A hand crank phone was installed in the Mojave Desert in 1948. It was originally called the Cinder Peak Phone due to its location near the Cinder Peak Mine. During the 1960s a rotary dial model replaced the crank phone and soon after the rotary dial model was replaced with a push-button phone.
The phone was relocated down a dirt road in 1972. This isolated phone booth was in the middle of the eastern Mojave Desert 15 miles south of the Cima Road exit of the Interstate 15 freeway that runs between Barstow, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. The dirt road was a typical sandy road and it was advised that the road only be accessed by four-wheel drive vehicles.
May 26, 1997, Godfrey “Doc” Daniels read a short article in the underground zine Wig Out, an independent music publication, about the isolated phone booth in the Mojave Desert. The article also included the phone number to the desert phone booth. Daniels took great interest in the article about the desert phone booth and started calling the number as soon as he got home.
Daniels continued to call the phone booth in the desert daily. Sometimes several times a day. Then, a few weeks after Daniels started calling the phone booth in the desert, Lorene Caffee answered the phone June 20, 1997. Daniels and Caffee talked and Daniels learned that Caffee lives in the area of the phone booth and works at one of the mines. Caffee uses the desert phone booth often to get her messages and conduct calls for the mine business. As the conversation ends Daniels tells Caffee that if she hears the phone ring again to answer the phone as it will be him calling.
Daniels searches for and finally finds the isolated phone booth Aug. 27, 1997, on his way to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Daniels starts to document and update his website with information about the isolated phone booth in the desert. Daniels names the project the Mojave Phone Booth Project and the phone originally known as the Cinder Peak Phone takes on the new name of the Mojave Phone Booth. Soon other websites appear and start posting information on the internet about the Mojave Phone Booth.
The initial interest and what was about to become the phenomenon of the Mojave Phone Booth was driven by the internet. Daniels had the most complete and popular website about the phone booth, but many others soon appeared or had stories about the Mojave Phone Booth incorporated into existing websites.
Some newspapers published articles about the Mojave Phone Booth but when the Los Angeles Times published a story on the phone booth Sept. 18, 1999, the Wireless Flash News Service picked up and carried the story which traveled worldwide. Major media coverage about the Mojave Phone Booth was carried on the BBC, CNN, NBC and NPR to name a few. The new desert phone booth mystery and interest also spread by word-of-mouth as a new urban legend.
People worldwide started to call the isolated phone booth in the desert in hopes of having someone answer.
And people were answering. Many people interested in the lonely phone traveled to its location and answered scores of incoming calls. The Mojave Phone Booth had become internationally famous and had its own, almost cult like, following.
Five years earlier in 1994 this area of the Mojave Desert, which included the location of the Mojave Phone Booth, became part of the newest national park called the Mojave National Preserve which was administered and managed by the National Park Service.
May 17, 2000, the Mojave National Preserve had Pacific Bell remove the Mojave Phone Booth from its location out in the desert and the phone booth was soon after destroyed.
There is much more information about the story of the Mojave Phone Booth in many news articles and short films and videos. The best and most comprehensive source for this information is in a new book recently published by Godfrey Daniels titled “Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth.”
If you are even slightly interested in desert stories, lore, phenomenon, social, quirky, odd and interesting things then buy the book!
It’s been 22 years since Daniels started the Mojave Phone Booth Project. The original Mojave Phone Booth is gone and there will never be another one quite like it. Or will there? Could there already be another version of the Mojave Phone Booth in another one of the deserts of the West?
Another lonely isolated phone booth in the Black Rock Desert, the Great Basin Desert, the Sonoran or Colorado deserts? Very well could be. Maybe it has already been found. Maybe more than one has been located.
But before we get into any new replacements of the one and only original Mojave Phone Booth, let’s look at other remote phone booths that might have gone on to become the next cult phone booth but won’t.
Phones That Will Never Replace the Mojave Phone Booth
Jacumba, California – Located off exit 77 on Interstate 8 on the line between San Diego County and Imperial County on In-Ko-Pah Park Road is the In-Ko-Pah Equipment Sales and 24-Hour Towing business. The In-Ko-Pah Equipment Sales and 24-Hour Towing has been in business for 35 years and the phone company maintained a public pay phone booth in front. A few years ago, the phone company removed the pay phone booth, and the owner of In-Ko-Pah Equipment Sales and 24-Hour Towing bought the phone booth back and had it replaced in its original location. The owner had the booth wired so that if someone picked up the phone it called the phone number of the business. The owner has since had that service discontinued but kept the booth wired for future service.
Jacumba Hot Springs, California – In 1919 rail service connected Jacumba to San Diego. By 1925 the town had a world class hotel, the Hotel Jacumba. In the 1930s, Jacumba had developed into a top destination and had a population of about 1,150. Movie stars and celebrities of the time regarded Jacumba as a prime destination for relaxation. Jacumba’s role as a prime destination continued through World War II. After the new Interstate 8 bypassed Jacumba by two miles, roadside service businesses folded, and the community went into economic decline. An arson fire destroyed the Jacumba Hotel in 1983. In 2013 the name of the town changed to Jacumba Hot Springs. It is located on the Mexican border and a small settlement exists on the Mexican side, known as Jacume. The unmanned crossing closed in 1995 and the new, enlarged border fence now runs through the area. The United States Border Patrol maintains an increased presence in the area to curtail smuggling and illegal immigration. The only public pay phone in Jacumba Hot Springs sits in front of the Mountain Sage Market on Old Highway 80. The phone number of (619) 766-9984 is disconnected and no longer in service.
Gerlach, Nevada – Gerlach is the southern entrance to the Black Rock Desert and was established in 1906. The Western Pacific Railroad built a train depot and roundhouse there. One of the items remaining from early railroading is a large wooden water tower in the center of town. The old railroad office building, which was moved from its original location to Main Street, was purchased by the counter culture event organizer Burning Man and is used as their local operations center. Two fully intact phone booths remain in Gerlach. One located in front of Bruno’s Café, (775) 557-9941 and the other is located on the side of the only gas station which also has a laundromat attached to the back. That phone, (775) 557-2924, as well as the one at the café have both been disconnected.
Empire, Nevada – Empire in the Black Rock Desert was established in 1922 as a company town for the Pacific Portland Cement Company which mined gypsum in the nearby mountains. Finished gypsum products were produced and shipped to Gerlach on the shortest operating railroad in Nevada. The plant was shut down in 2011 and Empire almost became a ghost town. The only store in Empire once hosted a phone booth in front but it was removed and placed inside the store. The phone booth sits next to one of the antique gas pumps in the corner of the store and is kept as a historic novelty item. The number of the booth, (775) 557-9916, has been disconnected for years.
Cedarville, California – Founded in 1864 as a stopping place for wagon trains, Cedarville, with a population of 514 people, is also the western gateway to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This remote town hosts two intact pay phones. One phone is located on Main Street between the post office and the drugstore, (530) 279-9901, and the other is at the seldom used airport, (530) 279-9395. Both phones have been disconnected.
Needles, California – It’s always discouraging when one of the very rare and extremely elusive intact public pay phones doesn’t work. It then becomes concerning when this inoperative pay phone is in front of the Frontier phone company office at 911 Route 66 in Needles, California. The phone had no dial tone and coins fell straight through. It’s obviously not a descendant of the great Mojave Phone Booth.
Midland, California – This remote phone is in the Sonoran Desert 122 miles southeast of the original location of the Mojave Phone Booth. The phone is provided to the BLM Long Term Visitor Area at Midland, California, and does not take coins or allow incoming calls.