≡ Menu

Long Read of the Week: A California Dream @ Neatorama

California’s third-largest city by area is an urban-planning disaster, a sprawl of empty grids that aspired to become a megacity—and failed. But as the desert works to reclaim the land, it’s become a mecca of another kind.

It was June in the Mojave desert and the sun was blistering. The land around me was empty, scorched, and flat, dotted by brush and the occasional piece of windswept trash. Judging by the map, the intersection where I’d stopped was a busy crossroads between two major thruways. But when I shifted into park in the middle of the road, no one honked. No one looked at me funny. I hadn’t seen another car in an hour at least.

It was probably the safest intersection in America to pull over and take a nap.

According to the map, I was surrounded by cul-de-sacs and neighborhoods. In reality, there was nothing but sand and more sand—and roads. Endless roads. Roads in all directions, marked by white fence posts and the occasional lonely pole. Some were paved. Some were dirt. Some had long ago been reclaimed by the encroaching sand.

California City, California, is the third-largest city by area in America’s third-largest state, and most of it barely even qualifies as a ghost town—a ghost town needs people to have lived there first.

California City is a ghost grid.

That afternoon, it was 98 degrees. Bugged out by the isolation, I kept thinking about everything I didn’t know how to fix if something went wrong with my car. I checked my phone in case I needed to call AAA: no reception. I shaded my eyes with my hand. In the near distance were two hulking wrecks, old cars like two relics of a previous era. The 14,000 or so people who do live in California City were miles behind me, in a concentration of ranch homes and stores clustered around the main drag. Out here, the only evidence of life was a half-dozen RVs I’d spotted, circled like wagons, and two dirt bikes I saw cresting a hill.

A hundred yards away, I spotted a mini tornado kicking up sand, whirling straight toward me. Time to go. I jumped back in the car, shifted into drive, and hit the gas—and 30 seconds later, plunged the nose of my Honda Accord off the lip of a three-foot drop.

Who put a sand dune there?….”

RTWT AT     A California Dream – Neatorama

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Greg October 7, 2017, 8:32 PM

    Florida has it’s own version of this.

  • ghostsniper October 8, 2017, 4:59 AM

    Cape Coral, Florida started out the same way back in the mid 50’s, and look at it now. In land mass, it’s the largest city in FL. Several hundred thousand residents. In the 70’s and 80’s hardly anybody lived there and it was called “The home of the newly wed and the nearly dead” and properties were affordable but it was way out in the middle of nowhere and have very little commerce. As a new couple we moved with our young son to the Cape in 1986 and lived there for 20 years before escaping to here in the forest of the great white north. In the 80’s the Cape was still liveable by sane people but the 90’s and on brought thousands of new residents from all over the country and world and all of the issues that go with rapid expansion.

    After living here for a couple years I lost touch with the Cape and only recently looked at the online version of the newspaper there and I thought I was reading about a huge metropolis. All the crime and other ills of urbanville. They now have a female mayor and she’s been fooling around with the fire marshal who happens to be a violent criminal. And the politics comedy hour continues…..

  • Suzanne October 8, 2017, 7:52 PM

    Lived there for many many years did the motocross circuit for many,know many desert dwellers and have never heard of this place. Mahalo……also pretty that borax place was Boron?? Bother and neighbor did that gig, strange days indeed.

  • Suzanne October 8, 2017, 7:53 PM


  • Allen October 10, 2017, 9:03 PM

    Before the prison was built there Cal City was just a few lights off in the distance from Highway 395. The road was a long stretch of 2 lane with hardly a car on it, and when you drove it late at night Art Bell’s show seemed to be a natural choice to listen to.

    Then as you got farther north you’d sometimes see some late night hi-jinks over China Lake. Secrets are easy to keep in the high desert.