The climate in Inyokern, California is predominantly influenced by its high desert location. The climate is characterized by hot days and cool nights with extremely arid conditions prevailing throughout the summer months. The mean annual temperature for the Inyokern area is 70F degrees. There are wide annual temperature fluctuations that occur from a high of 118F degrees to a low of 8F degrees.
January is the coolest month with an average maximum temperature of 47°F and an average minimum temperature of 22°F. The all-time minimum temperature of -12°F was recorded on December 23, 1972, and January 7, 1973. Inyokern is a desert, with an average of less than 5 inches of “equivalent rainfall” per year, which includes less than 2 inches of snow.
July is the hottest month with an average maximum temperature of 108°F and an average minimum temperature of 80°F. The all-time maximum temperature of 118°F was recorded on July 31, 1985.
Inyokern was founded in the mid-19th century as a small agrarian community located in the northernmost corner of the Mojave Desert. It expanded during construction of the Owens Valley aqueduct. The first post office opened in 1910. The Inyokern Elementary School was founded in 1913, and though the sign might make one think that the first building is still in use, the original three small one-room buildings with pit toilets were replaced in the mid-1930s by a much larger building with a stage and indoor facilities. (This building was demolished in the early 1970s.) In the 1930s, half a dozen irrigated farms were scattered around Indian Wells Valley, growing mostly alfalfa and livestock. Community events were held in Inyokern Hall, which still stands.
With the onset of World War II the Department of the Navy located its new warfare center in Inyokern. This accounts for the length of the runways and the size of the county airport in the town. The military base was subsequently moved to the east 12 miles (19 km) and the city of Ridgecrest was born as a commercial support center for that base.
Today Inyokern serves as a sparsely populated bedroom community for those workers on the military base and in the town of Ridgecrest desiring a more rural lifestyle or those who cannot afford housing in Ridgecrest.
The town infrastructure consists of two churches, a post office, market and gas station, hardware store, welding and blacksmith shop, a county park with living grass and trees, two restaurants, a motel, an autobody shop and several antique shops. In the 1990s the building which formerly housed the library was demolished and replaced by a Senior Citizen’s Center. Inyokern also has a California Highway Patrol substation and a Caltrans road maintenance center and a motorcycle shop and blanket store. The town water and sewer system is managed by the Community Services Center. The population of the town peaked in approximately 1988 following a period of expansion on the nearby Naval base, but has dwindled since that time, and many properties were abandoned during the military downsizing of the 1990s. Until the 1990s, the main commercial block of the town along highway 178 was a somewhat picturesque street of older buildings constructed of fitted local rocks and bricks, including a vintage post office, cafe, three bars, and a small Chinese restaurant. This street was sometimes used in filming Hollywood westerns. This block was bulldozed to clear land for a planned truck stop and travel plaza.
Characterized by extreme aridity, Inyokern is situated in a wide valley at the base of the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Rugged mountains more than 9,000 ft (2743 m) in elevation west of the area create a pronounced rain-shadow effect, resulting in a shrub-steppe habitat zone with annual rainfall of less than 3 inches (76 mm). The flora of the valley floor consists primarily of Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata), Burrobush (Ambrosia dumosa), and several varieties of native bunch grasses. The transition zone of the nearby foothills also contain mixtures of Pinion Pine, Joshua tree forests, and concentrated riparian habitat surrounding the small streams descending from the mountain peaks. Wildlife ranges from black bear, mountain lion, and White Tail deer in the mountain and transition zones to the kangaroo rat and the endangered desert tortoise on the valley floor. A special note on the local wildlife is the local subspecies of rattlesnake, the Mojave rattlesnake (also called the Mojave green rattlesnake). This snake, which is common in the area, produces pit viper venom common to the general species but also produces a neuro-toxin that paralyzes the victim within 15 minutes. Fortunately the subspecies is docile and a fatal bite is rare.
Inyokern has the highest insolation of any locale on the North American continent, having over 355 days of sunshine each year.
The town is home to the past and current world champion musical saw players.
The Inyokern Airport is a popular location for car commercials, the grand Sierra Nevada Mountains for the backdrop. Indigenous animals that can be found in the valley floor are kit foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and roadrunners. Bears and Mountain Lions occasionally come down from the adjacent Sierra Nevada Mountains looking for food.
Project Camel was the codename given to work performed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in support of the Manhattan Project during World War II. These activities included the development of detonators and other equipment, testing of bomb shapes dropped from Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, and the Salt Wells Pilot Plant, where explosive components of nuclear weapons were manufactured.
