Until the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1876, the desert was populated mostly by occasional prospectors drifting endlessly in pursuit of elusive mineral wealth. In 1882, the Santa Fe Railroad ran a line westward out of Barstow toward Mojave and built a water stop at the edge of an immense dry lakebed, roughly 20 miles southeast of Mojave. The lonely water stop was known simply as “Rod,” and the lakebed was then called Rodriguez Dry Lake.
By the early 1900s, “Rodriguez” had been Anglicized into “Rodgers,” which was then shortened to “Rogers.” First formed in the Pleistocene Epoch and featuring an extremely flat, smooth and concrete-like surface, Rogers Dry Lakebed is a playa—or pluvial lake—that spreads out over about 44 square miles, making it the largest such geological formation in the world. Its parched clay and silt surface undergoes a timeless cycle of renewal each year, as water from winter rains is swept back and forth by desert winds, smoothing it out to an almost glass-like flatness.