Mystery Ruins of the Desert – Llano Del Rio Socialist Colony


The desert holds many mysteries. One of these mysteries is Llano Del Rio.

This grain silo is part of the 100 year old ruins of Llano del Rio Colony, a socialist utopian community, established in SE Antelope Valley in 1914. Llano del Rio was founded by Job Harriman, a young lawyer who almost won a bid for mayor of Los Angeles in 1911, obtaining over a third of the votes. Not trusting the political system to enact social change, Harriman founded the community out in the desert north of Los Angeles. The cooperative thrived, its population exceeding 1000, until their water supply was diverted by an earthquake fault. They had one of the country’s first Montessori schools, hosted a fertile intellectual and cultural climate, and had innovative low-cost housing, Social Security, minimum-wage pay, and universal health care services that predated the rest of the country by decades. Although Llano del Rio is today considered Western American history’s most important non-religious utopian community, there is unfortunately no protection for the site despite being a California Historic Landmark.

If you climbed inside the grain silo, and, ignoring the remains of a bonfire and the broken glass, laid down on your back and peered straight up, this is what you would see. I take these risks so you don’t need to, and that’s very sweet of me.


Please click on the photo to view it larger and more clearly!  Thanks!

The colony’s local economy was almost totally self-sustaining. Their economy included agriculture, orchards, a paint shop, a print shop, and a fish hatchery. Despite the desert climate, their farms succeeded, their farmers using purchased water to create fertile farmland, and growing alfalfa, corn, and grain, stored here in this grain silo. By 1916, Llano Del Rio grew ninety percent of the food they ate. A world class rabbitry provided the colonists with their main source of meat; and a large stable complex just outside the colony could house up to 100 horses.


Llano Del Rio opened on May Day of 1914, its first inhabitants members of the Young People’s Socialist League. In the beginning, only the community center had been constructed, and during much of the colony’s existence, very few permanent structures were ever built. Many people lived in canvas tents, able to do so because of the warm desert climate.


Llano Del Rio held a parade, dances, and had a champion baseball team and other sports. They also had a drama society, staging black-face minstrel shows. And Llano were chivalrous and gentlemanly, not allowing f-bombs in the presence of women and children. Liquor was not allowed unless granted permission by a doctor.



Equipment:  Nikon D7000, Tokina AT-X 116, Feisol tripod.

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like). We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!



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