Goffs Schoolhouse Museum: A Legacy of Learning

Consider the town of Goffs for a moment. You really should. You’ll feel much better. With a current population 23, plus or minus a few jackrabbits, and situated eleven miles from Interstate 40, Goffs is today a wealth of history, and ground zero for any serious study of the Mojave Desert. Originally named Blake, Goffs was founded in 1883 when a railroad siding was built at the top of the hill in the Lanfair Valley. The town was renamed in 1902, in order to fit into the series of “alphabet towns” that sprang up in the desert beginning in the mid to late nineteenth century. The name, “Goffs,” filled a convenient empty space between the towns of Fenner and Homer.

Route 66 came through Goffs in 1926, connecting it with so many other towns and cities between Chicago and Santa Monica. For a time, life in Goffs was good. Not like a boomtown good, but a nice place to stop on the way further west. The town flourished until 1931, when the Mother Road was realigned six miles away. Goffs rallied back in World War II when General Patton saved the day. As part of the Army’s Desert Training Center, “Camp Goffs” was home to as many as 10,000 soldiers at a time. Living in combat conditions in tents and under the stars, the troops slowly burned up most of the old buildings piece by piece to stay warm. The High Desert in the winter can be a tad chilly without heat.

Sadly, in the late 1960s, when Interstate 40 was becoming a reality, Goffs, like other Route 66 towns, was on its way to ghost town status. So what does a town do in a crisis? Call in the Marines. Well, in a roundabout way, of course. In this case, it was in the personage of Dennis Casebier. Just the mention of his name conjures up so much respect based on his reputation as an astute researcher and prolific collector of all things eastern Mojave Desert. Dennis was raised in Kansas and, like Dorothy Gale, eventually found his way to his own Land of Oz. Clearly, he was not in Kansas anymore. While serving with the USMC at the expansive 29 Palms Marine base during the Korean War, Dennis became enamored with the history and lore of the Mojave, and vowed to return one day.

A few years later, armed with a Bachelor of Science in Math and Physics from a Kansas university, Dennis became a physicist for the U.S. Navy, and made his way to the Naval Sea Systems Command in Norco, California. A mere 200 miles from a place he would one day change forever. Although his career took him many places all over the world, the Mojave Desert was never far from Dennis’ mind. He began a lifelong passion of poring through archives, old photos and early maps to add to his desert collection. Dennis began exploring the Mojave Road, and by 1970 he had traveled the entire route from the Colorado River west to Camp Cady and began writing books about its history and routes. 

We’ve traveled most of the Mojave Road on several occasions, and Dennis Casebier’s books are always with us. Before Dennis retired in 1990, he and his wife, Jo Ann, bought the fast decaying Goffs Schoolhouse and 113 adjoining acres for $100,000. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Dennis passed away in 2021, and we’ve included his obituary, below. Dennis Casebier is a man who will live on in the hearts and memories of desert researchers, explorers, his family and countless friends forever.

Obituary of Dennis G. Casebier


“Dennis G. Casebier passed away at his home in Bullhead City, Arizona, at 9:30 p.m. on February 10, 2021, with his daughter Darelyn sitting at his bedside. He was 86 years old. Dennis was born in Topeka, Kansas, on September 23, 1934, to Marvin and Mary (Kieffer) Casebier.

Dennis was a scientist turned historian. He had an amazing photographic knowledge of desert history, made all the richer by his extensive research and numerous oral interviews with “old-timers.” His books and “educational outreach” changed the way we view the Mojave Desert. Because of Dennis’ knowledge and visionary guidance, the desert is no longer a vast, empty waste land.

Dennis attended public schools in Topeka, graduating from high school in 1952. In the summer of 1953, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps with the intention of participating in the Korean War, but soon afterward the armistice was signed ending the war. Dennis began his military service by attending a radio-telegraph operators’ course in San Diego. In 1954 he joined a field command at the Marine Base at Twentynine Palms, California. While at Twentynine Palms, he became “hooked on the desert. “

Between 1956 and 1960 he attended Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and received a B.S. in mathematics and physics. After the Soviets put Sputnik in space, America needed scientists and engineers. In 1960 he took a position at the Navy guided-missile laboratory in Corona, California, which turned into a 30-year career. In 1995, he began working for Computer Sciences Corporation as a senior systems engineer consultant supporting the Navy. After another 16 years, he finally retired.

