Founded in 1962, the Maturango Museum is an important educational and cultural resource in Ridgecrest, California. In addition to the exhibit galleries, which feature the natural and cultural history of the Upper Mojave Desert, the Museum sponsors many programs and tours, including tours to the world-famous Coso petroglyphs. The Museum also displays and sells artwork from both local and visiting artists. The art exhibit changes approximately every 8 weeks.
The Museum is also an information center for Death Valley, the Northern Mojave Desert, and the Highway 395 and 178 corridors. Museum membership includes the privilege of visiting other museums, at no additional charge, with which the Maturango Museum has a reciprocal agreement and we are also an Association of Science-Technology Centers Travel Passport Participant.
How the Maturango Museum Began
Ever since November 1943, the work of Navy’s major research, development, test, and evaluation facility at China Lake has been based on a spirit of military and civilian teamwork. Here at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, we are proud that our museum is founded on that very spirit.
The museum came about after Rhea Blenman, wife of China Lake Commander Capt. Charles Blenman, began museum planning meetings in November 1961 with a small group that included LaV McLean, whose husband Dr. William B. McLean, was Blenman’s civilian counterpart at China Lake. Mrs. McLean, who taught P.E. at the local junior high school, asked history teacher Clarence Willey to join the group, and he soon became the president of a board that included movers and shakers from both China Lake and Ridgecrest.
After much discussion about a name for the new museum, colorful range guard Pop Lofinck suggested “Maturango,” the name of a lofty peak in the nearby Argus Range. As Sylvia Winslow, the museum’s first curator, painted backdrops for the original displays, others began recruiting members, raising funds, and collecting items for the new museum. In a remarkably short time, the new Maturango Museum was ready for visitors by December 1962.
The founders always considered the Quonset hut to be a temporary home, but the museum remained there for 24 years. But even as a small museum staff greeted visitors at the Quonset hut, a lot was happening to make the dream of a permanent facility a reality. For example, Sue Byrd coordinated gourmet luncheons aided by a large group of volunteer cooks and waitresses, and Florence Green put her formidable grant writing talents to work. The original Maturango Junction, held in front of the Quonset hut in 1976, is another prominent example of the many ways members raised funds. Finally, after major donations of labor and supplies from local businesses, the Maturango Museum opened in its current location in October 1986.
And today we’re still growing, thanks to the same spirit of volunteerism that brought our museum to life in the first place. In 2014 we finished an expansion project that was 8 years in the making, funding was solely in private donations and lots of sweat equity.