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November 25, 2010

Camp Rice

You may have heard that the Rice Solar Energy Project will be constructed on the site of Camp Rice, one of Patton's World War II training camps out in the desert. the Rice Solar Energy Project will be one of those with the tower of molten salt, 635 feet high in this case. Here's a photo of some other such facility, although Rice won't look identical to this:
solor concentrating facility

I had visited Camp Rice once back in 2007, and thought I should go back to see it. The power project will be built on the site of the Camp Rice Air Field, not the camp itself.
Camp Rice Aerial View
This is what the camp site looks like now.
Running along the north side you see (in this order, south to north, lower to upper): highway 62 (grey), the railroad (black), the Colorado River Aqueduct (light sandy color with a dark line in it), levees (zigzags).

Camp Rice Plaque (5830)

Rice Divisional Camp
Camp Rice
Desert Training Center
California-Arizona Maneuver Area

Camp Rice was established at this site in the spring of 1942. It was one of twelve such camps built in the southwestern deserts to harden and train United States troops for service on the battlefields of World War II. The Desert Training Center was a simulated theatre of operations that included portions of California, Arizona and Nevada. The other camps were Young, Coxcomb, Granite, Iron Mountain, Ibis, Clipper, Pilot Knob, Laguna, Horn, Hyder and Bouse.

A total of 13 infantry divisions and 7 armored divisions plus numerous smaller units were trained in this harsh environment. The training center was in operation for almost 2 years and was closed early in 1944 when the last units were shipped overseas. During the brief period of operation over one million American soldiers were trained for combat.

The 5th Armored Division, nicknamed "The Victory Division," began combat operations in France in July 1944 and quickly gained a reputation for combat excellence, spearheading the Normandy breakout of the 3rd Army.

It was the first division to reach the Seine River, first to enter Belgium, first to reach and liberate Luxembourg, first to fight on German soil, first to plunge through the Siegfried Line. V-E Day found the 5th AD on the Elbe River 45 miles from Berlin.

Campaigns: Normandy, northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe.

The 5th Armored Division was the 1st unit trained at Camp Rice.

This monument is dedicated to all the soldiers that served here, and especially for those who gave their lives in battle, ending the Holocaust & defeating the armed forces of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.

Plaque placed by the Billy Holcomb Chapter of the Ancient & Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, the 5th Armored Division Association, and in co-operation with the Bureau of Land Management, Indio Resource Area and the Vidal Maintenance Staton, Caltrans.
May 5th, 1991

Camp Rice (8246)

Camp Rice (8252)

Camp Rice (8258)

Camp Rice Phone Wire (8257)
Phone wire.

The project developers include a good summary of the history of Camp Rice in the documentation as part of the permit process:

Camp Rice was a divisional camp of the DTC/C-AMA, located three miles east of the community of Rice, California, immediately adjacent to Rice Army Air Field (AAF). As with all divisional camps, Camp Rice was constructed as a temporary facility to create a realistic wartime conditions training atmosphere for stationed military personnel. Built during early 1942, the camp housed the 5th Armored Division from August to October 1942. Men of the 6th Armored Division resided there from November 1942 to March 1943. Rice Army Air Field. Rice Field pre-dated World War II. It began as a municipal airport for the community of Rice constructed sometime after 1932. A decade later, the airport was acquired by the 4th Air Support command and was in military use by October 26, 1942. As part of the combat training, the Army Air Force and the Army Service Force were included, serving as support to Army Ground Forces (AGF).

The Rice AAF had two 5,000-foot runways and numerous dispersal pads. The airfield contained barracks, recreation and mess halls, powerhouses, and support facilities to house 3,000 men. By 1943, 4,000 men were reportedly stationed there. The 836th Engineer Aviation Battalion was temporarily stationed in adjacent Camp Rice to assist in construction/improvement of the airfield before being moved to Camp Young which had better amenities.

After the DTC/C-AMA was closed on April 30, 1944, Rice AAF was assigned to March Field as a sub-base. It ceased operating on August 2, 1944. In 1949, the field was reopened as a civilian airport. The air field was privately owned from 1951 through 1955. Its final abandonment occurred sometime between 1955 and 1958.

Camp Rice Air Field
Google satellite view of the air field.
The runways which are so obvious from the air, are not so easy to see from ground level:
Camp Rice Air Field - Remnant of a landing strip (8270)
This dirt road which goes atop one of the runways is not nearly wide enough to be a runway itself.
The environmental documentation submitted by the developer explains that while the desert has taken back the runways, creosote still won't grow there. What we see from the air is the lighter colored bursage growing on the runways. In the surrounding non-runway areas we are looking at the usual mix of darker-colored creosote and other desert plants.

Check out this little video I shot as I drove along a taxiway perpendicular to a runway. You will see some strips of vegetation and non-vegetation that run directly away at a right angle to my direction of travel. Those are aligned with the runway.

