Scenic/Historic Designation for
Old Woman Springs Rd (Hwy 247)
We would like Old Woman Springs Rd. declared an Historic Road, and/or California State Hwy. 247 declared a Scenic Highway. Both would be great. Also see www.scenichwy247.com
Hwy. 247 starts at Hwy. 62 in Yucca Valley, travels through sparsely settled high desert country to Lucerne Valley, then continues northward to its end in Barstow. The stretch of highway called Old Woman Springs Rd. runs the same route, ending in Lucerne Valley.
The four communities in the Homestead Valley Community Council (Yucca Mesa, Flamingo Heights, Landers and Johnson Valley) are tied together by this road. The only other settlement is Lucerne Valley, some 50 miles from Yucca Valley.
Today the road is two lanes wide, little changed since it was paved. It travels through high desert vistas, and these are little changed for hundreds of years. It takes you past old homestead cabins, some abandoned to the elements, many still occupied, some transformed into dream getaways. It presents a fascinating array of California geology and biology. Mesas, huge sand washes, lava flows, cinder cones, mountains in a variety of forms. The Joshua Tree, signature of the Mojave desert, appears everywhere, sometimes alone, sometimes in forest stands. Yucca abounds and so does the amazing creosote bush. The spring wildflowers can be astonishing; banner years are long remembered since rainfall is so rare.
As the road curves into the breathtaking panorama of Johnson Valley, the views are completely uninterrupted. Sandy tracks wander off into the desert toward old mines, inviting the visitor in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a supply of water, to go to the distant mountains. The mystery and mystique of these ranges against the desert sky are unforgettable, whether the sky is clear, hazy, built up with piles of clouds, trailing rain, or even snowing. In the early morning or late evening, long blue shadows trail across alluvial fans and knobby hills. Eagles, hawks and coyotes range far and wide.
The stretch of highway headed north toward Barstow after leaving the settlement of Lucerne Valley also travels through some dramatic country. You leave behind buildings, power transmission towers and other construction for a good long way traveling through the Ord Mountains; scenic, indeed.
THE LIST OF THREATS to this entire road seem endless.
Remotely generated renewable energy is the most destructive. A California Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative map shows the planned designation of Hwy. 247 as an energy transmission corridor two to five miles wide! (The community of Johnson Valley is only about 2 miles wide). Also shown is a proposed electrical substation right on the highway in the area of Linn Rd. (This is the viewpoint to see the legendary Integretron, a gleaming white dome a couple of miles downslope in Landers.)
Dozens of applications from big energy companies, including oil companies, have been made to the BLM to allow solar fields and wind farms along the route and on public lands beside the homestead communities. You probably have heard of these proposals, as well as the possible expansion of the Twentynine Palms Marine Base into Johnson Valley. Plus, an attempt is being made to rezone a section of the road in Flamingo Heights to Commercial.
Achieving historic or scenic status could impede some of these projects, as well as the projected increase in commercial traffic with the opening of the Palmdale-Victorville transportation corridor, also the increased traffic by the Marine Base if it does expand into the Johnson Valley Open Area (see the Marine Base Expansion story on this site.)
HISTORY SURROUNDING OLD WOMAN SPRINGS ROAD
Here is some of the information I know or have heard about Old Woman Springs Rd. Some of my information is quite old and I don't know where I heard it, it needs verifying.
-The "old woman" was Native American. The story is, the camp that gave the spring its name was occupied by an old woman or old women of the local tribe at the time of the arrival of the early surveyors in 1856.
-The route has been used well over 100 years. Hwy. 247 from Lucerne Valley east to Pipes Wash follows the line of Old Woman Springs Rd, sometimes called the Victor Rd., the Victorville Rd. or the Victor Valley Rd. It may have continued into Yucca Valley on the same route as today, but I can't be sure. I have seen a reference to a dirt grade, which sounds like Yucca Valley, but it is possible the road went into Pipes Canyon, through the Pioneertown area and arrived at what is now called Old Town Yucca Valley. Yucca Valley History/Ordinances website page says, "The first subdivisions laying out streets and beginning a town were started in 1946, one in the western end, centering at Pioneertown Road, and one further east along Old Woman Springs Road (known as Victorville Road)."
