Needles, California

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Needles, California
City sign
City sign
Location in San Bernardino County and the state of California
Location in San Bernardino County and the state of California
Coordinates: 34°50′53″N 114°36′51″W / 34.84806°N 114.61417°W / 34.84806; -114.61417Coordinates: 34°50′53″N 114°36′51″W / 34.84806°N 114.61417°W / 34.84806; -114.61417[1]
CountryUnited States
CountySan Bernardino County
IncorporatedOctober 30, 1913[2]
 • Total31.28 sq mi (81.00 km2)
 • Land30.82 sq mi (79.82 km2)
 • Water0.46 sq mi (1.19 km2)  1.49%
Elevation495 ft (151 m)
 • Total4,844
 • Estimate 
 • Density162.46/sq mi (62.73/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area codes442/760
FIPS code06-50734
GNIS feature IDs1652757, 2411220
InterstatesI-40 (CA).svg Business Loop 40.svg
U.S. RoutesUS 95 (1961 cutout).svg Historic US 66 (CA).svg
Regional RailAmtrak logo.svg

Needles (Mojave: ʼAha Kuloh) is a city in eastern San Bernardino County, California, United States. It lies on the western banks of the Colorado River in the Mohave Valley subregion of the Mojave Desert, near the borders of Arizona and Nevada and roughly 110 miles (180 km) from the Las Vegas Strip, it is the easternmost city of the San Bernardino-Riverside metropolitan area. Needles is geographically isolated from other cities in the county. Barstow, the nearest city within the county, is separated from Needles by over 140 miles of desert and 2 mountain ranges;[5] the city is accessible via Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 95. The population was 4,844 at the 2010 census, up from 4,830 at the 2000 census.

Needles was named after "The Needles", a group of pinnacles in the Mohave Mountains on the Arizona side of the river to the south of the city; the large Mohave Native American community shares the nearby Fort Mojave Indian Reservation and the town. Needles is a gateway to the Mojave National Preserve.


The Mohave, one of the traditional Colorado River Indian Tribes, are Native Americans that have been living in the Mojave Valley area for thousands of years prior to the European colonization of the area. In the Mohave language, they call themselves the ʼAha Makhav, their name comes from two words: ʼaha, meaning "river", and makhav, meaning "along" or "beside", and to them it means "people who live along the river". These people traded with the tribes of coastal Southern California following the Mohave Trail; the Franciscan missionary Francisco Garcés, was the first European to visit the Mohave people and travel on the trail and report on the route in 1776. From 1829 to 1848, part of this trail became a part of the route of the Old Spanish Trail between New Mexico and Southern California.

The historic Mojave Road, now goes through the Mojave National Preserve, essentially following the route of the Mohave Trail. Along it, in 1859, Fort Mohave was built and the road established to protect new pioneer immigrants to California from New Mexico and other travelers from the Mohave during the Mohave War.[6]

The city was founded in May 1883 as a result of the construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, which originally crossed the Colorado River at Eastbridge, Arizona three miles southeast of modern downtown Needles; the name was derived from the Needles, pointed mountain peaks at the south end of the valley with wind-blown holes in them, visible only by boat from the Colorado River. This point on the Colorado River was a poor site for such a bridge, lacking firm banks and a solid bottom. Additionally, the bridge was not of the best quality, which led to criticism that it was a "flimsy looking structure", and was an obstruction to navigation, since it lacked a draw to allow boat traffic; the flooding and meandering of the Colorado River destroyed the bridge in 1884, 1886 and 1888. Finally, the railroad surrendered to nature and built the Red Rock Bridge, a high cantilever bridge, at a much narrower point with solid rock footings ten miles downstream near modern Topock; the bridge was completed in May 1890.[7]:82

Originally a tent town for railroad construction crews, the railroad company built a hotel, car sheds, shops and a roundhouse. Within a month the town also boasted a Chinese wash-house, a newsstand, a restaurant, a couple of general stores, and nine or ten saloons; the town became the largest port on the river above Yuma, Arizona.[7]:82 The railway and the Fred Harvey Company built the elegant Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts style El Garces Hotel and Santa Fe Station in 1908, which was considered the "crown jewel" of the entire Fred Harvey chain; the landmark building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is being restored.

