Ghost Towns & Mines

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison

The Federal Prison Complex
Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison - The Federal Prison Complex

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison – The Federal Prison Complex


The Boron Air Force Station was built as part of the second segment of the Air Defense Command radar network, which began due to the Korean War. The 750th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned to this newly built radar command center on January 28t 1952, with the duty to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit’s radar scopes. At the time of their arrival, the station was originally called Atolia Air Force Station after the nearby mining town, the name was officially changed to Boron Air Force Station on December 1st, 1953.

In the 1960’s, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) joined with the Air Force in operating the radar facility, and when the 750th Radar Squadron was inactivated on June 130th 1975 the FAA remained and have continued to maintain the radar site to this day.

In 1978, the Federal Government found a new use for this site: they opened the Boron Federal Prison Camp. At the time, this was one of 47 federal prison camps in the country and housed roughly 540 male inmates. Unlike most prisons, this prison had no walls, fences or guns to keep the men in.  A quote from the May 26th 1986 edition of the Los Angeles times describes the security, or lack of, as, “More a state of mind than a state of siege. An imaginary line around the prison and a few inconspicuous “Off Limits” signs are the only boundaries separating freedom from imprisonment.”


Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison - The radar center is still in use by the FAA

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison – The radar center is still in use by the FAA


Many of the inmates had jobs off the prison grounds in the small communities that surround, some you may have even found coaching a local Little League Baseball Team. When they where not working, you could find them utilizing the prison swimming pool or gym, or even taking in some of the activities that the prisons two full-time activity coordinators had planned.

In 2000, the Boron Federal Prison closed it’s doors, and it’s prisoners were moved to the newly built Adelanto Prison. Water costs were sited as one of the main reasons for the closure. It is estimated that the annual water cost was in excess of $500,000 a year.

There are not any “no trespassing”, or “keep out” signs posted at the entrance to the facility or on the grounds. So, as far as I can tell, visiting is perfectly legal. Do keep in mind that the radar facility is still in use by the FAA, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they chased you off if they find you there.

During my trip I first explored the fire house and the work house. In the work shed I was startled because it looked as if the light was on in the building, but it turned out to be a sky light. Also, all the tools had been painted on the walls at the locations where the tools would have hung, this also startled me because it looks as if the actual tools are hanging there.


Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison - A view up the street of the residential area built for the prison guards and their families.

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison – A view up the street of the residential area built for the prison guards and their families.


From the work house I made my way to the residential housing area. A source tells me that the housing area was built for the prison guards and their families. This makes sense as the structures don’t look as if they date back to the Air Force days. Walking through the streets of the housing area is eerie. It reminded me of scenes from the television show “The Walking Dead,” or horror movies like “Zombieland,” where zombies have taken over the towns and neighborhoods are left in ruin. The houses have all been ransacked over the years for their copper wire and any goods that had been left after the abandonment of the facilities. Toilets have been smashed to pieces, windows broken out, and walls torn down. But yet just about every home has bushes, flowers, and cactus in full bloom adding an element of life to the neighborhood.

Next up was one of the many dorm buildings that housed the 540 inmates. All of the dorms are identical in design, two stories, white walls, and blue doors. Every floor has multiple restroom and shower facilities, and the inmates had the luxury of living in what was much more of an apartment than that of your typical jail cell.

From the  dorm I found the mess hall and activity center. This was a massive building used for dining, regularly scheduled activities, and family visits.  Some of the booths remain, as well as metal napkin dispensers that you would find at your local diner. Some of the prison offices housed in this building have invoices and other official paperwork strung about for anyone’s taking. The outside of the building has a large beautiful courtyard with walkways and plant life.


Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison - The Fire Station

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison – The Fire Station


Up the hill from the mess hall is the fitness training center and many additional dormitory buildings. I’ve read that if you continue up the hill even further there is a church and other buildings. I decided not to venture any further because I didn’t want to take the chance of bringing to anyone’s attention my presence here, just in case I wasn’t somewhere that I belonged.

In all, there are dozens of buildings to explore and it is easy to spend many hours here. I will remind you one more time, you are visiting and exploring at your own risk! Technically this is still federal government land and it is unclear what their thoughts are on visitors.


Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison - An outside view of two of the many prisoner dormitories

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison – An outside view of two of the many prisoner dormitories


Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison - Inside the mess hall and activity center.

Boron Air Force Station & Boron Federal Prison – Inside the mess hall and activity center.




About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • Paul

    Thank you for this post. Based on your report, my wife and I visited Boron last weekend and it is indeed one of the best “urban exploring” sites we’ve seen.

