General Patton Memorial Museum

Ride through the Joshua Tree National Forest on your way to see the General Patton Memorial Museum located in Chiriaco Summit, California.

Joe Berk
The Patton Museum’s new Matzner Tank Pavilion. When we were there, one of the two M60 tanks you see in front was running. If you think a motorcycle engine at idle makes music, you will love listening to an M60’s air-cooled, horizontally-opposed, 1,790-cubic-inch, 12-cylinder diesel engine.

In the late 1920s, the path across the desert from Arizona through California (a trail currently known as Interstate 10) was but a dirt road. A young Joe Chiriaco used it when he hitchhiked from Alabama to see a California Rose Bowl football game in 1927. Chiriaco stayed in California, working as a surveyor for the aqueduct that would carry water from the Colorado River to Los Angeles, and he recognized opportunity. That dirt road (Highways 60 and 70 in those early days) would soon carry more people from points east to Los Angeles. Shaver Summit (the high point now known as Chiriaco Summit) would be a good place to sell gasoline and food. He and his soon-to-be wife Ruth bought land, started a business and a family, and did well. It was a classic case of the right people, the right time, the right place and the right work ethic.
Fast forward a decade into the late 1930s, and we were a nation preparing for war. George S. Patton, Jr., needed a place to train his newly-formed tank units. The desert regions Chiriaco had surveyed were perfect. Chiriaco was at his lunch counter one day when someone tapped his shoulder. Chiriaco turned and there stood General Patton. Two legends, one local and one national, eyeball to eyeball. Chiriaco knew the desert and Patton needed his help. Camp Young (where Chiriaco Summit stands today) and the 18,000-square-mile Desert Training Center (where over one million men would learn armored warfare) formed the foundation of Patton’s success. Patton and Chiriaco’s relationship was mutually-beneficial: Patton kept Chiriaco’s gas station and lunch counter accessible to the troops, Chiriaco sold beer with the General’s blessing, and as you can guess … well, you don’t have to guess: We won World War II.
World War II ended, the Desert Training Center closed, and during the Eisenhower administration Interstate 10 followed the path of Highways 60 and 70. Patton’s troops were gone and I-10 became the major east/west freeway across the U.S. We became a nation on wheels and Chiriaco’s business continued to thrive as Americans took to the road with newfound postwar prosperity. Fast forward yet again and in the 1980s Margit Chiriaco Rusche (Joe and Ruth Chiriaco’s daughter) and Leslie Cone (the Bureau of Land Management director overseeing the area) had an idea: Create a museum honoring Patton and the region’s World War II contributions. Ronald Reagan heard about it and donated an M-47 Patton tank and things took off from there.

I first rode to the museum in 2003. It was small then, but it has grown substantially. The armored vehicle exhibits have grown, as has the Museum’s interior, including dioramas of Patton’s life, a small arms display and much more.
The museum is three hours east of Los Angeles on I-10 and it’s a marvelous destination. The I-10 ride is the quick but boring way to get there; you might want to pick up State Route 62 north and come down through Twenty-Nine Palms for a scenic ride through Joshua Tree National Park (see MC May/June 2009). Trust me on this: You’ll want to visit the General Patton Memorial Museum.

The Skinny

  • What: Chiriaco Summit and the General Patton Memorial Museum, 62510 Chiriaco Rd., Chiriaco Summit, CA, 92201, (435) 922-0213.
  • How to Get There: From Los Angeles take I-10 east for 156 miles; from Arizona take I-10 west. Chiriaco summit is approximately 70 miles west of the Arizona border.
  • Best Kept Secret: The General Patton burger in the Chiriaco Summit Café adjacent to the museum. It’s awesome.
  • Don’t Miss: Picking up a copy of Mary Gordon’s book, Chiriaco Summit, for a more in-depth history of the area, the Chiriaco family, and the museum.
  • Avoid: Dehydration. Daytime temperatures are usually well over 100 F in the summer.
  • More Info: General Patton Memorial Museum
  • More Photos: bit.ly/PatMuseum
Updated on Jun 16, 2021  |  Originally Published on Jan 1, 1970
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