Mojave, CA

Visit the Historic Richardson Homestead at Union Pass

Heather Monroe

There are so few examples of historic desert homesteads in the Mojave Desert. The harsh weather conditions often cause such structures to decay rapidly. However, observant drivers along Highway 68 between Bullhead City and Golden Valley may notice a lush cluster of tall, green trees and a few old buildings around mile marker 12. That patch of greenery obscures what remains of a Richardson Homestead at Union Pass—a true testament to the persevering spirit of pioneers to the Mohave Desert.

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The Richardson Homestead at Union PassHeather Monroe

History

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The Richardson's motel at Union PassHeather Monroe

Long ago, this area was occupied by members of the Mojave Tribe. The Colorado River raged not far away. There was no Lake Mohave, as Davis Dam hadn't been built. The mountains created a narrow i spot in the river early Indigenous folks used as a crossing point.

Edward Beale led an expedition through the pass on October 15 and 16, 1857. The Beale party allowed their horses, camels, and mules to wade across the river. Local indigenous men helped them ferry their belongings. And so, the pass became part of the Beale road, which brought many white settlers to nearby Kingman.

The arrival of white settlers in the Mojave was not without trouble. The indigenous tribes had, until then, lived unencumbered by colonization. As a result, they were apprehensive of the settlers' intentions. Likewise, immigrants to the Mohave had no idea what to expect from these Mojave "Indians."

Local newspapers of the time printed tales of confrontation between natives and settlers. Sometimes, these confrontations resulted in death. Such was the case for Thomas McCall. In 1867, Natives lured the man away from camp and shot him dead at Union Pass. The resentment between the two groups was so intense and dangerous that the US Army sent soldiers to the area and called it Union Pass.

Indeed, the Richardson family was made of tough stuff. In 1897, Jonathan Draper Richardson and his wife, Victoria, decided to move to Arizona Territory from Los Angeles. The couple packed their small children and belongings into a covered wagon, pulled by two horses. Together, the family braved the sweltering summer heat and made the 360-mile trip across the Mojave.

Their daughter, Edith, recalled crossing the Colorado River on a raft, aided by a white man and a crew of Native Americans. The land they would homestead was Union Pass.

When the Richardsons arrived, they found remnants of old army posts constructed of local rock and an old wooden barn the family used for their horses and a burro.

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Old Army BuildingsHeather Monroe

Bits of old Army uniforms, military issue harnesses, and Union buttons littered the property. The new home wasn't quite homey in that regard. But, a creek fed by an underground spring gave Jonathan and Victoria a vision of the haven their new homestead would become.

The Richardsons built a quaint home and an irrigation system. In addition, the Richardsons used the creek to grow an extensive garden and orchard. Apples, peaches, and figs were plentiful in this unlikely oasis. They also grew grapes and even pecans.

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A shady 100-year-old garden at Union Pass in the Mojave Desert of ArizonaHeather Monroe

The government paid the Richardsons a small salary to maintain a road on their property. They did this gladly. Victoria sold fresh and canned fruit, along with other provisions. In addition, Victoria freely offered cold water to anyone who stopped by. For all of these reasons, Richardson's ranch became a welcome sight to the road-wary travelers.

The Richardsson's raised their children on the property, and in 1931, celebrated their golden anniversary at their happy homestead. Sadly, Victoria passed away in 1935, and Jonathan in 1940. The road they so lovingly maintained was replaced by Highway 68.

The Richardson children did what they could to preserve their family legacy. They added a small service station and a hotel and offered a cold drink to visitors. The gas station was in business as late as 1984. Sadly, the market wouldn't bear the cost of maintaining the family business. Today, the land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which means you're free to explore.

Today

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What remains of the Richardson Home at Union PassHeather Monroe

Once the last of the Richardson family left, the old homestead fell into disrepair. The motel began to crumble. The fuel station collapsed into itself. However, there much remains of the old Richardson property.

The Richardson home, motel, and storefront still stand. The house is a two-story rock structure with an original fireplace and chimney. The original wood floors are present but weak. It is safest to view these buildings from the outside. Entering the buildings will likely result in collapse.

The hotel is wood and drywall and in a state of decay. You see all of it from the outside. The walls and porch ceiling are a haint-blue, which likely harkens back to the family's southern lineage.

Across from the home, you'll see what remains of the old service station. It isn't much, but a concrete slab and a basement. Oddly, you still get the sense that you're walking in the footsteps of history.

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Gas Station RemainsHeather Monroe

The front garden is lush, with green grass and sandy soil. A resilient old pecan tree offers shade and pecans if you visit at the right time of year. Another surprising remnant of the Richardson days is the presence of periwinkles. Their vine acts as ground cover and now grows invasively all around. The flowers still bloom each spring.

Walking towards the highway, facing the garden, you'll find Richardson's old chicken coop. If not maintained, a grapevine grows over the coop, covering it almost entirely.

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Grapevines and a Coop at Union PassHeather Monroe

Although the orchard is gone, the stairs leading to it are still there. You'll find circles of rock where trees once grew and the Richardsons' initials drawn into the cement.

The remains of Army outposts are still there. They no longer have roofs, but the walls and window sills remain along with the old barn.

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Inside of an old barnHeather Monroe

Venture across the creek, closer to the hillside, and you'll spot what looks like a tin roof sticking out of the desert pavement. Look closer, and you'll see the roof is actually above an underground structure, likely a sort of cold storage.

All over the property, you'll find evidence of the former occupants—cans, bottles, and other ephemera litter the entire homestead. Other, more ominous relics remain in the form of two unmarked graves.

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Orchard remains from Union PassHeather Monroe

Getting There

Take Highway 68 North from bullhead city. You will see a "Union Pass" sign, approximately at mile marker 11. Drive over the pass until you see a turnout with a swinging gate. The gate, which is property of the Arizona Department of Transportation, is not locked. The fence is meant to keep wildlife from stumbling onto the highway, not to keep you out. Enter here, and make sure to shut the gate behind you.

You'll need to follow the dirt trail on foot about a quarter-mile to the homestead site. The walk is reasonably even and straight.

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One of two graves at Union PassHeather Monroe

Before You Go

Union Pass is an Oasis and usually a little cooler than the Kingman or Bullhead City. However, this is still the Mojave desert. Do not attempt this hike in summer, even if it is a short one. Even in spring and fall, make sure to check the temperature, don't make the hike if it is above 90°F, and bring one gallon of water per person.

Union Pass is an open range for roaming cows, burros, and sometimes horses. You might also encounter bobcats, coyotes, and cougars. Don't approach these animals, and they likely won't approach you. If they do, do not give them food or interact with the federally protected animals in any way.

In the warmer months, Union Pass becomes a hotbed for rattlesnake activity. They live under shrubbery, under trash, and in holes dug by other animals. At Union pass, rattlesnakes sometimes make their way inside the old buildings, even under the floorboards. Should you see or hear a rattlesnake, back up slowly. Don't try to handle any wild snake. Even a deceased snake can be dangerous to step on or hold.

These falling buildings are some of the last of their kind. Please visit them with reverence and safety in mind so future generations might see how our forefathers made a home in this unforgiving yet beautiful desert.

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Periwinkle still blooming a century after they were plantedHeather Monroe

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I am a freelance writer, mom, and genealogist from California. I adore rock hounding, and living my best RV life.

Los Angeles, CA
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