According to Laura Hammonds, executive director of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (that is one long title, she has), nearly 3,000 people visit the center each year in Goffs.
Hmmm, what is Goffs?
Anyone familiar with traveling east or west on Interstate 40 knows the turn off for Goffs Road. It’s that exit with a certain gas station. I won’t say the name, but it charges a wee bit more for gas than anywhere else.
That’s OK – capitalism works and supply and demand is the root of capitalism. But here’s a thought: Check your gas gauge before leaving Barstow or Needles; you may be able to afford your kids’ college if you do.
There. I’m a financial whiz. Back to Goffs.
Goffs, like many small towns or villages along Route 66, has an interesting history. Also like many (that are still around), Goffs is very small when it comes to the number of humans living there.
“I’d say, that there are probably 10 full-time residents and maybe 25 during peak times,” Executive Director Laura said.
Must be very quiet in this part of the desert at night, miles away from the rumble of Highway 40 to the south. Really quiet.
“You can hear a bat flapping its wings while it flies over the Piute Mountains. It’s so quiet here.”
That wasn’t a quote from Laura. I made it up, as I sometimes do. But it must be nearly silent at night – except for one thing:
The railroad that is literally in the town itself.
“The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Goffs crossing is here.” Laura told me. “The train crosses Route 66 right here at Goffs.”
That’s a real statement, by the way; I didn’t make that one up.
Ah, the railroad. That wonderful creation which brings us so many of the goods we need to make life bearable sweeps through Goffs at all hours of the day and night, tooting its horn all the way.
It carries medicine, food, stuff we buy that we don’t really need and personal hygiene supplies like toilet paper – yes, toilet paper.
No one will soon forget 2020, the year when it wasn’t unusual to see someone stop their Rolls-Royce at a traffic light, lower the window and ask the driver in another Rolls, “Pardon me, would you have any Charmin Ultra-Soft?”
“But of course!” was not the reply in, say, March and April.
Anyway, Goffs was originally named Blake in 1893 after Isaac Blake, who built the Nevada Southern Railway. That name was later changed to the California Eastern Railway, which was changed to something else even later on, which was changed to something else still later.
As with so much of life, change is inevitable.
And so it is with names of railroads. Today, it is the Santa Fe Railroad for short, and so far the name has stuck. But who knows what tomorrow may bring.
The research is not conclusive on where Goffs’ name originated, but the railroad was using names in an alphabetical way for stops along the tracks.
Let’s call this one Goffs? Got no idea why, but won’t it be fun a long time from now when people try to guess the origin? There you go, future folks!
My lovely spouse, Laureen, likes to think Goffs was named after Helen Lyndon Goff, who wrote the magical “Mary Poppins” book series under the pen name P. L. Travers. And she says I have an imagination. But who knows?
The history of Goffs dates way back to when this area saw the likes of Francisco Garces, the first non-native, in 1776. The Spanish friar and explorer was looking for an easy passage east and west through the Mojave Desert, and he spent considerable time not far from present-day Goffs.
In fact, Garces’ desert route is what we know today as the Mojave Road — that stretch of isolation on which off-roaders love to spend time.
I drove that stretch a few years back — in the summer of course, with only one vehicle of course – and lived to tell about it. Thanks Friar Garces. In my heart you are a saint for watching over not the brightest of desert travelers.
Then the adventurer Jedediah Smith came through the area twice, once in 1826 and again in 1827, also looking for a route through the oftentimes difficult desert terrain. On one of those adventures, it is believed that Smith was running for his life from the direction of the Colorado River, chased by a group of angry Native Americans. I wasn’t there, but it is a good story all the same.
Goffs played an important role delivering water for the steam engines on the main line to Barstow. Being situated only 30 miles from Needles made this location – at the top of the hill — the ideal watering stop for trains.
By 1911, there were enough Santa Fe workers and their families to warrant the building of a schoolhouse, which arrived in 1914.
The schoolhouse still stands and can be visited on the museum grounds, run by Laura’s Heritage and Cultural Association. Along with the schoolhouse, there are many exhibits detailing the history of this once-thriving town on Route 66.
Like any town along the route, what were first simple paths became wagon trails, then railroad lines and, eventually, dirt paths along those railroad lines were paved. From there you have a road for that contraption called a car.
The U.S. Army built a training center in the area during WWII called Camp Goffs. It served its purpose until 1944.
According to Laura, “Because of the availability of water and good rail service, an entire division was here at Goffs at one time. People can still find military artifacts throughout the Goffs area.”
We all love finding trinkets on our adventures, but if you come across a rusty, pointy, munitiony thingy, please leave it alone.
“Everything that happened in the West, happened here. Mining, homesteading, cattle ranching, railroad, and Route 66. It all happened in Lanfair Valley,” Laura said.
Yes, Goffs is located in Lanfair Valley. According to Wikipedia, Lanfair Valley is drained southeastwards then due south by the Sacramento Wash, which then turns due-east and combines with the Piute Wash drainage. The dual valley drainage is a U-shape, and the first major dry wash drainage from the west, into the Colorado River, south of Lake Mead.
I have no idea what that means exactly, but the area sure is pretty.
Goffs’ largest building, the general store, is abandoned but still standing – unfortunately it has been vandalized and graffitified (I made that word up, but looks like it should be entered into Merriam Webster’s book).
Goffs is definitely worth a visit. The museum opens in October, which is a wonderful time of year to visit anything in the desert.
When did I visit? In summer. When else?
Contact John R. Beyer at BeyersByways@gmail.com.