I don’t know why I have this “thing” for Route 66. As a Canadian, my interest may seem a bit odd. After all, it is a US highway and a decommissioned one at that. And much of it doesn’t even exist anymore! But the more I have traveled along parts of it, I have discovered that people from all over the world seem to have some kind of attraction to “the Mother Road”. Maybe its just a bit of nostalgia that lives in all of us
I think I first became consciously aware that Route 66 was something real, and not just something of fiction, a number of years ago while sitting in a pub in St. Louis. Noticing the “Historic Route 66” signs around, I think it sunk in that there really was a Route 66 and it had passed through St. Louis. Several years later, I remember standing on the steps of the Chicago Art Institute, looking across Michigan Ave. at the corner of Adams Street and thinking “here is where Route 66 starts”!
What opened my eyes to the photographic possibilities of the highway was a one-day workshop I took in March of 2018 from Canadian photographer Sandi Wheaton who has her own connection to “Mainstreet of America”. Check out her story at pictureroute66.com On this particular workshop we shot scenes in Oatman, AZ, Needles and Amboy, CA. That planted the seed that maybe this could become a project to work on over time. I’m still not certain of the theme of my project but one thing that strikes me is how some places have thrived and others have died. Much of this may be related to various realignments of the highway over time, but other factors may include the ebb and rise in tourist interest in Route 66.
This past winter, I made several day trips and one 4-day trip to photograph scenes along Route 66 from Needles to its termination at the Santa Monica Pier. Perhaps in future years I will continue my journey eastward through other states. In this series of posts, however, I will chronicle my journey along Route 66 in California.
Needles, CA sits where Route 66 crosses the Colorado River from Arizona. There is plenty of evidence of the ties between the city and the highway including a mural that depicts a Route 66 sign, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Spike (Snoopy’s older brother who allegedly lives in the desert near Needles). Charles Schulz spent part of his childhood in Needles.
As always, click on a photo in the galleries to open a larger version.
Leaving Needles, a short jaunt north on I95 will reconnect you with Route 66. Traveling west, you will soon come to the town of Goffs. There are many deserted buildings in the town, but there is also what looks like a very interesting museum in the old schoolhouse. Unfortunately it was closed the day I was there, but it is likely worth a return visit at some point. When I40 replaced much of Route 66 in California it spelled the demise of many small towns. Goffs is one of many such casualties.
A little further down the road, just before Route 66 crosses I40, is Fenner, which now isn’t much more than a gas station and convenience store.
Crossing I40 and continuing on a few miles brings you to Essex, and the end of the road for this segment of Route 66. Heavy rains several years ago washed out some bridges, closing a segment of the Mother Road.
To rejoin Route 66 it is necessary to return to I40 and travel west as far as Kelbaker Road. Travelling south on Kelbaker Road brings you back to Route 66. The highway to the left of the intersection is barricaded and indicates “road closed”. However, if you drive around the barricade you can backtrack on Route 66 as far as Chambless. Along the way is the Roadrunner’s Retreat Restaurant, long closed. There isn’t much in Chambless other than an old abandoned motel and what may have been a store. With I40 bypassing this whole area it is pretty easy to see why businesses have failed.
Resuming the trek westward soon brings you to Amboy, home of Roy’s Cafe, one of the better known and often photographed stops along Route 66. In 2005 the town was sold to the owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain who has put some money into renovating some of the buildings, including the cafe which is now more of a snack bar. Over time it will be interesting to see what further improvements are made.
As you continue west from Amboy you pass a black cinder cone, Amboy Crater, the remains of an extinct volcano.
A number of communities, such as Bagdad, that did exist at one time on the next section of road have completely disappeared. The next town that still exists is Ludlow.
As is normal for many of the towns along this part of Route 66, Ludlow has its share of old abandoned buildings, again a casualty of I40 which passes, within sight, just a short distance to the north.
Based on reviews I had read online, I stopped for breakfast at the Ludlow Cafe. With friendly service and good food, it was well worth the visit.
The next town on the trek west is Newberry Springs. The best know attraction in this community would, of course, be the Bagdad Cafe. The cafe became the set of a German-made movie by the same name, filmed in 1987. One well-known actor in the movie was Jack Palance. His character lived in an airstream trailer on the lot. The movie is about a German woman who gets stranded in the desert and walks into the cafe. Over time, while renting a room in the adjacent motel, she befriends the quirky characters associated with the cafe and motel. The movie is actually quite good and has almost a cult following – many Europeans visit the cafe every year because of the movie. The motel is gone (except for the sign) and the trailer is a shell but the coffee in the cafe was good.
A little further down the road, “downtown” Newberry Springs consists of a bar and a market.
The last town, before hitting Barstow, is Daggett. The town seemed to have a little more population than any community I had passed through since Needles. The little convenience store seemed to have a steady stream of customers. Across the street are two boarded up and fenced off buildings (an old general store and hotel) giving evidence, that this community like so many others along Route 66, is struggling to survive.
In Part Two I will continue my journey in Barstow. But I will leave you with this nod to by-gone days.