Visiting Chiriaco Summit and the General Patton Memorial Museum
One of my favorite parts of a road trip is discovering interesting spots along the way. The destination really is in the journey! On the road from Phoenix to SoCal there’s not a whole lot to see aside from Joshua Trees and Saguaro Cacti but there is one spot in the middle of the desert that I just had to visit – Chiriaco Summit.
This traveler’s oasis between California and Arizona has been serving customers since 1933 and is a true California landmark. It was founded by Joe Chiriaco, an Alabaman who came to LA to watch the Rose Bowl and never went home. Instead he got a job with the DWP which sent him on several trips into the desert. Relocating to the area he built a store and gas station along the route of a proposed road between Phoenix and Indio and Chiriaco Summit (Shaver Summit at the time) was born. A true success story it’s bordered the highway ever since and has enticed travelers for over 80 years.
Today there’s a gas station, a general store, a restaurant and a post office providing amenities to travelers along Highway 10. The entire location remains in the Chiriaco family and there’s several nods to its history on display.
I was particularly fond of the old gas station which remains standing adjacent to the modern new one though I wish it was fixed up properly. I’d love to see those old gas pumps restored to their former glory.
In 1942 the Desert Training Center was founded adjacent to Shaver Summit. It was the dawn of World War II and General Patton was in charge of the base which trained soldiers for the war in North Africa. Shaver Summit became a destination for the soldiers on base and Joe and his wife, Ruth, got to know Patton. In 1945 they built a memorial to him which over the years evolved into the General Patton Memorial Museum.
Inside the museum there are wealth of artifacts related to the general, the Desert Training Center, World War II and the military as a whole. I had no idea on what to expect going in and was impressed with the wealth of objects on display.
Dominating the first room is this three dimension map outlining the deserts of California, Nevada and Utah. Built in the 1920’s for the Colorado Aquaduct Project it’s a fascinating glimpse into our desert landscape.
I was particularly fond of the more personal objects on display like these sweetheart pillows that soldiers sent to their loved ones.
There were also miniature versions!
And always one to sniff out a classic Hollywood connection I found this delightful book written by Gladys Lloyd (wife of Edward G. Robinson) and Jack Preston.
Featuring illustrations by Disney cartoonists it tells the tale of the Desert Battalion, co-founded by Mrs. Robinson. The Desert Battalion was a group of young women who would visit the training center every weekend to provide chaperoned companionship to the soldiers on duty.
There were also several personal items of soldiers in World War II and I was particularly moved by this diary.
If I had been in the heat of battle I don’t know if I could have written as succinctly as this person. And this soldier – look how young he is!
The General Patton Memorial Museum is a fascinating glimpse into our country’s military history. Prior to my visit I had no clue the Desert Training Center ever existed and now I’ll never forget it. Combined with Chiriaco Summit it’s a must stop for anyone passing by.