The Dead Mojave Phone Booth

April 14, 2006

by Wiley Davis

Non-maintained roads, and non-maintained plans, share a similar end. Both converge on the unexpected, and create adventures in the process. Our plan last weekend was straightforward. We would drive to the Mojave desert in California, and pay a visit to the now famous (and now non-existent) phone booth in the middle of nowhere. There used to be a phone booth situated alongside a lonely stretch of dirt road in the middle of the Mojave desert. Not only was this phone booth isolated, but it was fully functioning as well. Word about the booth leaked out, and soon websites began springing up, paying homage to a simple Pac Bell telephone, that due to it's locale, had taken on mythic proportions.The interesting part is what happened next. People from all over the world began to get word of the Mojave Phone Booth, and demonstrating that innate curiosity which makes us human, began calling the booth on the off chance that someone might actually answer it. Our mission for the weekend was to be there…to answer the world's call. The world however, with the help of a dusty old stretch of historic route 66, and a one-horse town called Goffs, had it's own call, the call of adventure in unexpected places, and we answered it obediently.

Boredom was the deciding factor. I was trapped on Interstate 40, heading west, surrounded by the magic of the billowing desert, and confined to the straight and narrow path of asphalt that leads to falling asleep at the wheel. Salvation came suddenly, with the swift approach of a sign that read "Historic Route 66…Mountain Springs Road". Lured by the nostalgia of the old 66, and a longing to know whether or not Mountain Springs road led to a mountain spring, I took the exit.

Mt. Springs Rd. it turns out, is not maintained by San Bernardino County…nor any other county for that matter. Originally paved, it had succumbed to the weather and the harsh Mojave summers, and was now a pleasing mixture of soft desert sands and gooey patches of asphalt. Six miles from the turnoff, due north, was the town of Goffs. Goffs is the sort of place that begs you to question its reasons for being. Originally used as a watering stop for the Southern Pacific railroad, it was now a dusty little bump along a road that had long lost its necessity. It boasted a restored schoolhouse and a general store that is famous for the glass doors on its bathroom stalls.

The proprietor of the General Store, a man whose name I never caught, seemed to get a kick out of the conversation the glass doors generated, and was unable to understand why anyone would have a problem doing their business in plain view of others. The Proprietor used to teach elementary school in Los Angeles, a 27 year stint that he lovingly referred to as "My time spent in hell", not because of the job, but the location. Retired now, he moved to Goffs and spends his time constructing additions to the store and talking to passers-through. When asked why Goffs existed he said matter-of-factly, "well now, if it wasn't for this town, there'd be nothing here.". He was absolutely right.

With confirmed directions and a map in hand, we left Goffs and headed north on Lanfair Rd. From there it was a left onto Cedar Canyon rd., which was part of the historic Mojave Road, originally established by the Colorado River Mojave Indians to transport goods to the coastal areas for trade. This road would lead us to Cima rd., where the turnoff supposedly was for the phone booth. Halfway there however, the unexpected rang again, and I found myself turning down the driveway of a man named Carl Faber…Artist, a man I had never met, but felt compelled to visit nonetheless.

Carl Faber it turned out, had lived in the Mojave desert for most of his life. Before that, he was a denizen of Hollywood Blvd. Convinced from the time he was eight years old that he wanted to be an artist, he spent his early days being a part of the burgeoning hippie scene on the Boulevard in the sixties. Then, in his twenties, he moved to the desert, and lived in a tent, alone for seven years. It was during this time that he experimented heavily with hallucinogenic drugs like LSD and Magic Mushrooms.

He eventually moved into an old stone house at the OX ranch called "The Rockhouse", and made a living by painting incredibly detailed desert scenes. It was also at The Rockhouse that he was shot in the head during an attempted robbery. He remembers sitting in his living room watching TV, when all of a sudden, a bullet tore through his left cheek and exited his lower jaw. Confused, he grabbed a flashlight and went outside to confront his attacker. Finding nothing, he grabbed a rifle from his truck. He was unable to start the vehicle though, because the battery from it was wired to the television that he had been watching when he was shot. With rifle in hand and a single-minded will to survive, he walked into town for medical attention. His attacker was never found.

He now lives with a woman named Adrian and spends his time painting and gardening, and fussing over the finicky propane refrigerator that gives him nothing but trouble. We spent several hours looking at art and talking with the odd couple, enjoying a fine day in the desert. As we prepare to leave a white truck pulls into the drive and a man wearing yellow-tinted sunglasses and a large-billed hat gets out and walks up to Carl's house to introduce his son who is in the military in Texas. As they are talking a neighbor from a few miles down the road shows up to return some videos he had borrowed. I take one last look around and have trouble picturing what this particular hodgepodge of people must look like to a casual observer. We bid farewell and continue toward the phone booth.

Several wrong-turns, and twelve miles of rough, sandy road and we find the booth. It is as isolated as the publicity has made it out to be, but with fame comes crowds, and we find ten others camped out around the phone, taking turns answering the calls that kept ringing into the small hours of the night. Everyone there had nicknames, like Evil, the girl who came to greet us when we first arrived, or Boog, one of her friends. We met a teacher from Los Angeles who taught English to inmates, and we got to see someone skin a rabbit they had killed earlier that day. We talked to people from Germany, Massachusetts, and a bar in Texas. People form all over the world were calling to talk to us, and while the phone calls poured in one after the other, we sat around a campfire and drank beer with the people who had come to answer those calls. Drawn here by nothing more than the desire to participate in oddity. We drank of the gritty experience that the non-maintained road has to offer.


One Response to “The Dead Mojave Phone Booth”

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