Trona, San Bernardino County, California
Searles Valley Minerals chemical plant dominates Trona
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Trona is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County, California. In 2015 it had a population of approximately 1,900. Trona is at the western edge of Searles Lake, a dry lake bed in Searles Valley, southwest of Death Valley. The town takes its name from the mineral trona, abundant in the lakebed. It is about 170 miles (274 km) northeast of Los Angeles, on State Route 178. The ZIP code is 93562.
Trona is known for its isolation and desolation, as well as the nearby Trona Pinnacles. The local school plays on a dirt football field because the searing heat and highly saline soil kills grass. At one point it boasted an 18-hole golf course that was all sand except for the "greens", which were a softer grade of brown colored dirt.
Trona was officially established in 1913, as a self-contained company town, wholly operated by its resident mining company to house employees. Employees were paid in company scrip instead of cash. The mining company also built a library, a scrip-accepting for-profit grocery store, a school, basic housing, and minimal recreation facilities. The Trona Railway was built in 1913–14 to provide the town with a rail connection to the Southern Pacific (now the Union Pacific) line at Searles. The railway still operates today.
Economic booms and busts followed. Its most notable boom occurred during World War I, when Trona was the only reliable American source of potash, an important element used in the production of gunpowder.
Today, Searles Valley Minerals Inc.'s soda ash processing plant remains the largest firm in town. Other operations nearby include evaporative salt extraction from the dry lake bed's surface, and a lime quarry. Searles Valley Minerals is the largest employer in Trona, and many employees live in Ridgecrest, California, commuting daily to Trona.
Since its heyday, Trona's population has decreased. Based on 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data, Redlands-based geographic information systems firm Esri estimates Trona had 1,883 residents in 2010 and 1,904 residents in 2015, down from a peak of about 6,000 several decades prior. Esri predicts a small rise in population to 1,941 in 2020.
The same collection of geologic forces which created the Searles Valley where Trona sits also created the natural resource of Searles Dry Lake, which contains rich deposits of chemicals, including dozens of minerals.
Trona has an arid climate with cool winters and hot summers. Average January temperatures are a maximum of 58.2 °F (14.6 °C) and a minimum of 32.9 °F (0.5 °C). Average July temperatures are a maximum of 105.5 °F (40.8 °C) and a minimum of 73.3 °F (22.9 °C). There are an average of 140.1 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher and an average of 45.3 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record high temperature was 118 °F (48 °C) on August 13, 1933; July 25, 1943; May 27, 1951; and June 29, 1956. The record low temperature was 8 °F (−13 °C) on December 23, 1990.
Average annual precipitation is 3.98 inches (101 mm) and there are an average of 18 days annually with measurable precipitation. The wettest year was 1941 with 9.01 inches (229 mm) and the driest year was 1953 with .41 inches (10 mm). The most precipitation in one month was 5.01 inches (127 mm) in January 1995. The most precipitation in 24 hours was 2.25 inches (57 mm) on August 15, 1984. Snowfall is very rare in Trona, averaging only 0.3 inches (7.6 mm), but there was 9.0 inches (230 mm) in January 1974.
K-12 public education is provided through the Trona Joint Unified School District. The California Department of Education indicates that 255 students were enrolled in the district's schools during the 2015-16 academic year, down from 576 students in 1996-97 (the earliest data available on their website).
Trona Joint Unified School District operates two schools: Trona Elementary School and Trona High School. There is no junior high or middle school; instead, the high school houses 7th and 8th grades in addition to the traditional 9th through 12th grades. Course offerings at Trona High are supplemented by online classes offered by California State University, Dominguez Hills and Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest, California.
95 students were enrolled at Trona High during the 2014-15 school year and its sports teams compete as the Tornadoes. The school's football field, known as "The Pit," has received national attention from the New York Times, Good Morning America, and the Los Angeles Times as the only dirt American football field in the United States — the region’s heat and salty soil make upkeep of a grassy field nearly impossible.  Barrow High School in Alaska previously had a dirt field as well, but it was replaced with blue Astroturf in 2007.
In Popular Culture
A number of Hollywood films have been shot in the surrounding desert (particularly around the Trona Pinnacles), including Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Planet of the Apes. In the 2000s, the town itself served as the setting for three films, Trona (2004), Just Add Water (2008) and Lost Lake (2012).
In the 2014 general election, 350 Trona Joint Unified residents voted, out of 692 registered, according to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters. That 50.5 percent rate beat the 42.2 percent statewide average that election.
Views of Trona
A Mountain Monogram "T" sits on the hills above Trona.
- Yarbrough, Beau (October 24, 2015). "Tiny desert community of Trona hopes to rise from the ashes". sbsun.com. San Bernardino County Sun. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
- Kelly, David (October 4, 2006). "Solitary, Splendid Squalor- latimes". Los Angeles Times. latimes.com. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
- Christensen, Joe (Nov 28, 1996). "Bucking the usual tradition Trona's all-sand field gets nod of approval from CIF". The Press - Enterprise. Riverside, Calif. p. D.01.
- "Searles Lake, San Bernardino Co., California, USA". Mindat.org. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- "TRONA, CALIFORNIA - Climate Summary". Wrcc.dri.edu. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
- "K-12 Public School Enrollment 3667892-Trona Joint Unified". www.cde.ca.gov. California Department of Education Data Reporting Office. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
- "Search for Public Schools - School Detail for Trona High". nces.ed.gov. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved September 4, 2016.
- "A Shrinking Team, but a Home Field Advantage". The New York Times. 2002-11-18. Retrieved 1 January 2011.
- Verrier, Richard (16 October 2012). "Mojave Desert town Trona stars in indie horror film 'Lost Lake'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
- "California's 8th Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC.
- Trona on the Web
- The Searles Valley Historical Society
- Trona California: portrait of a mining town (includes an aerial view)
- Searles Lake, Trona, and the Pinnacles - slideshow
- Searles Valley Timeline
- Abandonment in Trona photoset