California Road Trip-Part 2: Route 66 and Other Blue Highways

The second part of the road trip took me from Bakersfield down into the desert. The route takes us down into the LA area, then east on Route 66, and then on to Palm Springs. After a few days of R&R, the leg continued north, some more time on 66, then up into the Mohave National preserve. Here’s the route (and if you missed Part 1, its right below this post): Trip Map-2


If  El Camino Real represents the primordial, this route reflects a more recent past, the automotive past and the immense changes that have occurred in Southern California in the last 75 years. As most everyone knows, Route 66, i.e.  the  “Mother Road” ,was a conduit for midwesterners answering the call of a paradise, real or imagined , in California. Some vintage postcards reveal the era of road travel at that time- the roadside attraction (gas,food,lodging) en route, and the promise of California, orange groves and endless sunshine.

Route 66-3
Wigwam Village
Route 66
Fontana??- Really??

Old Route 66 through the inland empire can be generally  traced from Colorodo Blvd. in Pasadena, and eventually out on  Foothill Blvd all the way to San Bernadino. For the most part of course, little remains of the original road and its abundant roadside attractions, but some do still exist, which makes for a fascinating contrast.

Most of this route is the same , mile after mile of mind-numbing sprawl. But every couple miles, you trip over something, either the result of an expressed devotion to preserve it, or the result of a lack of economic development in the area. some communities embrace their 66ness, others have completely eradicated its presence

Unlike much of what one sees today , many of the old attractions bursted with whimsy, vernacular expressions of the uniqueness of the place, or  of what the building offered, up to and including actually becoming what it sold. En route to Route 66, I stumbled on two great examples:

Shoe Repair- Bakersfield, CA: Watch your head
Shoe Repair- Bakersfield, CA: Watch your head
Drive Thru Donuts!!!!- La Puente, CA
Drive Thru Donuts!!!!- La Puente, CA

Yes, that’s a drive-thru donut. (Urban Ambles drove through a donut and a tree on this trip).

Of course, when the building itself isn’t a sign, strip buildings have  always had to rely on signage to get people’s attention. That too seems to be a lost art.

Sign-Magic lamp

Glendora, CA- The diners gone, but the sign remains.
Glendora, CA- The diner's gone, but the sign remains.
Drive-in theater- all that's left is the sifn
Drive-in theater- all that's left is the sign

As seen with the glorious donut and shoe above, the highest form of the roadside building is when the building itself becomes iconic, such as this dutch-inspired Denny’s. Out towards Fontana, one comes across an old-roadside orange stand. These used to be ubiquitous throughout southern california, the perfect melding of local produce/icon with a roadside expression.  I was told this was  the last surviving one in California, but incredibly, we would find another on this trip.

A Denny's.......... with a windmill on top Grand Slam breakfast indeed!

Fresh squeezed in Fontana
Fresh squeezed in Fontana

Another rather odd recurring icon on Route 66 was the wig-wam motel, capitallizing on the apparently overwhelming desire for the midwesterner to go native- stay in a teepee. There are several left, one I know of in Arizona, and this one in Rancho Cucamonga.

Circle the station wagons
Circle the station wagons


It must have been no small amount of relief when the 30’s and 40’s traveler arrived in the Inland Empire from the east, it meant they made it through the Mohave desert. The second part of the journey takes one through some of these very lonely stretches of Route 66. These stretches are glorious, well off the interstate, there really is little reason to be on the road. Every few miles, there is an old hamlet, ususally deserted, though occasionally you will find  a resident.  I love being on these roads, getting out of the car,and just walking,the only  sounds your footsteps and the wind. Here’s some photos:

The amazing Roy's in Amboy, CA- Being restored,currently just a gas station
The amazing Roy's in Amboy, CA- Being restored,currently just a gas station
Abandoned desert modernism- Amboy, CA
Abandoned desert modernism- Amboy, CA
Abandoned gas station- Chambless, CA

"Roadrunner's Retreat"
"Roadrunner's Retreat"

Route 66 in the desert
Glorious Route 66

The last part of this leg takes us off of Route 66, heading north through the Mohave National Preserve. One drives for miles out here without seeing much signs of human life. In the Mohave in fact, you can even have some Lawrence of Arabia like moments amidst the tremendous Kelso sand dunes.

The Mohave preserve is filled with long vistas, where an oasis can come into view from many miles away, a dot, that grows with each mile, are those trees? buildings, people? They promise shade, water, gas, perhaps food. Up until 1974, this part of the desert was traversed not by cars, but my train, and in the town of Kelso, an oasis waited the weary travel, in the form of a peach colored spanish revival way station, miles and miles from anywhere. It was built because the railroad kept booster engines here to help the old locomotives  get over the grade outside of town. The advent of diesel engines rendered the station unnecessary, and it fell in to disrepair. It is now been restored,and is the visitor center at the park.

The old kelso train depot
The old Kelso train depot
"You go on without me Lawrence"
Hiking in the Mohave, or, "You go on without me Lawrence"
Hotel Nipton
Hotel Nipton
The Clara Bow Experience
The Clara Bow Experience
Waiting for the train

The  final stop was another oasis, the microscopic settlement of Nipton. I stayed in room 3 of the Hotel Nipton (out of 5), wedged between a British film crew. I quickly learned Clara Bow, the original Hollywood ‘it girl’, also liked room 3. So I am channelling Clara Bow. Does that make me an ‘it-boy’?

As the day wound to a close, there ws some time to reflect. Dusk and twilight, along with early morning, are the best times in the desert. The air cools, and the light is exquisite, distant mountains come to life with the sharp relief of the low sun. The evening would be spent hearing the far off cry of the trains, gradually growing closer, shattering the still evening, then fading away. I felt very far from home, and it felt good.


5 thoughts on “California Road Trip-Part 2: Route 66 and Other Blue Highways

  1. Regarding 66 in the San Gabriel Valley (in all of LA County, and western San Bernardino County for that matter), it’s important to remember what the development was.

    From Pasadena to San Bernardino, “little remains of the original road and its abundant roadside attractions” is really a matter of percentages. Most of this stretch of highway was surrounded by citrus groves and vineyards into the 1950’s, the heyday of Route 66. At around this same time, the Interstate Highway System was being developed, and the lines of I-210 through portions of this were already being drawn.

    So, while it would seem that “little remains,” the reality here is that a large PERCENTAGE of the roadside attractions actually DO remain. It’s just that suburban sprawl has encompassed them.

    Next time you head to the Los Angeles area, drop me a line and arrange for a tour of Route 66 in LA County. I guarantee you that you will be amazed at what is actually there worth seeing, including:
    1) The only vehicle tunnels ever to be a part of Route 66.
    2) The first freeway portion of Route 66.
    3) The only National Scenic Byway fully contained in a metropolitan area.
    4) The most “alignments” in any one stretch of Route 66.
    5) The oldest still-in-use-bridge along Route 66.
    6) The oldest museum in Los Angeles.
    7) Thirty-five National Register of Historic Places landmarks within the Route 66 corridor in LA County alone.

    Needless to say, MUCH remains along 66 in Southern California, you just need to know where to look!

    1. Scott-

      I will look you up the next time I am down there. Had I more time, and been focused just on Route 66 in the LA area, I am sure I could have dug deeper, my brief stint on 66 was in the context of a larger California trip. Thanks very much for the comment.

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