Camp Rice Air Field Taxiway (8269)
The asphalt taxiways, however, are easy to find and good for driving.

Camp Rice Air Field - Parade Ground with Ford Ranger (8264)
But the huge concrete "parade ground" is a real prizewinner.
While I was exploring there a couple of big RVs rolled in to camp there for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Camp Rice Air Field - Little Hill (8265)
This little bump of a hill is the highest elevation around for miles.
It was clearly constructed for some purpose as it is surrounded by an apron of concrete.

Camp Rice Air Field (8267)
View from atop that hill.

Camp Rice Air Field (8276)
There are a couple of slab foundations along the road going into the air field and this one clearly had indoor plumbing

If you are planning to visit the air field, these coordinates will help you find the correct turn off: N34 04.772 W114 48.838

People have constructed a pile of rubble as something of a landmark. The turn off is east of what was the town of Rice, and west of the communication towers you'll see along highway 62.

Complete set of photos from this trip.

Map of RSEP on Rice Air Field
Here's how the power facility will be laid out, overlaid onto the map of the air base.

Map of RSEP Area
A broader view showing the transmission lines that will run about 10 miles.

Naturally, I found myself wondering what hoops they had to jump through in order to get permission to obliterate this bit of history. What makes it a little easier is that this is privately owned land, not BLM, and it's already disturbed. Virtually all historical artifacts have already disappeared or been destroyed. Camp Iron Mountain has been better protected and preserved.

All the relevant documents from the developer are available on this site. And here's the document on "cultural resources" which includes the historical information about Camp Rice. From the executive summary:

A BLM historic context and overview of the DTC/CAMA facilities concluded that Rice Army Airfield and Camp Rice meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Because the construction of the RSEP would involve envelopment of some of the remains at Rice Army Airfield, consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act will be required through the co-lead federal agencies, Western and BLM, and the California Office of Historic Preservation to develop a mitigation plan to resolve the potential adverse effects of constructing the RSEP. Mitigation could include measures such as more detailed mapping of the site, interviews with veterans who trained at Rice Army Airfield and Camp Rice, development of a detailed historical context statement, collection and analysis of artifact concentrations, and other measures.

Yes, Camp Rice isn't on the National Register of Historic Places - yet.

Here's the California Energy Commission's main page on the Rice Solar Energy Project. Note that they have a conference coming up on December 3 and the hearing will be December 15. The hearing will be on the Presiding Member's Proposed Decision which is bureaucratese for the approval. Skip ahead to page 517 to see how they address cultural resources.

Here's what the Presiding Member (I guess we are just too democratic to call him the "President") says about the historical value of the air base:

The historic significance of Rice AAF, and Camp Rice, is high. However, based on the field investigations, the physical remains of Rice AAF are well on their way to being completely reclaimed by the desert and have been impacted by fire and looting, leaving the integrity of these sites somewhat damaged. There is little left of the Rice airfield. The footprint and plan of the runways is visible from the air, but at ground level, the elements are not clear and are covered with vegetation. For comparison sake, of the three airfields used for desert training, Shavers Summit AAF, now Chiriaco Summit retains a high degree of its original design and is still used as an airfield. While one of the two air strips at the Desert Center AAF has been abandoned, the other is still in use.

This said, despite historic and modern disturbance and the ongoing erosion and deposition taking place through natural and cultural processes at these sites, Rice AAF and Camp Rice do contain some additional data potential. Rice AAF and Camp Rice are important components to the NRHP-eligible DTC/CAMA cultural landscape district. A draft multiple property submission for this district was previously prepared and submitted, and is awaiting edits for final approval. Rice AAF and Camp Rice are likely to be designated as contributing elements to this overall submission for the DTC/CAMA district. Integrity considerations for these types of sites are very different from traditional sites. As stated above, construction of permanent facilities for the DTC/CAMA was very limited, which reflects the war time urgency, as well as the commander's desire for spartan conditions. Further, when viewed as an important component of the whole, Rice AAF and Camp Rice both help to convey the significance of this broader DTC/CAMA district. The integrity of location, design, and setting are generally still able to convey the significance of both Camp Rice and Rice AAF. As a result, Rice AAF and Camp Rice should be considered eligible for listing on the NRHP (and the CRHR) under Criteria A and B.