Needles was a major stop on the historic U.S. Route 66 highway from the 1920s through the 1960s. For immigrants from the Midwest Dust Bowl in the 1930s, it was the first town that marked their arrival in California; the city is lined with motels and other shops from that era. The "Carty's Camp", which appears briefly in The Grapes of Wrath as the Joad family enters California from Arizona, is now a ghost tourist court, its remains located behind the 1940s-era 66 Motel.

In 1949, the United States Bureau of Reclamation began an extensive project to dredge a new channel for the Colorado River that would straighten out a river bend that was causing serious silt problems since the Hoover Dam was completed.[8]

Needles is a tourism and recreation center, a tradition going back many decades; the city is the eastern gateway to the Mojave National Preserve, a scenic desert area.



The city has a desert climate with a subtropical temperature range, with a mean annual temperature of 74.2 °F (23.4 °C).[9].

Needles, like Death Valley to the northwest, is known for extreme heat during the summer; the Needles weather station is frequently reported by the United States government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the site of the highest daily temperature recorded in the U.S. during the desert summers. Needles occasionally sets national or world daily temperature records, along with other related records associated with extreme desert heat. For instance, on July 22, 2006, Needles experienced a record high low temperature of 100 °F (38 °C) at 6:00 AM with a high temperature exceeding 120 °F (49 °C)[10], making it one of the few locations on Earth that have recorded a triple-digit overnight low temperature. Also, on August 13, 2012, Needles experienced a thunderstorm that deposited rain at a temperature of 115 °F (46 °C) starting at 3:56 PM, setting a new record for the hottest rain in world history; the air temperature was 118 °F (48 °C), tying Needles' record high for the date. Since the humidity was only 11%, the rain evaporated so that "only a trace of precipitation was recorded in the rain gauge". Weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera reported that this was the lowest humidity at which rain has occurred on Earth in recorded history.[11] Later, on May 4, 2014, Needles reached a temperature of 102 °F (39 °C) with a dewpoint of −38 °F (−39 °C), for a relative humidity of 0.33%, the lowest value ever recorded on Earth.[12]

In the winter, the normal high temperatures range from 62 °F (17 °C) to 80 °F (27 °C) with lows of 40 °F (4 °C) to 60 °F (16 °C). During summer the normal high temperatures range from 106 °F (41 °C) to 122 °F (50 °C) with lows of 82 °F (28 °C) to 94 °F (34 °C); the record low temperature was 20 °F (−7 °C) on December 23, 1990. The average year has 168.4 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher and 4.9 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. On June 20, 2017, the high temperature record was tied with a reading of 125 °F (52 °C).[13][14]

Annual rainfall is about 5.11 inches (130 mm). There are normally 23 days with measurable precipitation; the wettest year was 1965 with 9.50 inches and the driest year was 2006 with 0.70 inches. The most rainfall in one month was 4.72 inches in September 1976. The most rainfall in 24 hours was 2.55 inches on August 28, 1951. Although snowfall is very rare in Needles, 15.2 inches of snow fell in January 1949, including 12.2 inches on January 12, 1949.[9] The city is also known for moderate to locally severe thunderstorms during the monsoon season as well as humid conditions.

Needles is served by the National Weather Service's NOAA Weather Radio operating on 162.50 MHz from the Las Vegas National Weather Service.

Climate data for Needles, California
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 85
Average high °F (°C) 65.0
Average low °F (°C) 43.5
Record low °F (°C) 21
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.72
Average snowfall inches (cm) 0.3


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20175,007[4]3.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]


As of the census[17] of 2000, there were 4,830 people, 1,940 households, and 1,268 families residing in the city; the estimated population in July 2006: 5,330 (+10.4% change).[18] The population density was 162.3 per square mile (62.6/km²). There were 2,551 housing units at an average density of 85.7 per square mile (33.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 77.9% White, 1.6% African American, 7.0% Native American, 1.4% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 6.4% from other races, and 5.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 18.4% of the population.

