A two-cell strap-iron jail in Kelso, California. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr, used with permission


Kelso Depot (a former railroad station in the Mojave Desert of California) is located inside the Mojave National Preserve, 95 miles north of Barstow, and 90 miles south of Las Vegas, at the intersection of Kelso-Cima and Kelbaker Roads (caution: there are no gas stations are inside the preserve, so plan your trip accordingly).

If you visit the Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center, near the ghost town of Kelso, you will find this old two-cell strap-iron jail. According to “National Parks Blog,” the old lock-up is located in front of the train tracks near the Kelso Depot Visitors Center. Reportedly, the jail was brought to Kelso Depot around 1944. At the time, the nearby Vulcan Mine and Union Pacific Railroad activities resulted in a lot of men coming to Kelso when they weren’t working. There wasn’t much to do in the desert, so the men ended up drinking. One thing led to another and the drunks ended up sleeping it off in the iron cage cells. The jail is less than six-feet high. At the time it was used, there was a roof to provide shade and there were corrugated tin walls surrounding the structure at some point. Strap-iron jails such as this were used elsewhere in the United States in the mid-to-late 1800s. It is likely that the jail was originally in another location before being brought to Kelso Depot in 1944. The structure is similar to a “fundraising jail” used in Las Vegas in the 1920s and 1930s and to a freestanding strap-iron jail on display near the gallows at Tombstone, Arizona.

More information: Mojave National Preserve, or call (760) 252-6100.