Needles (Mojave: ʼAha Kuloh) is a city located in the Mojave Desert on the western banks of the Colorado River in San Bernardino County, California. It is located in the Mohave Valley which straddles the California–Arizona–Nevada border. The city is accessible via Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 95. The population was 4,844 at the 2010 census, up from 4,830 at the 2000 census.
Needles was named after "The Needles", a group of pointed rocks on the Arizona side of the river. The large Mohave Native American community shares the nearby Fort Mojave Indian Reservation and the town. Needles is a gateway to the Mojave National Preserve.
The Mohave, one of the traditional Native American Colorado River Indian Tribes, are people that have been living in the Mojave Valley area for thousands of years prior to the European exploration of the area. In the Mohave language, they call themselves the ʼAha Makhav. Their name comes from two words: ʼaha, meaning 'river', and makhav, meaning 'along or beside', and to them it means 'people who live along the river'.
The historic Mojave Road now goes through the Mojave National Preserve. Along it, in 1859, Fort Mojave was built to protect new pioneer immigrants to California and other travelers from the Mohave. The city was founded in 1883 as a result of the construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway which crosses the Colorado River at this point. The name is derived from the Needles, pointed mountain peaks and the wind-blown holes in them (which can only be seen by boat from the Colorado River), at the south end of the valley. The Railway and the Fred Harvey Company built the elegant Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts style El Garces Hotel and Santa Fe Station in 1908 which was considered the "Crown Jewel" of the entire Fred Harvey chain. The landmark building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is being restored.
Needles was a major stop on the historic U.S. Route 66 highway from the 1920s through 1960s. For immigrants from the mid-west Dust Bowl in the 1930s it was the first town that marked their arrival in California. The city is lined with motels and other shops from that era. The "Carty's Camp" which appears briefly in The Grapes of Wrath as the Joad family enters California from Arizona is now a ghost tourist court, its remains located behind the 1946-era 66 Motel.
In 1949 the US Bureau of Reclamation began a mass project to dredge a new channel for the Colorado River that would straighten out a river bend that was causing massive silt problems since the Hoover Dam was completed.
Needles is a tourism and recreation center, a tradition going back for decades. The city is the eastern gateway to the Mojave National Preserve, a scenic desert National Park.