    • deathvalleyjim

      Hi Paul! I’m glad you and your wife found this place to your liking. It really is something different to see. Happy exploring!

  • Those are the original military housing. Stayed there with friends many times.

    • Chris

      I was an inmate there in 1995 some interesting stuff went on….

      • Mark Richardson

        Hey Chris and the rest of you, I was sent to Boron FPC in 1987 and stayed there for two blissful years……I worked and ran the welding shop…….lived in dorm 1, room 1 and had what now seems to be one of the best times of my life, don’t take that wrong, I have a great life but the 2 year vacation on the federal gov. was fabulous. At that time rehabilitation was still in and we were well taken care of. I met some of my closest friends and lacked for nothing. We still had the swimming pool and tennis courts, basket ball and base ball fields, the place was kept in absolute perfect condition, my room shared a bathroom & shower with the next room and there were only one person to each room in dorm 1, we wore our “street clothes” but that changed just after the LA times wrote an article about the prison…… we watched the “Harlem Globe Trotters” perform one weekend and many many other acts that were brought in to the prison to rehabilitate us……… excellent food and perfect weather….I had my own truck to drive around as well as a federal drivers license, I would be sent to work as far as Edwards & George Air Force bases as well as maintain the power line road water system…….I even had a federal budget to spend….about $70,000 a year for welding maint……at that time we could use a personal trainer for our work outs and a nutritionist to help with our diets……….I was amazed what was available…..I even took my “Ground school” for my private pilot license…….all paid for by the federal government….or is that us tax payers?…..I had thought it might be nice to retire to a place like that but it appears that it no longer exists………….that’s to bad…..

  • I was at the prison this past weekend and we had a great time looking all around. It is pretty interesting to see all of the rooms where prisoners stayed and go through the houses. I got some great pictures inside some of the buildings. I’ve heard that a movie was filmed there and I would really like to know the name of it so I could see the movie. Does anyone have some information on what the name of the movie is?

  • Bob Younger

    Heading up there tomorrow with the 8×10. DVJ, thanks for doing all this scouting!!

  • Bweez Brooks

    Really interesting. I have a fascination with deserted places, but am physically unable to explore. Great photos! It kind of makes me sad to see decent buildings going to rot… especially knowing all the people who are homeless, just in our country alone. Of course, if they lived out there now… they’d likely die of thirst! I love the rocks with the painting of the mules… Boron should see about bringing those down to the town!

  • Ian Irish

    I lived up there. My dad was in charge of the Care of the yards. And all the trees, and stuff. we lived up there for 5 years at 515 mockingbird hill Drive. If you notice alot of the plants are still alive. My dad planted low water plants. There are alot of trees and shrubs dead now. He now works at Rio Tinto Minerals in Boron, Ca. I go up every once in a while. I dont take pics because It is Government property. And I dont need proof of me trespassing. That is all. If you want to know more I guess you can contact me at

  • Michael Lester

    Thanks for the pictures. My dad was stationed there in early 60’s. I believe our family was the first to move into the new family housing. Our house was the first house on the left as you drove in to the housing complex. I was there for kindergarten through second grade

    • Steve Ford

      Hello Michael.
      My dad was stationed there also. We moved into your old house, the first one on the left in September of 1964. My dad was the Chief Medic, Doc Ford. We lived there until sometime in 1967 I belive. I graduated from Boron High in 1966. My rock band used to practice in the garage and we skateboarded down the hill right by our huse. The Base Commander, Major Peasely lived across the street from us. Hope you see this reply!

      Steve Ford

  • Bill Walkup

    This reminds me of Fort Ord. I had work there after the base closed, and it’s eerie…entire neighborhoods abandoned, bushes and trees growing from the cracks in the street. Another good place to check out.

  • Marie Hurley

    I lived there back in 80-82 My dad was food admin for prison. Best 2+ years of my youth playing with the neighborhood kids. Lot of memories from that place and its eerie seeing it all run down.

  • Brooke T Miller

    I lived on these grounds from 1978 – 1980 when my father worked for this prison. My mom had a part-time job cleaning the old ‘golf’ radio tower and I’d help from time to time. Thanks for posting these pics!

  • Cara

    Hey my buddies and I went up there for airsoft, when we came back from four corners for lunch, highway patrol drove up and told us to leave. Apparently there are “no trespassing” signs at the entrance, very tiny ones upon further inspection. The cops said it’s a misdemeanor to be there but let us go without a ticket.

  • Philip Janes

    My father was the Executive Assistant for the prison. We were one of the first families to move there in 78. The housing was already there however. Thanks for the cool article!