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Garlock Airport

 

(Above) The "runway" at "Garlock Army Airfield."

 

Call it Garlock Airport, Garlock Airfield, Garlock International; I gave it the tongue-in-cheek name Garlock Army Air Field. In the spring of 2010 I received an e-mail asking me if I had ever heard of "Garlock Army Air Field." I had not, but given my interest in all things aviation, I decided to have a look. The e-mail was accompanied by a short article and a Google Earth shot of this supposed airfield. The photo was convincing enough: a very straight runway-looking thing laid on a dry lakebed just northeast of the old town of Garlock, California. The article went on the state that the airfield had been a "secret base" during WWII and was used to "hide fighter aircraft based at Edwards AFB and NAS China Lake should the Japanese invade the west coast." Okay, that's when my skepticism arose. First of all, I personally had never heard of such a thing in all my studies of local aviation. Second, though fighter aircraft were present, neither Edwards nor China Lake were tactical fighter bases during the war. Third, Edwards was not called "Edwards" until a few years after the end of the war. Plus, the idea of "hiding" aircraft just sounded preposterous to me; Muroc, as Edwards was called then, as well as Armitage Field (China Lake) were already well-hidden -- and guarded -- enough, and both had adequate infrastructure to support military aircraft operations. So I drove out there, looked for myself, and produced a low quality video which I uploaded to YouTube. What I saw confirmed what I thought: the airfield was too short for WWII military aircraft, with high terrain at either end; there was little if any parking space; and the entire "airfield" was laid upon a typical Mojave lakebed: the kind made of extremely claylike silt, which would render itself useless during the rainy season. Any aircraft parked at this airfield when the rains came would be stuck in concrete-like mud for...well, for quite a while after the war was over. I expressed these doubts in the YouTube video, then forgot about the whole thing.

Or tried to, that is. I received numerous e-mails insisting the field was what had been advertised: a hiding place for U.S. fighter aircraft in the event of a Japanese invasion. I queried the BLM personnel at Jawbone Station and they insisted on the "hiding place" story as well! Shaking my head and thinking I'd never get the true story, I deleted the occasional e-mail about the place and moved on.

About a year later I received an e-mail that made much more sense. It was put forth that the strip was actually a clandestine drug-runner airstrip and its isolation made it ideal for such an activity. This sounded far more plausible to me than hiding aicraft, but there was still something wrong with the story. After all, this airstip exists in the largest block of restricted military airspace in the entire country, with every kind of aircraft detection and surveillance device aimed into, out of, and around it, so the more I thought about it, the less sense that made as well. I mean, what drug runner would establish operations a few miles from Edwards Air Force Base? Not a bright one. Plus, there is much camping and dirt bike activity on this lakebed. That could put a screeching halt to any drug operations here.

Then on August 29, 2012, Mr. Richard Austin sent the following enlightening e-mail. I quote with his permission:

"I grew up in Inyokern and worked in the hills around Garlock (mining companies and the BLM) and never heard of any use of that strip by the USN or USAF.  There is a strip to the north up in the hills at Mormon Camp.  Many of the small mining camps and ranches would have a small strip usually of questionable usability.  I became acquainted with the Mormon Camp strip when a Cessna 172 rear ended an old D-8 on an attempted takeoff.   The stories of military use are probably misplaced tales from Cuddeback Lake and the old bombing range just east of it.  It is located a few miles to the southeast of the Red Mountain area. 

"Many of the dry lake beds are capable of aircraft use during the dry season (most of the year) and have been used by civil aviation.  Conditions change from year to year though and the desert will quickly reclaim most of man's activities. I worked on a mineral evaluation on a mining property just above the strip you went to.  The haul roads to the mine were nothing more than a narrow goat path back in the 1970’s.  The main mine workings themselves [are] nothing more than a discolored depression on the hillside.

"There has been an occasional aircraft try an ill fated landing on Koehn Lake to the south west of the area in question.  These usually result in an unexpectedly sudden stop as under a thin salt crust the lake is very muddy most years and would usually flip an airplane.  It has also been known to take motorcycles as well.

"Unfortunately the BLM interpretive staff relies on a handful of old tales and gossip they have heard and rarely have much knowledge about the area they are working in.  That area is rich in history and stories but I think the military hiding aircraft there is a stretch."

Mr. Austin's account was honestly the best information I had yet on the history of this "airfield" and the area around it. However, on October 7, 2012, I received another e-mail shedding much more light on the subject. It is reprinted below with permission:

"I just watched your video from 4/11/2010 and can shed some light on what you observed.  I was a BLM Law Enforcement Ranger [in the area in the recent decades] and was quite familiar with the area.  The runway you observed had no military application that I'm aware of- it was constructed (without authorization) for and used by small private planes from the 1950's to the 1980's and is on Public Land- it used to show up on FAA maps as an emergency undeveloped landing strip until the late 1990's.  It provided easy access to several of the cabins and small mining claims in the area for recreational use.  Several of the pilots were from the Ridgecrest area, though people also came from the L.A. area.  There also was scattered reports in the 1980's and 1990's that the airfield had been used by aircraft involved in drug transportation- I never saw any real proof of that.  The cabins are also on Public Land and were used as unauthorized residences until the 1990's.  They are presently protected as historic examples of depression era residences.  There is no tie to Pancho Barnes that I'm aware of though one of her husbands had owned the property where the Jawbone Store presently sits and he used to have a variety of Pancho Barnes' personal property in a railroad car on the property.  I had seen this in the early 1990's.  Also, lastly, the person you talked with at the BLM Jawbone Station was probably a volunteer or an employee of the Friends of Jawbone, not a BLM employee.  If you desire more information on this site you could contact the Ridgecrest Field Office of the BLM in Ridgecrest, CA and talk with someone in the Recreation Staff or the Mineral Staff- someone who has been there for 20 years or more-unfortunately many of the employees that knew the history of that area are now gone.  I know while I was [employed by BLM] I had quite a file on the area involving unauthorized occupation of the structures in the area.   Enjoy your travels in the desert..... "

If you have anything to add to this story, contact us here. If you wish to view the YouTube video go here; but before you do I have a few more still photos for you below:

 

(Above) After descending the hillside to the lakebed, looking northeast.

 

(Above) On the runway looking northeast. Note the high terrain close to the departure end of the runway.

 

(Above) Looking southwest. Note the campers at the end of the runway. I think their presence would preclude any drug operations at this field.

 

(Above) One of the cabins near the lakebed.

 

(Above) The other cabin near the lakebed.

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