If you're driving between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, here's a new option for lunch that combines history with a short scenic respite from the interstate: After a nearly two-decade-long hiatus, the Kelso Depot lunch room—"The Beanery"—is back in business. Located in the historic Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve, the lunch room has been painstakingly restored to its 1924 appearance.
The lunch counter was a center of town life in Kelso from the time the Depot opened in 1924 until its closing in the mid-1980s. People who grew up in Kelso report that their families often took meals at the counter alongside railroad staff and passersby.
Mojave NP’s superintendent, Dennis Schramm, said that re-introducing lunch counter service completes the historic dimension of the restored Depot, which now also serves as the visitor center for the park.
“It has been a pleasure for us at the park service to help this much-admired building return to its position as a center of attention in the preserve,” Schramm said. “Longtime visitors and former residents are telling us that it’s just like it used to be.”
The Depot itself is a significant part of the history of ranching, mining, and railroading in the California desert from the early to the mid-twentieth century. The atmospheric old California building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 2001.
The counter’s operator, Mike Williams, is serving light food items and refreshments five days a week, Friday through Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The current menu includes spring, tossed, and spinach salads; bagels and spreads; ham and swiss, turkey and provolone, tuna, and vegetarian sandwiches; coffee, hot chocolate, soda, tea, water, and fruit smoothies; and ice cream, milk shakes, pie, and brownies.
Plans call for expanding the menu eventually to include additional items, including plate lunches. Visitors can choose to have their meals at the restored horseshoe-shaped counter or at picnic tables on the grounds just outside the Depot.
Depot staff report a crowded lobby at midday since the Beanery reopened, with visitors occupying every counter seat and outdoor picnic table for the lunch hour, and many strolling in the lobby for the rest of the day, drawing out their milkshakes and light snacks. Military, former Kelso residents, and veteran desert travelers, especially, are spending more time at the Depot reminiscing about the Depot’s younger days, one park ranger said.
Directions to Kelso Depot Visitor Center:
From I-15: Exit Kelbaker Road at Baker, Calif., and drive south 34 miles to Kelso Depot.
From I-40: Exit Kelbaker Road (28 miles east of Ludlow, Calif.) and drive north 22 miles to Kelso Depot.
You'll find more detailed instructions for a scenic loop route off of I-15 to Kelso and then back to I-15 via a different route on the park website. According to the park staff, driving this scenic loop requires about a hour, plus whatever time you want to allow for photos—or lunch. The park website also includes some useful maps of the area.
If you enjoy a nice helping of nostalgia with your lunch, be sure to budget some extra time.