The Strange History of the Mojave Phone Booth

mojave-phone-booth lara hartley

The Mojave Phone Booth captured by Lara Hartley for Barstow’s Desert Dispatch

Do you know the history of the loneliest phone in America? If you traveled to California’s Mojave National Preserve in the 1990s, on a dirt road off the Cima Dome Road you would have come across an old-school phone booth – the kind that Clark Kent used to change into Superman – that no longer exists, but served many years as the only communication line for miners in the Mojave desert. Literally in the middle of nowhere, the phone booth served its purpose as a locals only line for decades before going viral thanks to the early days of internet influence. The original phone line was installed for local miners in 1948, but the booth was installed in the 1960s. Eight miles from the nearest paved road, the booth changed area codes twice before settling on 760-733-9969.

Back in the mid 1990s, a guy in Phoenix named Godfrey Daniels – better known as Doc – read about a phone number for a remote phone booth in an underground magazine and became obsessed with calling it. Repeatedly. He kept a Post-It note in his bathroom that read, “Did You Remember to Call the Mojave Desert Today?” After endless ringing for a month, Doc caught a busy signal and redialed frantically until a lady named Lorene answered the phone and confirmed its existence. Doc was ecstatic. He had found his calling. A summer road trip to locate the booth in the Mojave National Preserve resulted in the phone ringing loudly in the dark desert night once Doc paged a friend to call him at the booth. Afterward, back home in Phoenix, Doc gave the Mojave Phone Booth a webpage at DeuceofClubs.com (still available in vintage 90s format) and a shot at infamy. As quiet as the internet was in 1997, it didn’t stop the story of the Mojave Phone Booth from reaching far-flung corners of the globe and people began calling the booth on a regular basis. When Doc traveled back to the booth a year later, the phone rang incessantly and they talked to people from all over the world. Others traveled to the booth’s location to be on the receiving end of calls. The booth even inspired a Hollywood film, “Mojave Phone Booth“.

400px-Movieposter_MojavePhoneBooth2006The party line lasted until May 17, 2000 when the National Park Service decided that the pilgrimage to the booth was inappropriate for a national preserve and had the booth removed. NPS issued the following statement:

“After weighing the environmental concerns and the public need, Pacific Bell and the National Park Service agreed to remove a pay phone in a remote pocket of the Mojave National Preserve. While the phone and its location proved to be a novelty for some in recent months the increased public traffic had a negative impact on the desert environment in the nation’s newest national park.”

But the booth lives on in both legend and soon-to-be-literature. Doc is authoring a book about the phone booth phenomenon entitled, “Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth” that is scheduled for publication in May 2015 – fifteen years after the booth’s demise. Today, the Mojave Phone Booth number – 760-733-9969 – has been resurrected by phone phreak Lucky225 as a permanent conference call for whoever would like to join. Well, is it ringing?

 

 

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