Some of the names of the weapons systems developed at the sprawling China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in northeastern Kern County have become well known to Americans: the Tomahawk, Harpoon and Sidewinder missiles; bunker buster precision-guided bombs used for destroying buried or hardened targets; and the Shrike, the first anti-radiation missile developed from scratch at China Lake.
Many of these weapons and other technologies have been exhibited for decades at the China Lake Museum located on the base. But now, the museum is on the move.
“For a long time it’s been difficult for the public to get access to the base,” said Robert Campbell, director of the China Lake Museum Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates the museum.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, brought about a dramatic tightening of security at military installations across the country, Campbell said. As a result, access to the museum has become much more difficult in the intervening years.
“People sometimes wait two hours to get in,” he said. “The base command has endorsed the move.”
Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the California Cultural & Historical Endowment, as well as funds raised through donations, the museum will be moved into the adjacent city of Ridgecrest in expectation that the new location will provide easy access for tourists and locals alike.
"At one time, the museum drew 18,000 visitors per year. That number is now down to about 7,000 due to increased security,” said Laura Hickle, who serves on the museum’s board of directors for development. Hickle also wrote the grant application.
The grading of the site was in progress this week, Hickle said. Phase 1 will include a full parking lot, utilities and a 2,880-square-foot modular building, which is ready for delivery.
The first phase is expected to be up and running this summer.
The second phase will include a much larger building, but the size of the structure and the timing of that development depends on fundraising, Hickle said.
The new museum will be located next door to the Maturango Museum on East Las Flores Avenue. Best known for its guided tours of the Coso Rock Art District located on base property, the Maturango and the China Lake museums should compliment each other, Hickle said.
"It will become kind of a museum complex," she added. "We believe it will be a destination for tourists and other visitors."