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History of Camp Cajon now available at kiosk in Cajon Pass

History of Camp Cajon now available at kiosk in Cajon Pass

The revitalized Camp Cajon historic site in the Cajon Pass has a new informational kiosk that will be used to display the fascinating history of the area, and provide visitors with a glimpse into the early days of travel through the region.

Funding for the kiosk came from local donations, and it was constructed by a group of volunteers on June 25, 2022. The new four-panel kiosk is a weather-resistant, all-steel design, identical to many displays used by the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The kiosk will provide information, photos, and maps that tie together the history of the site and the region. The four panels will display: an introduction to Camp Cajon; a map of Camp Cajon, showing the layout and facilities; a history of the historic roads and trails through the area; and a description of artifacts, and new activities at Camp Cajon. Information for the first panel is already in place. The other panels will be soon.

Visitors at Camp Cajon's new informational kiosk. The kiosk provides information, photos, and maps of the historic site and was recently installed at the historic site in the Cajon Pass. (Photo by Mark Landis)
Visitors at Camp Cajon’s new informational kiosk. The kiosk provides information, photos, and maps of the historic site and was recently installed at the historic site in the Cajon Pass. (Photo by Mark Landis)

The Camp Cajon team commissioned Jean-Guy Dubé, renowned architectural historian, author, draftsman and lecturer, to create a historically accurate map of the Camp Cajon area, circa 1931, to be displayed in panel No. 2. Jean-Guy is creating this map to-scale and the results are remarkable.

Camp Cajon was a free auto campground, built in 1919 along National Old Trails Road, just south of what is today the junction of the 15 Freeway and Highway 138. It was built in the center of the Cajon Pass as a welcoming center to Southern California, where early motorists could rest from their journey across the desert.

National Old Trails Road opened in 1913 and it became the nation’s first “Ocean-to-Ocean Highway.” Auto traffic into the region increased dramatically in the early 1900s, and National Old Trails Road in 1926 became Route 66.

Local orange grower William Bristol came up with the idea for Camp Cajon while he was attending the dedication of the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail monument in the Cajon Pass in 1917.

Volunteer Tony Benigno, left, and Mark Landis, on ladder, install the roof panels on the kiosk. (Photo by Stacy Landis)
Volunteer Tony Benigno, left, and Mark Landis, on ladder, install the roof panels on the kiosk. (Photo by Stacy Landis)

Bristol was an unwavering promotor of the region, and he knew that placing a well-equipped rest stop at this location would give the newly motorized public a favorable first impression of the region.

The camp featured hand-laid stone and concrete facilities that included a large entrance monument, picnic tables, cooking facilities, decorative walls, a general store and post office, a bandstand, and unique outpost buildings.

Bristol’s intuition was right, and Camp Cajon became a well-known landmark and rest stop for travelers, earning the nickname “The Gateway to Southern California.”

The camp operated from 1919 to 1938, when it was damaged by a catastrophic flood.

Faced with the need to widen Route 66 through the camp, and repair the damage caused by the flood, county officials decided to abandon Camp Cajon. The camp’s iconic concrete picnic tables — 42 of them — were moved to Lytle Creek and Perris Hill parks in San Bernardino where they can still be seen today.

Local history fans have long known the Camp Cajon site was an important confluence of historic trails, roads, and highways.

In 2017, the San Bernardino, Wrightwood, Highland, and Mohahve historical societies formed a project team to revitalize the Camp Cajon site. These groups continue to support and fund ongoing projects at the site, that allow visitors to see relics from the camp’s early years and learn about the region’s history.

Some of the prominent historic trails and roads that converged at Camp Cajon include: The Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trails, The John Brown Toll Road, National Old Trails Road, Route 66, Highway 395, and today, the Pacific Crest Trail passes within 200 feet.

The Camp Cajon project has been a collaboration by the surrounding communities and local agencies from the start, and the kiosk was a continuation of that teamwork.

Mountain Hardware in Wrightwood played a key role in the project, providing donated funds, materials, storage, and the use of their flatbed truck to transport materials to the site.

Brown’s Backhoe Service in Phelan was contracted to dig the kiosk footings and perform site improvement. Frank Brown’s crew also moved the original Camp Cajon concrete table from Lytle Creek Park in San Bernardino back to the Camp Cajon site in June 2021.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe provided a much-needed donation for the kiosk, and supported the project by having a crew clean-up trash that had been illegally dumped in the area.

The U.S. Forest Service partnered with the Camp Cajon team from the project’s concept, reviewing, providing input, and approving the projects at the site.

Ongoing support for Camp Cajon is provided by Ultimate Internet Access in Wrightwood, with routine flag changes on the monument, and CR&R Environmental Services provides trash service at the site.

Visitors to Camp Cajon today will see the original 1917 Santa Fe and Salt Lake monument, an original 1919 Camp Cajon picnic table, the rebuilt Camp Cajon entrance monument, constructed in 2019, and the new informational kiosk.

The revitalized Camp Cajon site sits on the 1953 alignment of Route 66, now Wagon Train Road, which was abandoned when the 15 Freeway opened in 1970. Visitors to the site can also walk a few hundred feet to see remnants of National Old Trails Road in Crowder Canyon.

To reach Camp Cajon, take the 15 Freeway to the Highway 138 exit. Go east on Highway 138, and quickly turn south on Wagon Train Road, where you’ll drive past McDonald’s. Wagon Train Road ends at Camp Cajon.

The Camp Cajon team also provides guided walking tours of the historic site. Learn more about Camp Cajon and the ongoing projects at: https://www.facebook.com/campcajonmonument.

Mark Landis is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Historyinca@yahoo.com.


Press Enterprise