Where did the name Ironwood come from? When we first started the camping ministry in October 1973, Walt and Betty Brock and their children moved to this location. During that entire year they had been thinking about a suitable name for the camp. Our official corporate name was Fundamental Christian Endeavors, but we had not given the camp a name. We were looking for a one-word name that had a strong sound and carried a western theme. Also, we wanted a unique name that was not being used for other purposes. In looking for those qualifications, two other aspects were very important: that the name had a good connotation without any negative baggage and that it had some spiritual significance. Pages of possible names were listed. After more than a year of much prayer, thought, and discussion, we chose the name Ironwood. Ironwood was a strong-sounding word, had a western sound to it, and was unique. The spiritual significance to it comes from the name of the ironwood tree, a low-desert tree that grows some miles from here and the ironwood mesquite trees growing on our property. The ironwood tree grows slowly and is strong. As with all young plants and trees when they are small and tender, the growth of the branches and limbs can be directed. When the ironwood tree is old, it stands strong and true; you cannot bend or direct the branches without destroying the tree. We want to see young people be molded by God’s Word while they are tender and pliable. As they grow in life and become mature Christians, we want them to stand strong and true with convictions and Christ-likeness in their attitudes, not bending under the pressures of the world and not compromising their convictions when under stress.
Why is this camp in the desert? When we were first considering the possibility of starting a camp here in the Southwest, we looked at property in the mountains and on the coast. We found that the cost of land in those areas of Southern California was exorbitant, leaving us the wilderness areas of the desert. The high desert is not quite as hot as the low desert areas, and you can find adequate water supplies to develop a facility. Lee Brock lived about eight miles from camp; therefore, his son Walt Brock knew the area, that it had adequate water underground, and that land prices were such that we could get a suitable amount of land for a camp. But, you can’t have just a flat piece of land in the desert and build a camp on it. It is very evident that the Lord worked in a miraculous way to supply us with a good geographical setting. We are close to the Mojave River, have a mountain to hike on, and have an adequate amount of flat, level ground to build upon. Our location is within a four-hour drive of some fifteen million people and within a ten-hour drive of an additional fifteen million people, giving us a total range within ten hours of driving of around thirty million people. As you look at the desert you will see how uniquely God has created it and how beautiful it is. The colors and creative genius that He used in the plants, animals, and topography in the desert present a setting that has a beauty and wonder all its own. As you read the Bible, it is interesting to note how many people God trained in a desert setting—Moses, the disciples, John the Baptist, etc. Even Christ spent time in temptation in a desert place and would call His disciples aside in the midst of their busy schedule to “come apart into a desert place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). The desert is a place where we are completely dependent upon the Lord Jesus Christ; we cannot live alone without His help in this environment. Upon first view one might think of the desert as a liability to a successful camp; however, time has proved it to be a substantial asset.
What about your lake? Where does your water come from? When we first arrived here, we decided we needed a lake to make the desert location work. We enlarged the lake that was here when we bought the property, and we drilled a 250-foot well. In the hottest part of the summer, we have to pump water into the lake daily. During the cooler months, pumping water a few weekends each month is all that is necessary to maintain the water level. God has certainly blessed our facility with this lake and allowed us to control who uses it and how it is used, making it a central part of our camping program.
What was here at Ironwood when the camp first started? When the camp first started, there was a cement block building which included our present Cattleman’s Lodge, breezeway, storage, and two little restrooms. Besides that, there was a two-acre lake, a barbed wire fence that went around the perimeter of the property, and a couple of wells which have since been abandoned because of lack of water.
When did the camp get started? The first camp was April 1973 when a group of about 75 junior high young people came from the church where Walt Brock was youth pastor. Walt cooked, preached, and directed the program with the help of the high school youth group and some adult sponsors. The first camp held for an “outside” group was for First Baptist Church of Santa Maria; they brought around fifteen young people to camp in April 1974 as a work group. They helped clean up around the lodge and get things ready for future camps. It was encouraging to have a group of young people come from a church other than the one the Brocks had been working at before coming to Ironwood. The first summer we operated as a camp was 1975. All the camps that summer were Nehemiah work camps, as were all camps in 1976. During the summer of 1977, half of the camps were work camps. It wasn’t until 1978 that we had a summer essentially set aside for camp as we know it today. The Nehemiah work camps of 1975, 1976, and the first half of 1977 built such things as the giant slide, the big shade at the lake, the diving tower, Durango, Submission, Obedience, the western fronts on the program office, fences, and put in water lines around the property.
Who were the first staff people that worked here at Ironwood? The first people who moved to Ironwood were Fred and Eula Wheat. They were retired workers from the chemical plants at Boron and Trona and had been living in Newberry Springs. When we acquired possession of the property, we asked them to be caretakers of the property. Fred and Eula served here for many years. Fred was faithful and dependable in working in whatever capacity was needed, planting many of the athel trees around the property; Eula faithfully worked in the kitchen past her 81st birthday. We praise the Lord for them and their willingness to be of service to the Lord and for their faithfulness over the years.
Why do you have all the horses and western things around here? As you can tell, our location demands we establish a western theme. If you are going to have a western theme, you need to have horses, stagecoach, buggies, wagons, and cowboys walking around. The horses are a very important part of our program and are used as an outreach program during our horsemanship camps. Many young people enjoy a good horseback ride while they are at camp. Almost all of our horses are registered quarter horses, and we have been working many years to breed our own string of riding horses. We are close to having riding string horses that have all been born and raised here at Ironwood. Our goal has been to have quality riding stock that are “kid-safe.”
