For a couple of years during the late `nineties this writer enjoyed the pleasure of part time living and working in the high Desert Area of Southern California. It is a world away from not just the frenetic LA scene but even from much of our far flung society. What catches you eye amongst the humblingly beautiful vistas of the high desert as you drive along the Twenty Nine Palms Highway is Copper Mountain. This road winds and climbs its way out of Palm Springs, passing through bucolic, friendly Morongo Valley, this writer`s residence, and presses onward through popular climber`s resort Yucca Valley, before hitting Joshua Tree and in short order the town for which the road takes its name, Twenty Nine Palms. The road streaks further through the vast sandy valleys and bluff mountains, winding up in Arizona.
Yet Copper Mountain grabs that slice of the Cold Warrior`s mind containing the codes which break out as "Yes, there it is, another `fifties mil site!" Copper Mountain is about black, thrusting almost straight upwards from the desert floor a mile or two north of the highway. It`s top, about fifteen hundred feet above you, runs more or less flat for a couple of miles. It is of course dotted with the usual 2-way/telco/pager antlers, yet it is that ivory-toned brick blockhouse jutting into the desert winds, almost hanging from the western precipice which exhorts you to come closer.
This is no easy task, so let`s lay it out straight. Whilst heading northward, take a left onto Mantonya Road, passing the high radio tower near the highway. You`ll descend into a shallow valley, eventually reaching an old shotgun shack of a domicile with obligatory junk in yard, (let the reader use discernment). Drive gingerly past the house, following the road as it bumps and winds its way slowly through an ever narrowing crevass studded with desert plants. Depending upon your vehicle, there comes a point at which you have to park it and walk. This provides your circulatory system with a rise of well over a thousand feet within a mile or so up a bumpy road/path. SUV`s can probably make it to the top, as can station wagons and trucks. The desert Eldo, low slung and dual-piped commenced to make metal to rock wails and shrieks more characteristic of a blacksmith`s shop, thus the decision to stroll. The crest arrives abruptly, with a few forks in the road, just keep heading westward, always watching the skies. You`ll instinctively know the site at once. The brick construction, metal firewall dividing the building, and of course, brutish four-bolt concrete pads, which once supported the short radar tower. The twenty foot mast is gone, the station lives as you read this. The fuehnen winds screaming over the mountaintop complex whistle as they pass through the antennas of the local high school tv station, and a few fm and 2-way outlets. The remains of the generator pylons bespeak of a starker era in which total committment was of the utmost importance. The building`s heavy masonry is wonderfully preserved and as you turn slowly to drink in the magnificent, God-given vistas streaming from all directions, you can almost see over the San Bernadino Mountains all the way to the old LA Air Defense Center, once so reliable fed from this majestic parapet of magnetron magnificence.
My gratitude to Mssrs. Barry O`Connor, engineer at K-DES 104, and Mr. Wayne Goff, described by some as an `old timer` who knows much and shares it with enthusiam, and Jim Parker, whose knowledge of that seductively elusive labyrinth known as the desert, helped immensely in getting this scribe to the right spot, from the Cold Warrior`s Book of Verse:
" Feet will never reach what the eyes might even espy. "It`s well worth the trip up to the base, breathtakingly beautiful and strongly preserved.- ca. 1953, G.I. Edmund on proper siting of radar and commo sites.
Paul Vincent Zecchino