The move to Corona, California, in 1960 brought him from Kansas much closer to the desert. At first, he explored Joshua Tree National Monument, which he found too crowded; then he ventured to the then seldom visited East Mojave Desert. The scenery, layers of history, and the few residents still there fascinated him. Soon he discovered the Old Government Road (Mojave Road) but found that almost nothing had been written about it. At that time, in the early 1960s, Dennis began spending a large amount of time on Navy business in Washington, D.C., where he spent several weeks at a time. Soon he began researching original Army and other federal records at the National Archives and the Library of Congress, looking for early history of the East Mojave, to find out what an “Old Government Road” was.

Besides research, Dennis began exploring the Mojave Road, and by 1970 he had traveled the entire route from the Colorado River west to Camp Cady. Beginning in 1970 he began writing books. The first book was published by Arizona State University. After that he formed the Tales of the Mojave Road Publishing Company. Soon, the Mojave Road became more familiar to the public through his publications and slide shows. By the mid-1970s Dennis began assisting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), helping to guide the future of the Mojave Road.

In 1980, the Associated Blazers of California asked Dennis to lead a small group of four-wheel-drive vehicles over the Mojave Road. In May 1981 at a meeting of scientists, desert explorers, and BLM employees, the organization, Friends of the Mojave Road, was formed, with Dennis named chairman. The “Friends” entered into a volunteer agreement to develop the Mojave Road into a recreational trail. They agreed to make minor road repairs, erect rock cairns at intersections to point the way, and prepare and publish a Mojave Road guide. These tasks were accomplished in November 1983 with the publication of the Guide to the Mojave Road.

Following the May 1981 meeting, the “Friends” and BLM began to lay plans for a Mojave Road Rendezvous that occurred during November. Despite sparse publicity, it was very well attended. Rendezvous is an annual event that continues to this day.

Encouraged by the Mojave Road experience, the Friends of the Mojave Road developed a 660-mile East Mojave Heritage Trail.

After Dennis retired from federal service on the last day of 1989, he and his wife, Jo Ann, purchased the crumbling Goffs Schoolhouse and the 100 acres that it sat on. After moving to Goffs with his books and research material, the “Friends” contributed vast amount of volunteer work at Goffs. In 1993, the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA) was formed to ensure that the historical research collection and the work being done on the schoolhouse property at Goffs would exist in perpetuity. In late 1998, restoration of the schoolhouse was completed.

In 2008, a large library facility modeled after the Goffs railway depot was completed. It cost about one million dollars to build. Since retirement from Federal Civil Service in 1990, the bulk of Dennis’ time was spent building up the archives now housed in this building. The archives include a 6,000-volume library of books, over 1,000 recorded oral history interviews, more than 100,000 historical photographs, more than 6,000 area maps, and several large specialty collections.

Dennis Casebier wrote, edited, or published more than 25 books and numerous articles on the history of the desert west and recreational use of the desert. Also, he gave more than 100 formal presentations on desert history, recreational use of the desert, management issues in the desert, and related subjects.

Appointments and Awards

By appointment from the Secretary of the Interior, Dennis served on the Citizens Advisory Commission to the Mojave National Preserve, National Park Service, for four years from 1995-1999. Also, by appointment from the Secretary of the Interior he served on the Citizens Advisory Commission to the California Desert District of the Bureau of Land Management for three years 1999-2002.

In 1975 he received the “Little Old Joe” award from Westerners International for the best book of verbal emphasis produced by anyone from the 100 Corrals of the Westerners around the world for that year for his book The Mojave Road.

On 13 January 1975, he received “A Resolution of Thanks” from the San Bernardino, California, County Board of Supervisors for research and writing about the history of the desert region of that county.

On 29 September 1987, “A Tribute to Friends of the Mojave Road” was read into the Congressional Record by Congressman Jerry Lewis (Rep. CA).

On 15 June 1988, he was presented with a “Certificate of Appreciation” by Secretary of the Interior Donald Paul Hodel “in recognition of your efforts to educate the public in desert etiquette through your interpretive guide books for the East Mojave National Scenic Area. “

On 23 March 1989, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management issued two awards (one for Dennis and one for the Friends of the Mojave Road) “For Exemplary Volunteer Service” on the public lands.

On 10 November 1990, he received a letter of appreciation from Ed Hastey, California state director for BLM, for the Mojave Road and East Mojave Heritage Trail projects on the occasion of completion of the East Mojave Heritage Trail.”

