Camp Desert Center

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  Camp Desert Center

Little is known about Camp Desert Center.  Evidence for its existence includes a use permit issued by the secretary of the interior to the War Department, dated April 1942.  The permit references a divisional camp, and included land within Township 5 South, Range 14 East, Sections 26, 28, 30, 32, and 34; and Township 4 South, Range 15 East, Sections 1-15, 17, 18, 22, and 30-34 (Ickes 1942:1-2).  Approximately 34,000 acres were acquired by the War Department for the camp through either leases or transfers.  The land is located along the north side of current Interstate 10, between Chiriaco Summit and Desert Center, and includes land immediately to the east of Eagle Mountain Road.  The installation reportedly consisted of a maneuver area, as well as an encampment with temporary housing structures (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1993 :3).  An evacuation hospital, observers camp, ordnance campsite, and quartermaster truck site also were reported to have been located at Desert Center.

The map at the right shows the locations of the Evacuation Hospital, Observers' Camp, Quartermaster Truck Company, and 18th Ordnance Battalion relative to the airfield.

The 36th Evacuation Hospital was a 400 bed unit that provided care to sick and wounded soldiers under combat conditions.  The unit was instrumental in developing procedures for training doctors and nurses and later served in the pacific theater of operations where it took part in the New Guinea, Luzon, and Leyte campaigns, the occupation of Japan.  It is located at the intersection of Ragsdale and Eagle Mountain Roads at the Eagle Mountain off ramp.

Current Condition
Little remains of Camp Desert Center today.  Rock-lined roads, walkways, and tent areas are discernible in the area immediately

Desert Center AAF today

east of Eagle Mountain Road and north of the old highway.  A few of the main roads were surfaced with oil, others contained asphalt.  There are also insignias formed with rocks, although their meanings are not currently known.  Trash can also be found, consisting primarily of cans (e .g., oil, gas, and food).  Interviews with local informants indicate that other areas of the camp can be found throughout the valley north of Desert Center.  These local informants mentioned the presence of the camp's refuse dump, as well as rock-lined walkways and roads.  

Evidence of other military activity can be found throughout the general area, including 1940s-era refuse near the railroad tracks leading to the Eagle Mountain Mine.  There was also a DTC/C-AMA evacuation hospital at Desert Center, although its exact location is not currently known.  It is possible that the rock-lined walkways found immediately east of Eagle Mountain Road represent this evacuation hospital, not a divisional camp.  Further research must be performed in order to ascertain the type, location, and extent of DTC/C-AMA-related installations in the Desert Center area.


[1] The Desert Training Center/California-Arizona Maneuver Area,1942-1944 HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTEXTS; Matt C. Bischoff




a. Chronological Site Summary

(1) This site is a small part of the California-Arizona Maneuver Area (C-AMA). The C-AMA was intended for division and corps sized maneuvers. At one point, C-AMA involved twelve million acres of land. In the March 1942, Major General Patton spent three days reconnoitering the southern portion of California for possible locations of desert training sites. Desert Center was one of the locations selected for a division cantonment. Patton was favorably impressed with the C-AMA. There was adequate, if not abundant water.  He rejected the suggestion that troops build storage tanks for water. They had no time to do anything, Patton said, except to learn to fight (Reference B-8).

Despite the name of the site, an army division was not stationed at the site.  Only rear area troops were encamped in and around the site (See F-5 and F-6). 

(2) When originally planned, this site was desirable due to the location of a possible camouflage area and available water (See document L-1 and plate 2).  The Army originally desired a compact area of two and one third sections of land, except for water and mining claims (See document L-2).  There must have been a number of land claims pending, in that the land the Army acquired was oddly shaped and not compact.  Only one of the sources of water available in the vicinity of Desert Center
was located within the boundaries of the site (See Plate 2).

(3) No division camp was built on the site (See document F-5).  The only units stationed at Desert Center were an evacuation hospital, an observer detachment, an ordnance maintenance company, a quartermaster truck unit and Ammunition Depot.  No. 1 (See document F-6).  No ranges or impact areas were on the site (See documents L-3 and L-4).

(4) Units were not particular were they established their camps.  Locations of the encampments were discovered by interview and visual inspect discussed later in the report.  Two of the camps were located in the south half of Section 24, Township 5 South, Range 15 East.  The plat map used by the BLM during the second world war does not show any permit issued to the military for use of this section (See documents G-6 and G-7).  It appears the camps were established due to the close
proximity of a water well (See plate 2) and the local BLM did not object.

(5) An unknown Ordnance unit at Desert Center operated Ammunition Depot No. 1 (See documents F-6 and F-10).  The location of the ammunition depot was not discovered during the records search and the later discussed interviews and site inspection.

Divisions camps have a large soft surfaced road network not present on this site.  Other military activity tends to centered around the road network and water sources available at the time.  Unit camps, other than division camps, with officers of Colonel or higher are located at water points next to hard surfaced roads and telephone lines.  Units of battalion size and smaller are located at water points near any available road.  The site that is the subject of this report had a water point at the intersection of three unimproved roads.  However, based upon historic documents, no known military activity occurred at
this water point.  (Source: Army Corps of Engineers)

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