when the field was then abandoned in the late 1950s, what was left probably dwindled away through sales, theft or the elements. I haven't been able to track down any information on how virtually everything came to disappear. Aliens?
I spent a couple hours driving and wandering about the place. Here's what I found:
The main road leading into the Air Field. There are roads leading all over the base, but I didn't find one that had any pavement or blacktop of any kind. I'm sure some of the roads were paved, so either the paving was taken out or it's been covered by sand and scrub over the past 70 years. Cement building foundations are on both sides of this road, and in other places on the base.
The first building pad I came to, located on the west side of the main road. I believe this held a supply building.
Also on the west side of the road, but a bit farther off, reportedly the foundations of a base supply building, however, it could have been the base dispensary.
Getting closer to the large cement area. Parade deck or airfield apron? The General Layout Plan calls it the apron. According to the Layout Plan, this foundation would have been the Link Trainer Building.
There were a lot of nails around each building site, left over from when the structures were torn down. The mysterious 'they' must have also either hauled all the material away, or burned it, but I saw no evidence of burning piles.
I reached the cement apron. This is the view looking east.
And this is the view looking west.
Somebody forgot their car!
One of the things I love about exploring anywhere, but especially in the desert, is finding old cars like this one. However, when I had first started driving down the main road that leads to this spot, I saw something gleaming off in the distance, on a small knoll. This is what it looked like:
Can you spot it?
A little bit closer.
I also love finding old, discarded boats in the desert. Getting back into T Red, I commenced driving along a dirt road that somewhat circled the entire airfield. I was in search of the runways. Luckily, I had a cel signal and let me tell you, Google Earth is an explorer's best friend. I found my way to the area where the two runways met, the point of the "V" in the satellite image back up the post a ways.
This shot is looking northeasterly. You can see how the vegetation in the runway is sparser than off to either side. Small areas of asphalt are visible here and there.
Here is the other runway, looking northwesterly-ish.
I spotted a few areas that had what appeared to be white paint, nearly covered up by the sand. Maybe these were originally directional arrows for taxiing aircraft.
Continuing my circumnavigation of the field, I drove on.
A spot of color looking glaringly out of place, so I stopped to investigate. This Beavertail cactus was showing off its guns.
I spotted its cousin a short distance away.
The entire airfield area was relatively well-policed. By that I mean, very free of old debris. Insert sad face here. But I did spot a few pieces of desert gold.
After returning to the apron, I headed back up the main road towards Hwy 62. There were several large cement foundation slabs along the east side of the road. This may have once held a kitchen.
Some old cans and a little wooden box built into the ground.
I believe this was the foundation for the airfield Headquarters. It is "H" shaped, with two long slabs on either side of a connector slab. It also has a bit more stone-lined paths and more substantial bits of cement around its periphery.
And that pretty much rounds up my day at Rice Army Airfield. And even though there really isn't much there to see, there really is, if you get out of your car and start wandering around. And as it happens so often, when I returned home and did a bit more research on this area, I found this General Layout Plan for Rice Army Airfield, dated December, 1942:
I don't know for sure if it's entirely accurate, but I believe it is. All of the identifications I put on the various foundations I found came from this map. I think there might be another trip to Rice Army Airfield at some point in my future, to track down a few interesting looking spots I missed. This map combined with Google Earth tells me so.
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