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Inspired by a grandma who loved the Mojave Desert

Dale King desert house

Inspired by a grandma who loved the Mojave Desert

After grandpa died, my grandmother Dale King moved into a cabin in a lonely desert valley and spent her days roaming the backcountry.

Dale had always been free-spirited and artistic. When grandpa was alive, she weaved colorful fabrics on her loom and loved taking spontaneous trips to explore new places.

About a year after grandpa passed away, on a return trip from Baja California, Dale drove through the Mojave Desert and decided to buy land.

Dale King’s cabin southeast of Apple Valley, California.

Soon she was living year-round in a midcentury cabin southeast of Apple Valley, California. She witched a well for water, used kerosene lanterns for light, and burned kindling in a potbelly stove to keep her cabin warm. A propane tank fueled a cookstove and refrigerator.

Dale spent her days exploring the desert, traveling remote dirt roads in the same 1954 Cadillac she’d owned while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. As Dale ventured deeper into the desert, she graduated to a 4WD Toyota Landcruiser, and later to a 4WD Ford F-250 pickup truck.

Dale King in the early 1960s on a return visit to the SF Bay Area to visit family.

Dale was a strong hiker and could roam for miles. Along the way she hunted for gold and silver. She said that when she got close to valuable minerals, her arm would begin to tingle. She began staking mining claims – scores of them – and sometimes leased the claims to other miners.

Dale also turned her property into a unique and fascinating place. Reusing wood from abandoned shacks, she built a series of cabins and filled them with relics from ghost towns and abandoned mining camps. She also planted a sprawling garden of cacti and other native species.

Dale’s home became a gathering place for prospectors and desert rats. She loved when people surprised her with a visit. When she spotted the dust stirred up an approaching vehicle, she’d shade her eyes with her hand, stare into the distance and say: “Who’s that comin’ to see me?”

When Dale King moved into the Mojave, she was the only person for miles around.

Sometimes the visitor would turn out to be a TV crew from L.A., or a newspaper reporter looking to write a feature story. Dale was such a colorful character that she’d become a Mojave legend.

Starting before I can remember, my parents would take us to visit Grandma King and her desert wonderland. I spent hours poking around her property, looking at the colorful rocks and plants and examining her collection of relics.

Not sure why I was climbing atop the storage room! Note the water tank in the background.

Grandma also collected back issues of Desert Magazine; I loved reading the stories about lost mines and hidden treasures. As a teenager, I worked nights as a janitor and saved up to buy my first car: A 1955 Chevy 4WD pickup. Before long I was following grandma’s footsteps, exploring places like Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

Grandma remained in the Mojave Desert until her death at age 88. Even now, as I mine the Wild West for stories about law and true crime, the life of Dale King continues to inspire me.

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