Most of their concerns about cultural resources are focused on the potential for turning up something Native American. The route of the transmission line does cross some ancient trails. But they do impose some interesting conditions related to the Camp Rice:

  • An informative rest stop:
    Condition CUL-11 requires the project owner to construct and maintain a Historic Interpretive Area, with visitor services, including parking, water, restrooms, and shade, appropriate to a desert environment. Although not specifically related to the interpretive value of the site, requirements for restrooms, drinking fountain, garbage cans, and shaded areas have been included to address relevant sanitary concerns and acknowledge the area's unique desert conditions.
  • A video documentary. If you go read the full text, the degree of specificity is amazing. They require aerial shots that must be obtained with a helicopter. So if the producer finds a great way to get some aerial shots from an airplane, or one of those tiny one-person flying crafts, or a hot air balloon, that's just great, but there still has to be something shot from a helicopter.
    The project owner shall produce a high-definition, broadcast quality documentary of the Rice Army Airfield (Rice AAF), Camp Rice, and the surrounding DTC/C-AMA cultural landscape, focusing on the integration and contributions of the Rice AAF and Camp Rice, to the DTC/C-AMA WWII military training mission, from an aviation perspective. Costs for the documentary (including pre- and postproduction costs) shall not be required to exceed the industry average of $4,500 per minute. The final edited documentary shall be at least 26 minutes in length, excluding titles and credits. An approximately 10- minute abbreviated version of the documentary shall also be produced using primarily material from the 26-minute documentary.

    Concurrent with the start of commercial plant operations, the project owner shall provide the final approved full-length documentary to the General Patton Memorial Museum in a high definition format, suitable for mass market duplication, along with 500 DVD copies and 100 BluRay copies of the full-length packaged documentary, suitable for resale. Ten DVD copies and five BluRay copies of the packaged documentary shall also be provided to the BLM Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, Western, and the CPM. The 10-minute excerpt shall be provided to all parties in a digital format compatible with display requirements of the Museum and webcasting requirements of BLM, Western, and the Energy Commission.

    All rights will be assigned to the Patton Museum.

  • A tri-fold, double-sided brochure. Somehow they neglected to specify the weight of the paper! Aha, a loophole!
    CUL 14: The project owner shall provide the design of at least one single page, double-sided tri-fold brochure and an initial production run of at least 1,000 copies to the General Patton Memorial Museum for public distribution, interpreting the significance of Rice AAF and Camp Rice as individual historical features and as contributing features within the DTC/C-AMA cultural landscape.

    Prior to the start of commercial plant operations, the project owner shall provide a donation in the amount of $25,000 to the General Patton Memorial Museum. The funds from this donation shall be earmarked for development and installation of displays and signage interpreting contributions of the Rice AAF and Camp Rice to the mission of the DTC/C-AMA at the General Patton Memorial Museum. The resulting interpretive display shall also incorporate a way for the public to view the 10-minute abbreviated documentary excerpt identified in CUL-13 above.

There are also requirements to map, inventory, keep your eyes open, etc.

I wasn't looking for how they addressed biological resources, but as I was flipping along through the document I could not help but be drawn in by the lovely prose. They found one desert tortoise - and it was delicious! Nobody found a fringe-toed lizard and the site is not a significant source of wind-blown sand for the Danby Dunes. They estimate there could be 7 pairs of burrowing owls. There will be three 5-acre evaporation ponds for wastewater. They will be fenced and covered with netting. No one yet knows how birds respond to the bright glow of the sunlight focused on the molten salt. Apparently, however, they've got experience elsewhere that tells them that some birds will fly into it and be incinerated. Yes, cooked poultry falling from the heavens. The workers will have to keep any such dead birds in a freezer for possible later examination by appropriate wildlife experts. They also will do studies to find out if scavengers (coyotes mostly, I suppose) are making off with the poultry before the workers find it.

The location has a decent amount of infrastructure already: paved highway, railroad (but they don't say they plan to use rail), and electricity. But what about water? Patton took his water out of the aqueduct, but I'm sure the Metropolitan Water District would not provide water to this project. Water use is estimated to be 118 acre-feet/year. That will come from two wells (one already exists). All but 3 acre-feet will be treated and used for industrial uses. The remaining 3 acre-feet will be further treated to be made potable for the workers onsite - estimated to be no more than 47 (plus a little extra for people visiting the rest stop). Nobody claims the groundwater there, so all they need is a permit from Riverside County to put in the well...and then, I think, they would be the obvious candidate to be the monitor for the Rice Valley groundwater basin. Human generated sewage will go into a septic system which will, of course, be pumped occasionally.

Here's a video where I drive along the highway 62 frontage from the air base entrance road eastwards along the entire length of Camp Rice. Occasionally you can see a camp road. You'll see the obelisk that marks the visitors entrance go past. But mostly it's just empty desert.

Other photos of stuff along the way:
Run For The Fallen on Route 62 - Sgt John W Russell (6139)
Flags and information for
Run For The Fallen which took place in August this year.

Rice, California (8236)
Rice, California
, which was there before and after Camp Rice, but is now uninhabited.

Rice, California (8244)

Filed under California,Photography | permalink | November 25, 2010 at 10:45 AM


Such history being pushed aside and forgotten. The generation of young people need to be exposed to this site and others like it.

Posted by: Manuel M Smith at Jan 2, 2023 11:26:37 PM

as usual for you, very detailed and very interesting. Sometimes I wish I had the time to explore like you do.

Posted by: Raymond at Nov 26, 2010 8:43:17 AM

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