August 09, 2011

Never drive the straight route to Las Vegas. ♪

Not up for any desert hike?  Please join me in one of my favorite driving detours to Las Vegas, stops along old Highway 66, from Barstow to Goffs, California.  It's rocky and dry and has an eerie outer-spaceness about it (to give you an idea of the terrain, the Amboy Crater was the research site for the Mars Rover).  Here you'll find solitude like you've never experienced before.  It's just you and some prehistoric rock - and way out there, out on the horizon, an idea that could be something, someday…

A little trip down the "Mother Road" always puts me in a bright and sunny mood and in the mood for sunny side-up eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy. Of course loaded with cholesterol.

Callico Station was founded as a mining supply center to support the silver mines in Calico. A narrow gauge railroad hauled the silver ore to Calico Station which had the stamp mills for processing the ore. In 1883 the name of the town was changed to Daggett in honor of the new California Lt. Governor. In its early days it was a major shipping center for the silver and borax industries. Some of the old buildings are still standing in the old downtown section of Daggett.  The old Stone Hotel built in 1883 was once the "office" of Death Valley Scotty, and Wyatt Earp is said to have stayed here on his way to mining claims in Parker, Arizona.
When Route 66 was established in 1926, the townspeople of Ludlow moved Main Street north to line up with the road.  It started as a water stop for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1883 and when ore was found in the nearby hills, Ludlow became a happening-kind of place. There were no wells in those olden days so water had to be brought in from Newberry Springs - about 27 miles west. The major portion of the town was built along the railroad tracks where many shacks are still located.

With the popularity of the movie, “Bagdad Cafe,” Route 66 became a must-see for tourists - homegrown and foreign-born.
The Newberry Springs cafe is a Route 66 survivor and was once known as the Sidewinder Cafe.  After the movie was filmed here the name Bagdad Cafe stuck.  It is open for business serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Say hi to the proprietor who has done a great job of keeping the Bagdad Cafe alive for all us Mother Road fans. If you're lucky, maybe General Bob will show up and entertain you with his colorful stories from the past! 

(where’s Jack?)
The area around Newberry Springs has been a source of water in the arid Mojave Desert since the earliest days. The site of Camp Cady is located a few miles from present day Newberry Springs, and was a resting place and watering hole along the Mojave River for wagon trains coming to California in the 1850's on the old Mormon Trail. In the 1880's the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad hauled tank cars of water from Newberry Springs to the stations and towns in the area making life in this arid land possible. 
The real Bagdad Cafe, in Bagdad,  was once the social center of the desert.  A few building foundations are all that remain of the town.
From the 1940's through the 1950's the Bagdad Cafe was the place to gather on a Saturday night. With its juke box and dance floor the cafe became the entertainment capital of the Mojave Desert between Needles and Barstow. The music died in 1968 when the cafe closed. In 1972 when the Interstate opened miles to the north of Bagdad the town started its rapid decline. And sadly, what was left of Bagdad was scraped off the face of the earth in 1991 when the gas pipeline storage area was built.  That  gone too.

A man sat, perched on a stool at the dusty counter top.                                               
In the cafe that doesn't serve food.
At the gas station that doesn't pump gas.                                                                              

At the motel where nobody sleeps.
I asked the man how many people live in this town?  He held up four fingers.
Wait, said his friend, running his hand through the fur of a sleeping black dog. What about Larry? Oh yeah. Make that five, the man said. It was just another quiet, dusty day in Amboy, California.  Population: Five.   
It wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, Amboy was a bustling stop on Route 66, perfectly situated halfway between Barstow and Needles.  The place boasted Googie "retro-future" architecture, a real draw in 1959.  And it also had Roy's Motel and Cafe, the only gas, food and lodging stop for miles and miles.  Back then both Roy's and the town were owned by Buster Burris, one of the best-known Route 66 characters. He purchased Roy's from his father-in-law, Roy Crowl.  In those days, people were hungry for the open road. And, of course, they also needed a clean bed, fuel and burgers.  Used to be Roy's would get so busy, Burris had to advertise in surrounding states to bring in enough hands.  Then, in the 1970s, Interstate 40 entered the picture.  After the bypass was built, business shrunk to just about nothing.  Folks moved away.  Buildings were destroyed or faded in neglect.  You might recognize this scenario - Amboy was the inspiration for the town of Radiator Springs in Disney's animated movie, "Cars."

