A piece of our history goes to market

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

A piece of our history goes to marketThe most costly single-family dwelling in the Indian Wells Valley was recently listed on the local real estate market — offering sprawling square footage, spacious acreage, premium views and some of the most unique appointments to be found in a local home. But perhaps the most captivating component of the fabled “Rocky Top” property, located south of Cerro Coso Community College, is its history.

Rocky Top just barely predates the arrival of the Navy at China Lake, when Duke Fenley built it on a hilltop overlooking our valley.

“It was early in the year of 1942 that my husband had a message from the Mojave Desert. He was urged to make no delay in coming out to stake a mining claim. There he had found ‘rich Tungsten and gold indications.’” Fenley’s widow, Savola Crawford Fenley Condy (1901-86), included this information about the origins of Rocky Top in an article titled “Life on the Desert: Where We Found Happiness,” which appeared in the July 1958 edition of Desert magazine.

“Ridgecrest was no more than a hamlet at that time,” wrote Condy. “Ultimately our riches were found in a closer walk with the Source of Life, and we would live here for endless tomorrows.”

The original dwelling was a small white cabin (see related photo). After 33 years of marriage to Savola, Duke passed away in 1957. However, Condy writes that her husband left her in the perfect place “to begin the reconstruction of my life … every window looking out to my everlasting and ever changing hills and mountains!

“As I write, the sun set only minutes ago. In the east hangs the pale moon, surrounded by the still rose-colored clouds of the sunset … the air has the chill of winter, birds are on the wing, flitting happily by in this moment before dusk, going wherever birds go for the night.

“Fading now are the colors of the magnificent desert sunset. But, as I look toward the El Pasos, there, brushed out across the southern horizon, are even more beautiful rose and gray clouds in this last moment before twilight.”

Condy (who took her name from her second husband, Albert [1891-1973]) captures in her writing the splendor of living some 3,500 feet above sea-level, experiencing the panoramic vista of our desertscape from a quiet hilltop south of town.

This unique location caught the eye of local developer Dean Karlberg, who purchased the property in 1974. He took the diminutive home and built it out into a capacious two-story home, with updated utilities and a well.

Trademarks of the property included an entryway bearing the name, a Saguaro cactus, a glass-bottle shack — and a working train that operated on a track that surrounded the home.

“He was a train buff and built a 15-gauge train with an electric golf cart engine that pulled an open traincar to carry wood to his many fireplaces and stoves,” wrote current owner Dr. Earl Ferguson, a globe-trotting physician who would purchase the home from Karlberg in 1997.

The track is supported by an 18-foot trestle on the northeast side of the property. On the west side there is a siding that allows the train to back into a double-door firewood box in the living room.

In the 1970s and ’80s the home was a popular gathering spot, and famous for its novelty and charm.

When Earl was staying with his brother and sister-in-law, Drs. Bill and Kitty Ferguson, who were living and practicing in Ridgecrest in the 1990s, Earl asked about properties that he might look at.

“My brother told me about this place, but he didn’t think it was a good candidate.” After a visit to the remote location, Earl said that he could picture himself living there.

“The house had great potential, but it needed major renovations to update it,” Earl wrote in his memoirs. He and his wife, Sun, spent the next two decades modernizing the interior and exterior — doing much of the work themselves.

He recounted that after working 12-hour days at Southern Sierra Medical Clinic and the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital he would return home to encounter moth infestations or other challenges.

But over the years, he has completed modernization of the 6,500-square-foot desert palace (which includes a guest house).

The property has five bedrooms, four bathrooms and tinted windows that offer a view in almost every direction.

“When we purchased Rocky Top, Dean Karlberg had recently drilled a good rock well down to 410 feet. Water has remained stable at 235 feet,” said Earl.

He said that the property draws from an adjacent basin. “We have three wells on our property to the south about 3-4 miles, and the water levels in that basin appear to be stable.”

The couple also noted that they rode out the 2019 earthquakes with minimal damage, “because we’re mostly on rock.”

As Earl and Sun move on to their next adventure, the 430 Magna Vista property is up for sale.

Agents Christine and Joey Dosen have listed the property for $850,000.

Inquiries into the property may be directed to christine@bestrealty.net, 760-375-3855, or 425-876-3405.

Pictured: The front entryway of Rocky Top, as seen from the south, captures the rustic elegance of the property. — Photo by Sarah Bingham

Story First Published: 2020-07-03