Now, a little about the Goffs of today, and in particular, Dennis Casebier’s Goffs Schoolhouse and other treasures. The “American Boy,” 10-stamp mill in Goffs is still a working wonder. We visited Goffs Cultural Center on April 14, 2018 for a very special event. Goffs planned to fire up its American Boy 10-Stamp Mill, Stotts 2-Stamp Mill, a Kue Ken Articulated Jaw Crusher, and a Gibson Gyratory Crusher. And what a sight to behold. We attended this momentous event, and recorded it HERE.

Lanfair was a community and railroad siding along the California Eastern Railway 16 miles south-southeast of Ivanpah and 6 miles north of Vontrigger Hills. Homesteaders began arriving in 1910. Anyone who “dry farmed” for three years without using imported irrigation from the Colorado River got free title from the government.

Lanfair was originally called Paradise Valley. The name was changed in 1912 when the post office was established and discovered there was another Paradise Valley in California. The name was changed to honor the Lanfair family.

Ernest Lanfair was the first postmaster. For a few rainy winters, peach trees, beans and watermelons flourished in the desert but years of drought devastated the area and most people moved on. By 1920, most of the homesteads had been abandoned. The post office discontinued in 1927. In 2003, Lanfair Barn was considered to to be the most endangered historic structure when the National Park Service overlooked its maintenance. Following MDCHA’s story on the plight of the Lanfair Barn in the Mojave Road Report, the National Park Service found the funds and resolve to save this icon of a bygone cattle ranching era that had endured in the East Mojave for over a century.

 Randolph Barricklow, a veteran of the Civil War who died in 1917, is perhaps the most prominent of the eight graves at Goffs Cemetery. Most of the others are unknown.

On Halloween 1994, the land surrounding the bus’ home became the Mojave National Preserve, but its home parcel remained privately owned until 2016, when the 5-acre parcel of land that the bus resided on was sold to the Mojave Desert Land Trust.

Located at the 37 mile mark on the Mojave Road, this exquisite rusty, bullet-ridden 1940s era school bus was moved on February 18, 2018, when the land was given to the Mojave National Preserve by the non-profit Mojave Land Trust (MDLT) in Joshua Tree. Similar to the phone booth’s removal from the preserve in May 2000, those accustomed to seeing the bus wondered where it had gone. Rest assured, it’s safe and sound.

On April 10, 2019, the popular Mojave Road School Bus found its permanent home at the MDHCA – Goffs Cultural Center, closer to its original home in Lanfair Valley and its cult following continues. The move was a joint effort, with support from MDHCA volunteer Steve Reyes and expertise from Steve Ward from A-Toe-Truck Company and his special “Landoll” trailer.

A red Santa Fe CE-1 Cab sits regally in the desert near the old schoolhouse in Goffs. 

Ernest and Herbert Lanfair erected this huge 20-foot diameter Samson windmill at Old Lanfair in 1912.

We’re so honored to be the first to leave our sticker on the Mojave Mailbox #2 in Goffs! The original artist who created #1 on the Mojave Road in 1983 also made the replica. Open the top at either location and sign in the log book to commemorate your visit. You will also find the original Mojave bus, ceramic frog garden, and matchbox car collection in Goffs.

Since March 2020, the Mojave Preserve no longer allows items to be left at the original mailbox because it violates the Wilderness Act, so they were rescued by the museum. Thank you, Laura Misajet, executive director of the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association.

Dennis Casebier in front of the historic Goffs Schoolhouse. Photo credit; Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times, 20 April 2002.

From MDCHA: “In 1998, The Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association restored the one-room mission style schoolhouse to its original configuration, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The schoolhouse is one of a few remaining structures in the community of Goffs on the original 1926 alignment of Route 66.”

There is always a plethora of fun things to do, so check with the MDCHA website to find out what appeals to you. Even better, become a member, and never miss out on events and local road closure updates. Shop their gift store or find books HERE.

For related stories we published about the history of the Mojave Road, please click HERE, HERE and HERE to take you directly to those individual pages. You can also enter “Mojave Road” in our search box at the top of the page.

There are simply too many interesting sights to show them all individually. It’s fun to wander around the Schoolhouse grounds and soak in the magic and mystery around you.

Everyone has their favorites, and once you go it is likely you will want to return. Again and again.

Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier. Photo credit, Irfan Khan for The Los Angeles Times, 20 April 2002.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.