-Where the paving of 247 deviated from the OWS route, traces of the old dirt road remain in the desert. It goes right between the Johnson Valley Community Center and the Firehouse and is visible for several miles.
-The vistas are largely unchanged in the last 100 years (one of the criteria for historic status). The five-acre homesteads that appeared in the 1950's are also now eligible for historic status.
-The road was used in the cattle ranching era, circa 1900-1940...I have quite a reference for that time, in "Heart Bar Ranch and Johnson Valley Neighbors" by historian Martha Coutant, one of the first homesteaders in Johnson Valley. Heart Bar was active both in the desert and up into the mountains at Big Bear.
-The road passes the famous Old Woman Springs Ranch, which was the desert half of Heart Bar. This has amazing water resources, with year-round ponds which attract migratory birds. I have seen Canada geese there.
-Heart Bar winter range stretched from Lucerne Valley to Pipes Wash in an area about 10 miles wide. Heart Bar dug several wells in the area, including Means Well and Ames Well, and had supplies hauled from Victor (Victorville), about 37 miles.
-The road passes near the King Clone creosote circle, the oldest known plant.
-It kept close to the series of year-round springs at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, mentioned in histories, including Old Woman, One Hole, Two Hole and Rock Corral. Rock Corral was probably built by Heart Bar, it still exists complete with watering trough, about 2-1/2 miles south of Hwy. 247. It is in the history books, associated with the story of Willie Boy, "the last manhunt."
-The road possibly appears in the mining history of the San Bernardinos and Johnson Valley, but I have not pursued this source yet. Johnson Valley was called the Dry Lakes Mining District; at least 40 gold mines were reported here.
-Miners, prospectors and cowboys stopped for food at Old Woman Springs Ranch.
-I heard freight was hauled over part of the route, on the way to Twentynine Palms and beyond to the Dale Mining District.
-I have a 1941 Standard Oil road map showing the dirt road connecting Lucerne Valley and Yucca Valley (Yucca Valley is not named). It shows Old Woman Springs, Rock Corral and Giant Rock Airport. This was the only road out here when the homesteaders started coming in the 50's. There is a 1955 hand-drawn map donated to the Johnson Valley Community Center showing both the old road and the current alignment, still unpaved at the time of publication. A map in Martha Coutant's history, "Heart Bar Ranch and Johnson Valley Neighbors," published in 1986, shows the road, the springs and other landmarks. Water sources were always marked on Auto Club maps, and still are.
-A resident of Johnson Valley tells me there are boulders on his property with holes drilled into them. He was told there were plans to blast the rocks to allow passage of stagecoaches. This is the only reference I have ever heard of to stagecoaches, though there are references to teams (mules? horses? oxen?) hauling freight.
-The road was paved and numbered 247 in the 60's.
Alan Rasmussen, Field Representative for Neil Derry, Supervisor for the Third District of San Bernardino County, has started contact with the Scenic Highways Program. The County is the "governing body" for the road, from the time it leaves Yucca Valley to its arrival at Barstow. Guidelines to establishing historic roads and scenic highways are on the Internet. Much material has been lent to me by people in the area. Obviously some kind of presentation has to be created for the county or CalTrans or both.
Highway 247 is labeled by CalTrans as "eligible" for Scenic Highway status. Since so far its views do not include power towers and huge windmills and solar fields, it could well be one of the least despoiled series of desert views left in California.
I have been sent some information that is in the Joshua Tree library, but have not researched any other library sources. I know I got some of my background knowledge of San Bernardino County history from books in the Inglewood, CA, Library, of all places. I have applied the Auto Club of Southern California for help with old maps and photos, just on the off chance...
As you see, the surface is hardly scratched. Just in case you feel blocking alternative energy production in the desert is a bad thing, I can steer you to a ton of material on doing it the better way, locally, with no transmission lines necessary, on the rooftops.
But that's another story, for another time. (See the AB811 Page on this website).
I wish I could reach the old-timers out here that each know a little bit. The holes in the rocks story just popped up a short while ago, from someone I have known for 10 years. This road travels through a sparsely populated territory. History known to very few fades fast.
If you can help, e-mail me at email@example.com Subject: 247 History, or call the number below. And check back every once in a while to see what's happening.
President, Johnson Valley Improvement Association
Secretary, Homestead Valley Community Council