The City of Ridgecrest lies in the southeast corner of Indian Wells Valley, a part of the Mojave Desert. It is home to the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, which occupies most of the valley north of the city, and the Coso Mountains to the northeast. With a downtown area clustered close to the base, the city stretches into the desert to the south and west with houses scattered among acres of creosote bushes.
Ridgecrest was originally known as Crumville and was settled in 1912. It was named after James and Robert Crum who operated a diary here. In 1941, when the population was around 200, the postal service opened a post office under the name of Ridgecrest. The first military base (Naval Ordnance Test Station) opened in 1943, and the town has revolved around the military base ever since. Ridgecrest is the largest city close to Death Valley National Park, which is accessed by Trona Road (State Highway 178) to the northeast.
As of the year 2000, Ridgecrest has a population of 24,927. The elevation ranges from 2,260 feet at the north end of town to about 2,500 feet along the surrounding hills. U.S. Highway 395 bypasses the town a few miles to the west and California Highway 178 connects from there to the downtown area. It continues west to Trona.
The southern end of the Sierra Nevadas lies to the west of Ridgecrest, on the other side of Indian Wells Valley, with Owens Peak easily visible and Mount Whitney in the distance to the northwest. The Argus Mountains, to the northeast, and the El Paso Mountains to the southwest are lower profile mountains closer to town which are arid and quite barren.