There were 1,940 households out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.5% were married couples living together, 16.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.6% were non-families. 29.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.5 and the average family size was 3.0.

In the city, the population was spread out with 27.6% under the age of 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 23.6% from 25 to 44, 25.6% from 45 to 64, and 15.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 96.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $26,108, and the median income for a family was $33,264. Males had a median income of $39,688 versus $19,483 for females; the per capita income for the city was $15,156. About 21.2% of families and 26.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.2% of those under age 18 and 11.3% of those age 65 or over.

Major employment in the city is supported by the BNSF Railway (formerly the Santa Fe Railroad); the depot has been a terminal (crew change point) for the railway since the late 19th century. The railroad company has been the city's main employment source for over a century.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 30.2 square miles (78 km2). 29.8 square miles (77 km2) of it is land and 0.4 square miles (1.0 km2) of it (1.36%) is water.

The once smaller nearby communities of Bullhead City, Arizona, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Laughlin, Nevada have in recent years become larger communities than Needles.

The El Garces Hotel, a Harvey House, undergoing restoration in 2007


The 2010 United States Census[19] reported that Needles had a population of 4,844; the population density was 154.9 people per square mile (59.8/km²). The racial makeup of Needles was 3,669 (75.7%) White (65.4% Non-Hispanic White),[20] 95 (2.0%) African American, 399 (8.2%) Native American, 35 (0.7%) Asian, 9 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 323 (6.7%) from other races, and 314 (6.5%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1,083 persons (22.4%).

The Census reported that 4,839 people (99.9% of the population) lived in households, 5 (0.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 0 (0%) were institutionalized.

There were 1,918 households, out of which 650 (33.9%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 712 (37.1%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 331 (17.3%) had a female householder with no husband present, 159 (8.3%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 186 (9.7%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 6 (0.3%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 588 households (30.7%) were made up of individuals and 238 (12.4%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52. There were 1,202 families (62.7% of all households); the average family size was 3.12.

The population was spread out with 1,283 people (26.5%) under the age of 18, 401 people (8.3%) aged 18 to 24, 1,038 people (21.4%) aged 25 to 44, 1,357 people (28.0%) aged 45 to 64, and 765 people (15.8%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39.3 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.0 males.

There were 2,895 housing units at an average density of 92.6 per square mile (35.7/km²), of which 1,015 (52.9%) were owner-occupied, and 903 (47.1%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 4.9%; the rental vacancy rate was 17.2%. 2,578 people (53.2% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 2,261 people (46.7%) lived in rental housing units.

According to the 2010 United States Census, Needles had a median household income of $29,613, with 28.8% of the population living below the poverty line.[21]


The City of Needles was incorporated on October 30, 1913,[2] it is a charter city, led by an elected mayor and a city council with six elected members. Mayors serve two-year terms of office, and councilmembers serve four-year terms; the council designates a vice mayor from among its members.[22]

State and federal representation[edit]

In the California State Legislature, Needles is in the 16th Senate District, represented by Republican Shannon Grove, and in the 33rd Assembly District, represented by Republican Jay Obernolte.[23]

In the United States House of Representatives, Needles is in California's 8th congressional district, represented by Republican Paul Cook.[24]


The March 9, 2009 voter registration tally for the city is as follows:

Proposals for secession[edit]

In 2008, claiming the county had been unwilling to help keep the city's troubled hospital open as a full-service medical facility, the city considered seceding from California and becoming part of neighboring Nevada, only a few miles away; the options of attaching itself to the state of Arizona or even forming a new county were also considered.[26] Proposals to change states would require approval from the United States Congress and both state legislatures.



Interstate 40, known locally as the Needles Freeway, is the major highway through Needles, connecting Barstow to the west and Arizona to the east. U.S. Route 95 also enters the city from the east on former Route 66 as a concurrency with the I-40 freeway, then splits with the Interstate west of the city, and heads north to Nevada. The Colorado River Bridge connects Needles directly with Mohave County, Arizona, and Arizona State Route 95.

Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides daily service to Needles station, operating its Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles, it arrives between midnight and 2am.

Local Transit service to the Needles area is provided by Needles Area Transit.[27]

As of August 2, 2016, Victor Valley Transit Authority has service from Needles to Barstow and Victorville on Fridays. To Barstow and Victorville, the bus leaves at 6:15 and arrives at Victorville at 10:30am. On the reverse trip, buses leave Victorville at 2:30pm and Arrive at Barstow at 7:15pm.

Fire services[edit]

John Lorimer was the first mayor of Needles. John's son Robert Burns Lorimer established the first volunteer fire department.

Needles is served under contract with the San Bernardino County Fire Department.[28] Fire Station 32 serves as the administrative offices for fire protection to the City of Needles and houses three Type I Engine companies and one Water Tender; the station is staffed with one paid officer augmented by limited-term firefighters and paid-call firefighters living in the community.

Medical services[edit]

Colorado Medical Center was once a full service hospital but at present it's more functioning as an urgent care. [29]


Needles' elementary schools and Needles High School are part of the Needles Unified School District; the school district is one of the largest in the United States in terms of area with almost 6,000 square miles (16,000 km2) in its boundaries. The district runs from Amboy to Needles, and south to Parker Dam, it has 1,158 students enrolled.[30] The local Needles schools include Katie Hohstadt Elementary School, formerly called 'D' Street School (new home of Needles Head Start, and no longer a regular public school), Vista Colorado Elementary School (Grades K–5), Needles Middle School (Grades 6–8), Needles High School (Grades 9–12), and the Educational Training Center (Grades 9–12). Needles High School, due to its distance from other California schools, is a member of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, along with four other similarly placed California schools: Truckee, North Tahoe, South Tahoe, and Coleville.

Needles also has two private schools: the Needles Assembly of God Christian School and the Needles Seventh-day Adventist School.

Popular culture[edit]


Movies using locations in Needles:[31]

In the 1993 film Suture, the town of Needles is a key element of the plot.


Print media[edit]

  • In the comic strip Peanuts, whose creator Charles Schulz lived in Needles as a boy, Snoopy's brother Spike lived in the desert outside Needles. He frequently heads to Needles to partake of the town's nightlife, often running afoul of the local coyotes.


  • In 2004, John Lowery (John 5), former guitarist for Marilyn Manson, released his CD Vertigo, in which the first track is entitled "Needles CA."
  • The town is mentioned in the lyrics of Hoyt Axton's "Never Been To Spain"; the song was a hit for Three Dog Night in 1972 and was also performed by Elvis –

Well I never been to England, but I kinda like the Beatles. Well, I headed for Las Vegas, only made it out to Needles. Can you feel it? Must be real, it feels so good!

  • Izzy Stradlin's 1999 album Ride On includes a track entitled "Needles" about his love of visiting the town.
  • In 2009 the song "Don't Look Down" by Barnaby Bright included the following :

We pulled into a truck stop Somewhere just outside of Needles California, You asked me for ten bucks and I said “What about the last ten bucks I loaned you?”


  • In October 2006, two students and two teachers from Needles High School were invited to Washington DC to meet with the Under Secretary of Defense, in which they spoke of the new program at Needles High School called MOCK National Security Workshop. The students were also interviewed for the nationwide, fifteen-minute television news show, Channel One News, where the episode was aired on October 25.
  • Needles was the main site of a 2009 UFO Hunters episode investigating a supposed UFO Crash.
  • Needles High School was on a School Pride television episode November 12, 2010.
  • In the Sex and the City season 6 episode "Out of the Frying Pan", Smith Jerrod and Samantha Jones attend the movie premiere of a Gus Van Sant film called Needles, CA.
  • Route 66 (1960) "The Strengthening Angels" TV Episode
  • The Amazing Race (2001) TV Series

Other connections[edit]

