They went and put the military base in the middle of nowhere, hidden between the low rocky hills and the wide open dry lake beds of the Southern California deserts, probably because they wanted to blow things up in peace and quiet.
I didnâ€™t come to Fort Irwin to visit the military, but to go on the tour of NASA and JPLâ€™s giant space dishes, where they talk to the astronauts and the rovers. [Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex] But just before the military entrance was a pile of rocks, painted, bright and colorful. Which obviously caught my eye.
So on my way out, I had to see what was going on.
During World War II this area (which was previously known as Bitter Springs) became the Mojave Anti-Aircraft Range, and then quickly renamed â€“for a World War I Major General- Fort Irwin.
The pile of rocks with paint on them, or more accurately speaking, this tor with paint on them, was, back in the 1940â€™s and 1950â€™s a meeting place for the soldiers, and natural amphitheatre. It was at this time the rocks got their first coat of paint.
At first it was a haphazard affair, as the base kept closing and opening with the United States need for soldiers. It was in 1972 that the base became permanent, and under the control of the National Guard, and a place where military units passed through to train themselves in the art of war.
As the units passed through, more and more of them painted their colors, their logos, and their slogans onto the rocks.
Eventually they ran out of rocks, and now it is a regulated affair. Rocks have to be found and transported, and the design submitted to a committee.
There is an odd feeling standing in the middle of the open desert, with the enormous blue sky, and crumpled masses of brown rocks in every direction. A vast empty wasteland of blue and brown, with this one splash of color.
The painted rocks almost feel like a memorial, but itâ€™s too happy and entertaining to be that. The soldiers obviously had too much fun making these for it to be a memorial. It feels like a tribute to the enthusiasm before heading out to war, rather than the somber memorials we get after the fact.
[Directions to the Fort Irwin Rocks: Be on the 15 freeway just east of Barstow, exit on Fort Irwin Road, head north. Drive this deserted road into the middle of nowhere, until you see the rocks and the military base entrance.]