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Old West Welcomes Today's Urban Pioneers : Victor Valley: The four cities beyond Cajon Pass are welcoming an influx of residents who like the home prices and clean air.

March 31, 1991|JEANNE BOYER | Boyer is a Riverside free-lance writer

If you wondered where singing cowboy Roy Rogers went after singing "Happy Trails," look no farther than the Victor Valley.

The "King of the Cowboys" settled there 25 years ago in the town of Apple Valley. Horse Trigger is there too, in Rogers' Victorville museum, along with wife Dale Evans' steed Buttermilk and faithful dog Bullet.

"I like it way up here where you can be out in the desert in five minutes," said Rogers, who has land on the Mojave River where he raises palomino colts.

Yep, Rogers and Evans still have a ranch. They don't do a lot of galloping around anymore, but they haven't strayed too far from those country-western roots.

That's the way it is in the Victor Valley.

Joseph W. Brady, president of Bradco Development in Victorville, moved from Santa Barbara and found he needed a truck instead of a fancy car.

His friends from Santa Barbara thought he was crazy moving way out to the hot, wind-swept desert. Brady soon found the Victor Valley also gets cold enough to snow several times a year. But you meet a lot of "nice, friendly, down-to-earth people," he said.

He also found the area is eager for growth, unlike Santa Barbara and many other parts of Southern California. After decades of rural restfulness, the affordably priced valley is expected to be the boom town of the 1990s, one of the last places in Southern California where you can buy a new home for less than $100,000.

For centuries, explorers and pioneers struggled westward through the valley and adjoining Cajon Pass on foot, horseback and wagons. In 1885, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway laid tracks through the pass and the valley above it. The railroad superintendent was a fellow named Jacob Victor, who soon had a town and later the whole valley named after him.

By the late 1800s Victorville was "a wild ripsnorting town," with miners and cowboys shooting at each other. The town's numerous saloons and houses of ill repute drew workingmen from surrounding valley communities, said John Swisher, a local historian.

When they weren't aiming at each other, area residents fought local Indian tribes. The last Indian battle in Southern California took place in 1867 at Chimney Rock near Apple Valley.

Years after the real shoot-outs ended, Hollywood came to Victor Valley to film Westerns where real wagon trains and the Pony Express once traveled. Movie stars liked the place and bought their own spreads. Dude ranches were popular, recalls Alfred Gobar, a Brea real estate consultant who grew up in the community of Lucerne Valley.

Times have changed. Now, instead of settlers in covered wagons traveling west through the Cajon Pass, they're heading east in station wagons to the Victor Valley. Ranches and farms are giving way to subdivisions that draw buyers from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, as well as other areas.

Although the area's cleaner air and elbow room add to its appeal, lower home prices are the most compelling factor, and the Victor Valley is about as affordable as you can get in Southern California.

Some new single-family detached houses are available for less than $100,000, with many more in the low $100,000 range. At the other end are 3,000-square-foot tract homes on half-acre lots priced near $250,000, and even larger, more expensive custom homes.

With its reasonable prices, Victor Valley has a lot of first-time home buyers. But there are also plenty of people buying a dream house away from urban problems, said Greg Noel, a consultant with the Meyers Group research firm in Corona.

The Victor Valley represents a better quality of life to these move-up buyers, said Noel, who grew up in Apple Valley. Unlike other areas of Southern California where sales are slumping, Victor Valley real estate is still selling, he said.

Victor Valley includes four cities--Adelanto, Apple Valley, Hesperia and Victorville--and several unincorporated communities, with a total population of about 200,000, expected to more than double in 10 years.

From 1989 to 1990, Victorville, once a stagecoach stop and rowdy railroad town, increased its population by 27.8% to become the second fastest-growing city in the state, according to the state Department of Finance.

Victorville incorporated in 1962, earlier than other valley cities and has long been the area's business center. The city has the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, a community college and the Mall of Victor Valley with about 110 shops. A 126,000-square-foot Wal-Mart discount store opened in January, one ofthe first in Southern California.

Many of those new Victorville residents live near the mall along busy Bear Valley Road, where fresh subdivisions stretch out into the distance and the roadside is crowded with new-home signs. On the frequent grand opening weekends, clowns and other promoters line the road waving home shoppers toward their models.

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