In the early 1930s, an emergency landing field was built by the Works Progress Administration in the Mojave Desert near the small town of Inyokern, California. Opened in 1935, it was acquired by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in 1942, and became part of the Muroc Bombing and Gunnery Range. In 1943, the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) contracted with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the testing and evaluation of rockets for the Navy. A suitable test area was required for this near Pasadena, California, so the area was transferred from the Army to the Navy in October 1943, and commissioned as the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) in December 1943. Workshops, laboratories and facilities were constructed for over 600 men. During 1944, NOTS worked on the development and testing of the 3.5-inch, 5-inch, HVAR and 11.75-inch (Tiny Tim) rockets.
By late 1944, rocket development and testing work began to taper off, and production models started to reach the Navy and USAAF in quantity. The director of the OSRD, Vannevar Bush saw an opportunity to use some of the expertise at Caltech on another secret wartime project he was involved with, the Manhattan Project. Bush arranged for Charles C. Lauritsen, the head of the rocket team at Caltech, to visit the Los Alamos Laboratory, and meet with the project director, Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., the laboratory director, Robert Oppenheimer, and senior scientists at the Los Alamos laboratory. Oppenheimer and Lauritsen knew each other well, as Oppenheimer had worked at Caltech before the war. In addition to its scientists, Caltech also possessed an experienced procurement team, headed by Trevor Gardner. This group worked closely with its counterpart at Los Alamos, which was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Lockridge.
All the work done at NOTS on behalf of the Manhattan Project came under the codename Project “Camel”. The name is said to have come from a remark by a Los Alamos scientist that once a camel (meaning Caltech) gets its nose under a tent flap it is hard to dislodge.
The Manhattan Project conducted an extensive series of drop tests to evaluate various bomb shapes. These were initially conducted with scale models of the bomb dropped from a TBF Avenger at the US Navy test range at Dahlgren, Virginia starting in August 1943. A new airfield was constructed at NOTS, using Manhattan Project funding, with three runways, 10,000 feet (3,000 m), 7,700 feet (2,300 m) and 9,000 feet (2,700 m) long, and 200 feet (61 m) wide to accommodate the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Fuel storage for 200,000 US gallons (760,000 l) of gasoline and 20,000 US gallons (76,000 l) of oil. It was opened on 1 June 1945, and named Armitage Field after Navy Lieutenant John Armitage, who was killed while testing a Tiny Tim rocket at NOTS in August 1944.
Three B-29s were based at Armitage for drop testing. Caltech’s Gerald Kron developed instrumentation to evaluate the test drops, which were made by aircraft based at NOTS, Muroc and Wendover Army Air Field. Getting the Fat Man to fall properly was quite difficult. One officer described it as:
…a crazy bomb. It was built about like a streamlined brick, and to get [it] to fly reasonably well ballistically was quite a chore.
The resolution of the problem involved extensive testing with various fin configurations. Commander Chick Hayward initially thought that test bombs dropped at NOTS would be easier to recover than those dropped on the sands at Wendover, but they proved to have considerable ability to penetrate the desert floor, and required no less digging out.
The commander of Project Alberta, Captain Deak Parsons, had four bomb assembly kits produced. These kits were fully contained facilities, which included a number of Quonset huts with air conditioning. Two were shipped to the Pacific island of Tinian, where the atomic bombs were assembled. One was kept as a spare at Wendover, and one was erected at Inyokern, where it was used to assemble the explosive but non-nuclear pumpkin bombs for testing.
The design of the Fat Man required that a number of explosive lenses had to be detonated simultaneously. After learning from Luis Alvarez that the Los Alamos Laboratory had encountered problems with the supply of the exploding bridgewire detonators required for this, Lauritsen found manufacturers in the Los Angeles area that could produce them. Alvarez ordered the detonators by the thousand. They were used in the bomb, but most were expended in various diagnostic tests required to verify that the detonators and the lenses worked perfectly.
Responsibility for the development and testing of the critical detonators was shared between Lauritsen’s group at Caltech and Robert Henderson’s group at Los Alamos. By mid-1945, the object was to produce 1,000 detonators each week. Meeting this target proved challenging. Reliability was the key problem, with initial batches containing unacceptably high numbers of failures. In May 1945, a box of detonators manufactured by Raytheon fell from a truck and tumbled down a mountain side, but were found to still be in working order.