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Freeways

Freeways!! They are both the boon and the bane of the modern day traveler. Their benefit is easily seen. The have enabled us to travel farther faster. It used to be that to make a journey to Los Angeles or The Grand Canyon would require a couple of days in travel time alone. Now it is possible to travel to the North rim of the Grand Canyon, take a small hike and return in the same day. So how can something that expands the limits of our potential have any negative consequences for us. Well, chances are you haven't seen the problem. And that is exactly WHAT the problem is. You no longer get off the freeway long enough to see what's happening to our regional treasures.

Because of the freeways that have broadened our horizons we have developed a here to there mentality. We have forgotten that it is the stops along the way that make the journey an adventure. And even when we do pull over for gas it's usually near some shiny new outlet mall or a glass and chrome visitors center that has more commercial pamphlets than it does information about the area we're traveling through.

A classic example of this is on the way to Los Angeles where people used to have to stop for gas in the small town of Barstow. But once there they would often take time to visit some of the local establishments that gave regional color to the journey. But slowly that regional color is fading. And as it dims so does our history.

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When I first stopped at the Discovery Center in Barstow almost a decade ago it was the Bureau of Land Management offices and visitors center. At that time it was state of the art.

Today the Discovery Center is run by Clydine Cooper and her son Robert Hilburn. After being closed to the public for nearly three years it was reopened in early 2000. Some of the exhibits that were here when I first visited are still in use. Like the interactive displays showing some of the hazards of traveling in the open desert, and a wonderful exhibit perfect for both adults and children entitled 'Test your desert IQ'. It is a back lit panel with graphics and questions specific to things you'll discover if you take the time to go exploring the Mojave Desert. The 8 questions are multiple choice and by pressing a button on the panel you'll be able to see if your answer is correct or learn why you might have chosen the wrong answer. Admittedly this exhibit may not be the state of the art learning tool that it once was, but it still has tremendous interpretive value, and anyone new to the Mojave desert will benefit from using it.

What the Discovery Center may have lost technologically it has more than made up for with personal touches. Both Clydine and Robert have brought in a collection of personal items that are worthy of display in any museum of history. Like an exhibit containing an old loom and spinning wheel.

Another significant display here is the Old Woman Meteorite. In late 1975 three prospectors found the meteorite in the Old Woman Mountains of San Bernardino California. Because this three-ton piece of truly unusual rock is the second largest meteorite found in the United States it's something you'd never expect to find outside of a major museum. Yet here it is. What a rare opportunity for you to show your children what a meteorite of this size looks like. The largest meteorite found in the United States was taken from where it was found in Oregon and placed on display at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. If the Discovery Center closes due to a lack of visitation the Old Woman Meteorite will more than likely be shipped off to the Smithsonian museum for display. And if that happens once again we will be deprived of one more piece of our history. And the tapestry of color that makes our area unique will continue to unravel. So the next time that shiny new gas station or outlet mall down the road tempt you to pass by that small town remember that it's the little stops along the way that can turn your journey into an adventure.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2000

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