  • April 10, 1992: 38-year-old comedian Sam Kinison was killed in a head-on car crash outside of Needles. His newlywed wife was critically injured.
Tony Hawk at the opening of the Needles Skate Park on January 3, 2004.
  • In late 2000 to early 2001, skateboard legend Tony Hawk donated $10,000 to the Needles Skate Park, which is still in use today. Hawk was present for the grand opening of the park in January 2004.
  • Needles (and the surrounding area) was the scene for the hit 1988 post-apocalyptic computer RPG Wasteland.
  • Murals paying homage to U.S. 66, the celebrated "Mother Road" which passed through Needles on its way between Chicago and Los Angeles, and painted by local artist Dan Louden, have become a popular tourist attraction.[32]

Visits by famous people[edit]

  • January 11, 1960: Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at a forum established by the Needles School District. The school district had established, as a part of their adult education program, a forum that brought in persons from many areas of thought and culture, she dined with Mr. and Mrs. Max Rafferty, Superintendent of the Needles School District, her hosts during the visit were a Mr. and Mrs. Bender and their children.[33]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Needles". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "California Cities by Incorporation Date". California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions. Archived from the original (Word) on November 3, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  3. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jun 28, 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  5. ^ "City of Needles Economic Development Strategic Plan" (PDF). 2014-04-22.
  6. ^ "History of Needles". Needles Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Richard E. Lingenfelter, Steamboats on the Colorado River, 1852-1916, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1978 Archived 2016-01-18 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Putting A River In Its Place" Popular Mechanics, July 1949
  9. ^ a b "Needles FAA Airport, California - Climate Summary". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  10. ^ "Needles FAA Airport, California - July 22, 2006 Daily Summary". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  11. ^ Masters, Jeff (August 15, 2012). "Hottest rain on record? Rain falls at 115°F in Needles, California".
  12. ^ Jeff Masters (22 June 2017). "A World Record Low Humidity? 116°F With a 0.36% Humidity in Iran". Weather Underground. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Weather Conditions For Needles, Needles Airport CA KEED". Retrieved 2012-06-23.
  14. ^ "Summary of Great Southwest US Heat Wave of 2017". Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  15. ^ WRCC. "Western U.S. Climate Historical Summaries Weather". Desert Research Institute. Retrieved 2011-07-02.
  16. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  18. ^ "Needles, California (CA) Detailed Profile - relocation, real estate, travel, jobs, hospitals, schools, crime, news, sex offenders". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  19. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Needles city". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  20. ^ "American Fact Finder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  21. ^ "American FactFinder - Community Facts".
  22. ^ "CITY COUNCIL". City of Needles. Archived from the original on January 28, 2015. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  23. ^ "Statewide Database". UC Regents. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
  24. ^ "California's 8th Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC.
  25. ^ "District Count Summary" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-18. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  26. ^ [1][dead link]
  27. ^ "SANBAG: Public Transit". 2011-07-05. Archived from the original on 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  28. ^ "San Bernardino County Fire Department". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  29. ^ "City of Needles". City of Needles. 2002-06-28. Archived from the original on 2012-01-02. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  30. ^ "Needles Unified School District schools, Needles - CA: charter and public schools. Needles school district - Needles CA school district". 2010-09-07. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  31. ^ IMDB search results for Needles
  32. ^ "A touch of paint cheers a desert town - Los Angeles Times". 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  33. ^ "My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, January 14, 1960". Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  34. ^ "City of San Bernardino - Mayor's Biography". Archived from the original on 2012-01-17. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  35. ^ "Max Rafferty, 1917–1982, Conservative U. S. Educator and Critic: Bibliography of Writings By and About Him," CORE (Collected Original Resources in Education) , VII, No. 1 (1983), Fiche 9 C1
  36. ^ Sam Kinison, 38, Comedian, Dies; Wife Injured in Head-On Collision
  37. ^ Kroeber, Alfred Louis (1925). Handbook of the Indians of California. Courier. pp. 725–727. ISBN 978-0-486-23368-0.
  38. ^ "". 2001-08-10.

External links[edit]