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With its unwatered lawns dead of thirst and its porches overrun by junipers, headquarters for the Desert Experimental Range is a ghost town by any other name.

The mailbox is for decoration, and the flagpole is bare.The caretaker moved out years ago. Today the residents are a pair of antelope, a band of jackrabbits, a couple of barn owls. They have it all to themselves most of the time, nothing but the seasons marking time in this uninhabited valley west of the Wah Wah Mountains.

In summer, it used to bustle with scientists, but federal spending restraints have turned the station with its 15 or so buildings into a stony-silent outpost off the beaten path. Time takes its toll as weeds take over the footpaths and roofs begin to sag.

Appearances are deceiving, however.

"It's not as abandoned as it might look," said Durant McArthur, a U.S. Forest Service geneticist who supervises the station from his office 200 miles away in Provo.

Founded 60 years ago by the Hoover administration, the 55,000-acre range still plays host to science projects aimed at plumbing the depths of the desert's secrets. Work generally is geared toward figuring out how best to use the arid landscape.

"What we've been doing for these 50-something years is looking at various grazing practices in Western desert situations like this," said McArthur.

Though it slips into decline, it still serves as a place where science can keep its finger on the pulse of the desert.

One study in progress explores the logistics of converting rangeland from sheep- to cattle-grazing, mirroring real-life trends. Another examines the economics of such a move. One scientist at Brigham Young University has proposed using the station as a base for a population study on two species of fox.

"But I'll admit, it's not quite what it used to be," said McArthur.

A private science group called the Intermountain Consortium for Air and Land Research will meet at the station in August to talk about drumming up more interest in the remote facility. And McArthur said the Forest Service's 1994 budget tentatively has some needed money to fix up the place.

"We would like to more fully use that facility - the land as well as the buildings," he said. "We sort of bottomed out and are looking forward to a better future."

Much of the range's attraction is its solitude, said McArthur.

Four miles off U-21 and almost 50 miles from Milford, the nearest town of any size, there are few distractions for visiting scientists, save the stars at night and the desert by day.

"It's a lovely place," said McArthur.