Newberry Spring’s Little House Under the Prairie

Newberry Springs, California, is known for its former private lakes where water skiing stars like Esther Williams once trained and where one of the largest population of Tricolored Blackbirds on the West Coast gather, but it has another reputation about how the Mojave River engulfed houses near its riverbed and other tales of tragedy.

When we first published our photo of this two-story Newberry Springs house back in 2016, some knowledgeable locals informed us it had once been Joe and Cheryl Marino’s house. The Mintz, Zink and Wright families homes are buried north and northeast of Newberry Road in the river bottom. But it wasn’t aliens who did it, blame that one on Mother Nature taking advantage of a man-made disaster that county maintenance workers created.

You see, from 1979 to 1991, county maintenance crews cleared sand that was building up on Minneola Road which crosses the river. They dumped it on the down wind east side of the road in the Mojave River channel. Tons of it, year after year. When the sand would blow away, more sand was dumped in it’s place. Many later wondered why the county workers weren’t curious why the sand disappeared. They ceased in 1991 when complaints from homeowners started rolling in.

Former owner John Mintz, who lived in the house from 1955 to 1971, told us it was built by George and Kay Wood, then sold to Mintz, then sold to the Marino’s, who added the second story. The winds have exposed more of the houses now, but here it is the day we found it. We photographed another partially exposed house next door too.

On May 4, 1993, LA Times reporter Tom Gorman, released an article about Joe Marino’s effort to keep the sand at bay to no avail, to the tune of $10,000. “Neighbor Marguerite Paduano described the sand as an inescapable monster from a B horror flick, slowly and methodically marching its way down the dry Mojave River and holding her mobile home hostage.” Eventually Paduano let nature win and left.

Marino’s, Paduano’s and six other homes sat on a 6-mile stretch along the riverbed. Prevailing westerly winds blew that loose sand onto the properties on Newberry Road to create 10 feet tall sand dunes making it one huge sandbox.

Homeowners sued the county in 1992 for about $6 million dollars to relocate, but the county counter-sued by denying they were solely to blame by pointing its finger at other utilities for “unsettling the crusty surface of the desert floor” and accused residents of pumping too much water from the aquifer, contributing to the friability of the soil.

John Nash told us you used to be able to walk around inside this house back in 2007. Nash added Edison electric company took down the power lines in ’05 or ’06 but left the poles. He recalled you used to be able to touch the lines from the ground because of all the sand blowing in had piled up so high. Nash added the other two houses that were north of it were burnt down 20 years ago when Cash Carson was mauled to death by dogs.

The fatal attack on the 66-pound ten year old boy occurred in April 2000. Cash and playmate Danny Gonzales encountered a Pitbull-Chow mix named Bear, weighing close to 100 lbs, and Louise, a smaller mixed-breed pit bull, while walking 60 feet away from the property where James Chiavetta, 54, was the caretaker for absentee owners, Michael Caldwell and Gilbert Garcia. Chiavetta was convicted and sentenced to four years in state prison.

Update: According to an email we received on November 30, 2022, from Robyn McMullin: “… John Mintz and his parents and siblings did live in the house at the BOTTOM of the river bed. He moved into another house south of that house with his wife and it was a 2 story. Marino’s house was in the middle also a 2 story. The Mintz house (bottom) was still owned by his parents in the 1980’-90’s No one bought that house. After Mr. Mintz passed away, Mrs. Mintz moved into Barstow. The house sat vacant. She gave it to her younger son, Jimmy but he didn’t want it. It STILL belongs to him eventho its buried. No one burned the houses that the Mintz and Marino families lived in…I know the Mintz and Marino families! I was in those houses!” Thanks Robyn for filling us in. We went with the best info we had at the time when the article was originally written in 2016.

Watching a murmuration of Tricolored Blackbirds (Agelaius tricolor)  over a flock of sheep in Newberry Springs alfalfa fields is fascinating. The nearby ponds and cattails are excellent bird breeding grounds. These aerobatic wonders fly with mesmerizing precision in a synchronized airborne dance. Basque sheepherders supply the natural lawnmowers.

“The Tricolored Blackbird —a species vulnerable to extinction, which once numbered in the millions, lives almost entirely in California, and has long been of concern to conservationists. It is one of the last surviving colonial land birds, nesting in sometimes massive colonies of 20,000 or more individuals.” ~Audubon California

Newberry Springs is about 25 miles east of Barstow, California. We will be publishing more stories about Newberry Springs in the near future.

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4 thoughts on “Newberry Spring’s Little House Under the Prairie

  1. Pretty interesting stories, Along long time ago me and 3 friends drove out to newberry and we accidently ran into, I think it was called horton lake….. Was totally Awesome.

  2. I’ve been reading a lot of your articles. I don’t comment on each one but I just wanted to thank you for having this site and posting them.

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