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Reefer City, California

June, 2019

Yeah, that name…I know what you’re thinking….but, it’s not what you think, despite it being in California. It’s something completely different. And suitably weird.

Reefer City was a small community in the high desert of California, midway between Rosamond and Mojave. Its name came from the fact that the “dwellings” of Reefer City were repurposed railroad refrigerated cars (i.e., “Reefers”) that were used by the early residents, primarily local miners, as insulation from the Summer heat.

Reefer City, established in the 1930s, continued on until the early 1970s, when it was obliterated by its new owners.

I’ve known about the place since I was young, but I really can’t say for sure why I knew of it. Perhaps I read about it in one of Russ Leadabrand’s legendary Southern California guidebooks and this kind of weird shit in the desert burrows deep into my brain. In any case I thought it might be an appropriate addition to his website, seeing as how there’s very little info on the background of this place.

The best (and only!) historical rundown I’ve come across is a Los Angeles Times article from way back in 1971. I do take issue with part of the story where it states that Reefer City was established in 1933. Further below I have an excerpt from an aerial photo taken February 29, 1936 showing undisturbed desert where the community eventually was. So Reefer City’s true date of inception had to be 1936 or later.

Here’s part one of the LA Times piece.

Here’s part two of the LA Times piece.

In doing research on the site I did come across a couple of other old newspaper articles, shown below. Looks like fire was an issue for the place:

From the Bakersfield Californian, June 25, 1949.

From the Bakersfield Californian, January 24, 1955.

The evolution of Reefer City over time:

Image taken February 29, 1936. Reefer City will eventually be within the red oval, but it’s not there as of yet.

A 1943 USGS topo map shows Reefer City to be in place, as well as the copious adjacent mining activity, some of which continues to this day.

A more detailed USGS topo map from 1947. Looks like a community.

A 1952 aerial photograph shows the site about half occupied with significant vegetation. And a paved access road. Woohoo!!

A 1972 aerial photo shows the site with all structures removed. Thus endeth Reefer City. RIP.

A 1972 USGS topo map also shows the disappearance of Reefer City. So sad.

The site of Reefer City today. The black rows at the top of the pic are part of the many solar panel farms in the area. (2019, from Google Maps)

In June of 2019 I paid my first and only visit to the site, despite having passed nearby many times. Took a few pics. Not a lot to see beyond a cleared patch of desert.

Looking easterly across the site of Reefer City in June of 2019. The hills in the background were worked by the miner residents.

Looking north across the site of Reefer City in June, 2019. Lots of wind turbines and solar farms in the area these days.

What’s left of the community well that served Reefer City in June, 2019.

Looking south from Reefer City in June of 2019. There are still considerable gold/silver extraction operations by Golden Queen Mining in Soledad Mountain in the center of this image.

So not much to see these days, but a wonderfully, strange place that might be ideal for opening up a cannabis dispensary…..

Should you be foolish enough to want to visit the site (ya know….it’s all about the ‘gram!), access is easy. I believe the site itself is private property, but the adjacent road is public. Exit Hwy 14 at Silver Queen Road (Exit #64, Fleta). Head west 1.5 miles to Holt Street, then turn north. After 0.6 miles the site of Reefer City will be on the right (east).