What is the difference between horsemanship camp and regular summer camp? The main difference is that during horsemanship camps our program activities revolve around three to four hours a day of instruction and riding. Because of the great demand on the horses, the number of campers we can have at a horsemanship camp is limited, so our horsemanship camps are smaller than regular camps. Also, we must charge a little more in order to operate a horsemanship camp. Other activities are still available but are used on a more limited basis.
How much land do you have here at Ironwood? We have 681 acres. It stretches from the main entrance to partway up the mountain on the other side of the river. The land is almost a mile wide going east and west down the river. Some government property is between two of our parcels.
How big is the slide? Our giant slide is one hundred 68’ long, and the top of the slide is six and one-half stories above the water. When you come off the end of the slide, you are traveling about 30 to 35 miles per hour.
How many campers can you accommodate at Ironwood? We have about 400 in our cabins. However, with summer staff here that translates into room for approximately 144 campers in Rivertown, 90 at Broken I Ranch, and 54 at Ike’s Roost.
Why do you bring in a special speaker each week of camp? We haven’t always brought in a special speaker each week. Until around 1980, someone on our staff did the speaking every week at camp. This created a very busy schedule for our staff, especially with their taking care of other duties. The first evangelist to preach here was Dr. Phil Shuler. Dr. Phil was a good friend of ours for many years. He spent a good deal of time with Mr. Walt in the early days and gave his advice on the camp property when they were considering this location as a camp site. As a result of his ministry, many young people were saved and dedicated their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Dr. Shuler’s speaking engagements here at Ironwood, he has penned a number of poems about Ironwood. The poem at the front of this chapter was written by him while he was here in August 1987. Since 1980, we have had special speakers for most camps. It is a big advantage to have a great man of God who can spend his time thinking and praying about the Word of God and the spiritual needs of the young people without having any specific duties during the day around the camp. We feel that when God prepares the heart of a man to come and preach, He does so with the full knowledge of the young people who will be at camp when the speaker arrives. The Lord has blessed us in a mighty way in seeing many souls saved and lives changed as a result of the preaching and teaching of the Word of God by our special speakers.
How big did you think the camp would be one day? From the very start of our ministry, it was our belief that Ironwood would never grow to be a large conference-type ministry. We wanted to keep the program based on a ranch-type, Western theme, and we wanted to work with fundamental churches. There is such a small number of fundamental churches in California (many of them very small), and our goal was to provide a camping facility that would mirror the fundamental churches in the West. As those churches grow in number and size, we intend to grow in number and size here, keeping in mind that we don’t want to get too large, lest we lose the camp flavor and move to a conference flavor in our program. Not wanting a camp or retreat to be too large is one of the reasons we started the Broken I Ranch in 2003 and Ike’s Roost in 2007.
How hot does it get? We like to call it spicy! Yes, it does get warm in the summer. According to the National Weather Service, the average high
temperature in the summer is somewhere between 98 and 105 degrees. We usually have one or two weeks during the summer that are warmer than usual. Thankfully every cabin is climate controlled. Every meeting room and dining room are also cooled. We reserve our big activity times for the morning and evening times because our average lows during the summer are between 65 and 75 degrees. The afternoon will usually find campers enjoying the lake or a cool room activity. The dry heat means that shade and a small breeze make it seem cooler than it is.
How cold does it get? Campers who only visit in the summer are shocked by how cold it can get. The average high temperature in the winter is right at 60 degrees but the average low is right at the freezing point. If you are coming to camp in December, January, or February make sure
you bring plenty of layers. You’ll find yourself starting off with a coat and sweatshirt and in the middle of the day be comfortable sitting in the sun in short sleeves.
Are there any poisonous snakes? Yes, just one, the sidewinder. Since our beginning in 1973, no campers have been bitten by a sidewinder. The rattle at the end of his tail is warning a plenty to get away from him. The snakes are not aggressive and would rather just be left alone. Also, the venom is not deadly.
What about scorpions? Yes, we have scorpions but they are the “Ouch, that felt like a hornet sting” kind, NOT the bad ones. Scorpions are nocturnal, and, once again, rarely seen by campers.
What about poisonous spiders? There is just one to keep your eye out for, and that is the black widow. Their sticky webs are a sure sign of
their presence. We work hard to eliminate them and once again they are not fatal. I know of no campers that have ever been bitten by a black widow.
How close is emergency care? Right next to the Harvard exit is the emergency care unit that responds to all the major accidents on the I-15. They
are within 5 miles of the property and have a response time of less than 10 minutes. They have the ability to call in air support if necessary. We also have an EMT on the property. Our staff is trained in CPR, AED, and basic first aid. Although it is impossible to prevent every accident we believe the best way to be safe is to keep things supervised. Our trained staff are scheduled to provide instruction and supervision throughout the camp.
Do I need to bring any money? Yes and No. It is not absolutely necessary as the program is part of the camp price. Most camps have some add on
possibilities that may include crafts, trail rides, old west photos, and extra ammunition at the shooting ranges. Most people will bring a little spending money that will be used for refreshment, souvenirs, and resources. $5 a day is enough for the basics wants, add some more for the add ons or if you want a t-shirt or hat.
How do you recruit your staff? We visit several Christian colleges and recruit on their campus. We do an in-person interview with each applicant, and they go through an extensive process. They begin by filling out an application that involves writing what they believe about the Bible. We also require three references as well as a background check. Once they have been accepted we spend two weeks in training making sure that they are prepared for camp. We are very picky and consider the privilege of working with your children to be an honor and a huge responsibility.