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Although interstate highways and routine, affordable commercial flights weren’t around in the early 20th century, travelers of the time still enjoyed several options for exploring the American west.

Route 66 was one, iconic, way to see America.

Passenger trains, too, were a popular mode of transportation.

Visitors to the Mojave Desert city of Barstow, California, can get a taste of old-time travel at the historic Casa Del Desierto, once a railroad depot and one of several “Harvey House” hotels/restaurants that served passengers of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.

The lovely Spanish revival-style building was constructed in 1910 and was a picturesque and even glamorous place to stay and dine, not just for travelers, but for locals as well.

As passenger-train service declined, the building was abandoned and began to fall into disrepair. It was slated for demolition in the late 1980s, but local preservationists joined forces to save the building.

Unfortunately, in 1992, after much renovation had been done, a major earthquake did millions of dollars in damage. The magnificently renovated building was finally reopened in 1999.

The Casa Del Desierto is now a National Historic Landmark used for city offices, as an Amtrak stop, and as home for three museums, each well worth a visit.

When Route 66 was created in 1926, it ran next to Casa Del Desierto. So it’s fitting that the historic building is the home of the Mother Road Route 66 Museum. The museum has large displays of historic photographs and artifacts related to Route 66 and its path through the Mojave Desert.

In another part of the old Harvey House building, the Western America Railroad Museum displays a large collection of railroad equipment and mementos, including one of the largest collections of “date nails” in the country.

I hadn’t heard of the nails, which once were used on railroad ties, each nail marked with a date to facilitate maintenance. But they are popular with collectors, and an entire room at the museum is dedicated to the small pieces of steel, displayed in dozens of framed collections sorted by railroad.

The museum also has several pieces of old rolling stock, including historic engines, passenger cars and cabooses, located outside the museum near the still-active railroad tracks.

The travel theme turns from nostalgic to futuristic — and interplanetary — at the NASA Goldstone Visitor Center.

The Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, where scientists communicate with unmanned deep-space probes, is near Barstow. The visitor center at the Harvey House offers information and interactive exhibits about the Goldstone program and NASA space-probe missions.

Visitors can take a selfie in a “spacesuit,” learn about past, present and future interplanetary exploration and discover how scientists can send commands and receive data from tiny probes hundreds of millions of miles from home.

For more information about the Casa Del Desierto Harvey House and what to see there, call 760-818-4400 or visit

— Steve Stephens can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SteveStephens.

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Chronicle Epress

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