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Largest World War II Military Reservation Getting Its Day in the Sun

By Media Office Staff

A remote area of the Mojave Desert in Southern California holds many clues to what was the largest military reservation during World War II.

That military reservation was the Desert Training Center, established in 1942. At 18,000 square miles, it was the largest Army base on the planet and where one million troops trained for desert warfare. The goal: eventual battle against Nazi troops occupying North Africa during the war.

Sadly, that little known piece of American military history is under threat of disappearing.

To avoid that threat, fieldwork is underway by five specialists at the California Energy Commission, including two staff archaeologists.

The staff are involved in a historical documentation venture called the Desert Training Center Cultural Landscape project. The cultural resources being documented include tank tracks, foxholes, and gun placements. They also include the remains of airfields, camps, hospitals, and maneuver areas.

“While individually these resources may seem insignificant, as part of the larger picture of what was happening during Desert Training Center activities, they are important and should be documented,” said Matt Braun, a cultural resources specialist with the Energy Commission.

“We want to know about it and we want to record it and get that piece of history locked down before it is gone,” Braun said.

Preservation of landscapes is not the Energy Commission’s most common purview. The project work stems from the Energy Commission’s licensing process, which seeks to offset the cumulative environmental impacts from the construction of solar thermal power plants.

The Desert Training project is one of two efforts in the Mojave Desert that were required as part of the Energy Commission’s licensing of the Blythe Solar Power Project and the Genesis Solar Energy Project.

The Prehistoric Trails Network Cultural Landscape project is working to document and inventory tribal economic and social networks including trails, occupation sites, rock art, and related natural features. The Energy Commission is collaborating with the Fort Mojave Soboba and Colorado River Indian Tribes.

The Blythe and Genesis solar projects contributed to a mitigation fund to offset cumulative impacts on the environment, with the contribution amount based on the acreage of each project.

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