After Burris died, Amboy changed hands twice.  In 2003, the whole town was offered for sale on eBay at a price of $1.9 million.  The highest offer was $995,000, and the town went unsold.  In February 2005, Amboy was repossessed by Burris' widow, Bessie.  She sold the place to the owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain, Albert Okura for $425,000 and a promise - Okura has to renovate and repopulate Amboy.  Across the street from the cafe is a church with a lopsided steeple.  Behind it, high-speed freight trains run like a ribbon through the landscape on the Santa Fe Railroad, between Barstow and Kingman, Ariz.  It's a popular spot for railroad photographers, because they can situate themselves close to the tracks with no obstacles.  The trains have also been important for the salt mines, which operate about three miles outside of Amboy.  Dry lake beds filled with chloride stretch for miles, and makes the parched desert landscape appear snow covered.  Salt is the reason Amboy is here at all.

Amboy Crater rises above the desert floor just outside of town it was once an old Route 66 tourist attraction. Today the Amboy Crater stands silent and lonely. But it wasn't always like that.  
About 60 years ago this stretch of Route 66 woke up.  On that fateful day the residents of Amboy awoke to saw a billowing black tendril of smoke rising from the center of the crater, high into the sky. It seemed that what everyone had thought was a dormant volcanic cinder cone was now coming to life with a promise of an eruption that would rival Mt. Vesuvius. The residents prepared to flee. Route 66 and the Santa Fe mainline where shut down as people braced themselves for the disaster.  Funny thing though, there was none of the distinctive rumblings of the earth usually associated with volcanic activity such as this. Furthermore, the smoke didn't seem to get any thicker either. A team of investigators was dispatched to fly over the crater to try to determine the extent of the impending calamity. What they found surprised them. Instead of billowing clouds of ash, red-hot lava and steam, they saw a small, localized fire in the center of the crater and what looked suspiciously like burning tires and trash. The hoax was uncovered! An investigation was promptly set up to find the perpetrators of this dastardly scheme. The clues led all the way to Barstow and ended with some kids from the local high school. Evidently these local youth had concocted a clever plan to simulate a natural disaster, and hauled old tires and junk to the crater then set the pile on fire. The officials duly chastised the local kids. All in all, I can't help but think that the officials found a little humor in the stunt, but not in front of the kids of course. Such a grand plan, the disciplinary officials might have thought. Why hadn't they thought of something like that before? Downright creative!

You will find the abandoned Roadrunner Cafe and Gas Station about a mile and a half west of Chambless. I had seen a picture of the place before in a piece of original artwork from a noted Route 66 artist.

The town of Danby, a ghost of its former self, sits bare and blasted by the unforgiving Mojave sun. Once a water stop for the railroad. When Route 66 came along it became more than railroad stop it provided vital services for the desert traveler. The gas stations and cafes are closed now, but here and there are remnants of the past highway glory.  I found an abandoned wood frame and tin siding structure that looked to have been a garage at one time. What made this old building interesting was a mural painted on the front of the building showing a scene from western lore.

Essex was as a small Mojave Desert community that chiefly served the needs of the tourists. Essex once provided towing services, gas stations, markets and cafes to the Route 66 traveler. This post card from the 1940s shows Essex in it's hey-day.

About ten miles from Essex on the old Route 66 is Goffs, here my detour ended.

For Clive, with whom I made this detour often, happy memories. 【ツ】


frenchtoast said...

Yes, we did. And yes I have many happy memories.
Thank you for posting this, just what I needed right now.xoxo

Charles said...

Ah,a historical perspective.
Yes, I agree, much needed right now.
Thank you for posting this friend.

SvO said...

Oh, I remember, one of our desert hikes! Thanks so much, yes,great memories.