Las Vegas is someplace that I always thought would be interesting to visit. I finally had my chance, when I had to visit Nellis AFB for work. Well, I'm not impressed by Las Vegas. Or by Nellis AFB. I hope to never return there, which is a rare thing for me to say. However, the trip did give me some opportunities for sightseeing.
Saturday, 2 Dec 2006
The flight from DFW to LAS was full, but uneventful. Most of the tourists headed straight for The Strip -- a guy actually shouted "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas! WHOOOOOO!" into his cell phone on the rental car courtesy bus.... But I headed south on the interstate into California. I had better things to do than hand my money to rich casino owners.
My first stop in California was the Daggett Municipal Airport. During W.W.II, this field supported Army Air Forces Modification Center #1, which consisted of three hangars and four long, open maintenance sheds. These structures were constructed mostly of redwood, including the roof trusses. The hangars still stand and appeared disused. The interior of the hangars was a showcase of wood truss craftsmanship. Two of the four long sheds still stand, and now house private aircraft based at the airport. An elevated water storage tank and a wooden building also still stand from the wartime years. Douglas Aircraft Company operated the center for the Army Air Forces.
I found someplace a bit more modern at the former Norton AFB, California. This was one of the 1990s BRAC casualties, and it has been very extensively reworked. Large parts of the base are blocked off by construction fences, and many of the Air Force buildings are replaced or heavily modified. I was pleased to find the SAGE Direction Center (DC-17) intact, complete with Air Force signage. It is located near an older manual Air Defense Control Center (ADCC) which is in a fenced compound. I noticed a couple of different hangars still standing, and an elevated water storage tank.
I had lodging reservations on March Air Reserve Base, California, and I arrived there at sunset. Part of the former March Air Force Base is still very military, and a huge part was lopped off as the "civilian side" although it does have several military enclaves sprinkled on it. My lodging room, while serviceable, was the poorest quality I've seen in Air Force lodging in many years. This disappointed me, as I think our reservists deserve the same quality rooms as active duty. I drove 310 miles in eight hours, before stopping for the night.
Sunday, 3 Dec 2006
March does have a nice historic area, and I'd like to see
it in daylight. Unfortunately, I departed well before dawn.
George AFB, California, was my first target of the day and I arrived as
the sunrise did. I had heard horror stories about George's post-BRAC "destruction," but I
found lots of intact or near-intact Air Force buildings waiting for me.
The base was quite recognizable, and I
was delighted to find a
W.W.II barracks and not one but four W.W.II era
demountable hangars. The flightline still has a
T-10 hush house,
bomb trainer buildings, an old
warehouse, and an
older hangar mostly hidden by a newer addition. The FIS
alert area still has its
first-generation alert hangar. Some
bermed, multi-cubicle munitions storage buildings still stand, along with other buildings and structures in the storage area. Also standing are
theater, and an
elevated water storage tank. The former base housing is in rough shape, having been used for military training
I wish I had a week to explore the far reaches of Edwards AFB, California, but I had to settle for a quick visit to the flight test center museum.
Air Force Plant #72, California, was operated by
Air Products, Inc. I don't know exactly what took place at this unimproved
site (a small airstrip and an elevated water storage tank are the only
structures I know of) but I believe it was related to the boron-based fuels
program. Need to learn more about this one. I could not find a
decent access road to the site, so I settled for a photo looking
over the general area of the plant from the NNW.
Visible from Kramer Junction, several miles away, is Boron AFS, California. The FAA still operates the property as a radar station, making use of some of the Air Force buildings.
Remnants of the W.W.II-era Hawes Auxiliary Field have mostly faded from sight, but the large bunker of George Radio Relay Annex is visible for miles. This was one of two Survivable Low Frequency Communications System (SLFCS) transmitters (a twin to the Silver Creek, Nebraska, site). This facility was stripped of useable equipment years ago, and has been heavily vandalized. Walking around the exterior of the bunker, it looked like a set out of a science fiction movie. There are three doorways leading into the interior, which was nasty-smelling and swirling with dust. Several small structures and various concrete features adorn the top of the bunker, damaged and covered with graffiti.
Enough fun for one day, time to get back to Nevada. I checked into my motel in North Las Vegas, near the base. This would be home plate for two weeks. This was a 386 mile day, covered in 8.5 hours.
Monday, 4 Dec 2006
Settling in for our work, we familiarized ourselves with Nellis AFB.
Saturday, 9 Dec 2006
I normally work on the middle weekend of these trips, but this time I had the weekend off. Some quick target study showed some sightseeing possibilities. I found the former Plancor 201 in Henderson, Nevada. This was a large magnesium plant, built and owned by the Defense Plant Corporation during W.W.II, and operated by Basic Magnesium, Inc. The plant was sponsored by the Army Air Forces, to ensure a magnesium supply for aircraft production.
To get to my next destination, I drove across the top of Hoover Dam. I was headed into Arizona. My pal Tim had confirmed the existence of a well-preserved W.W.II control tower at Kingman AAFld. Sure enough. Seeing that tower, with its intact control cab, was like looking back in time. A museum occupied one of the older buildings. There were a few old hangars still standing at the field, along with some building foundations.
Driving back to Vegas, I crossed Hoover Dam again, this time at sunset, and the place was still thick with tourists.
Sunday, 10 Dec 2006
This was a fairly long trip for a Sunday. I left early, about 0530. As I drove north, I passed Creech AFB (former Indian Springs AFB), Nevada. Shortly after, I passed the location of Lathrop Wells GFA, Nevada, and paused to take a photo from the gate in the direction of the demolished gap filler building.
Continuing north, I had to drive on snow and ice on some of the mountain passes. The roads cleared as I finally arrived at Tonopah. My first stop was the airport, formerly Tonopah AFB, Nevada. Yup, its main use was as an "Army Airfield" in W.W.II, but it was briefly redesignated as an "Air Force Base" in the late 1940s. I found three wooden aircraft hangars, starkly visible for miles. They were in pretty rough condition, but had interesting roof truss construction. One or two older buildings still stand on the flightline. I also found the ammunition storage area, with three igloos and a few other ammunition storage buildings, some of them very small. I noticed two features that appeared to be in-ground water storage tanks.
Next I visited Tonopah AFS, which was actually a few separate properties. The support area was in town, consisting mostly of metal buildings, one of which still displayed some Air Force markings. Adjacent to the support area was the housing area, still used as residences. The original radar location was atop a small mountain at the south edge of town. The later (SAGE) radar location was several miles away, northwest of town atop a higher mountain. The roads had cleared up nicely as the day progressed, and I made it back to my North Las Vegas digs by 1500. In 9.5 hours on the road, I drove 462 miles.
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