Cultural Resources

Protection of the nation's heritage, including historic buildings, districts, archeological sites, ships, aircraft and other cultural resources, is an essential part of the Navy mission. NAWS China Lake is committed to responsible cultural resources stewardship.

The Department of the Navy Cultural Resources Program addresses five categories of cultural resources that fall under naval stewardship – historic built environment, Native American cultural resources, historic documents, archeology, and historic ships, shipwrecks and aircraft

Heritage Resource Program  
In 1966, Congress, through the National Historic Preservation Act, mandated that any government agency or department that had the potential to impact significant historic properties account for their impacts on those resources. Of the many reasons the Act was passed, the two most relevant are:

  • The spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage;
  • The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.

In 1992, the act was amended to include the requirement that federal agencies consult with Native Americans.

The NAWS China Lake Heritage Resource Program operates under the authority of the NAWS commanding officer and is comprised of six individuals.   It manages approximately 2,800 sites, three historic districts, one archaeological district, a 36,000-acre National Historic Landmark, two National Register-listed archaeological sites, and approximately 700 historic buildings. It meets and consults with seven individual federally-recognized tribes and informally discusses issues with an eighth tribe that is not federally recognized. The program also assists in providing access to the installation to Native Americans so they may engage in traditional cultural practices and elders can take their family members to places where they once lived.

The majority of sites located at the installation are related to Native American history as they had lived on this land for 12,000 years. In that time, they left behind many reminders of their rich and diverse heritage including habitation sites, food gathering sites, quarries from which raw materials to make tools were mined, tool manufacturing sites, and places in which ceremonies were held. The Native Americans living on this land were a sophisticated group that developed the tools, such as weapons, baskets and pottery, that were necessary to adapt to the environment in which they lived and were able to convey messages through the rock art they created.

Though seemingly isolated, the Native Americans were likely aware of other peoples living in different areas of the pacific southwest and southwest in general. This is known because obsidian quarried from sites located on the installation was traded as far west as the Channel Islands and down into Mexico. Additionally, a series of investigations on the installation has discovered obsidian imported from Northern California, central Nevada and Western Utah. These investigations have also yielded shell beads imported from the coast. More recent investigations have located pottery fragments and clay beads from southern Arizona, the Flagstaff area and the lower Colorado River.

While these sites and artifacts are interesting, they are important for a couple of reasons. First, they provide insight into another culture, and second, they serve as a reminder to Native Americans and their future generations of their origins and traditions.

In addition to prehistoric sites, China Lake also possesses a wide variety of historic sites related to mining, ranching, homesteading, charcoal production and transportation. One of the more interesting sites is the Mad Russian’s Cabin which acquired its name from an individual from Russia who left his observations about events related to World War II written in pencil across the walls of the cabin.

While it is primarily the responsibility of the Heritage Resource Program to manage the cultural resources onboard the installation, it is recognized that there is general interest in the history of the area. On occasion, the Heritage Resource Program sponsors events designed to increase the awareness of the resources located on the installation and to provide the public with an opportunity to participate in its preservation. If you are interested in participating in an event, please contact the NAWS Public Affairs Office.

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