After a quick stop to see the El Garces renovation in Needles (a former Harvey House, this 1908 building is in the process of restoration), we headed out into the Mojave Desert.
This was a rather amazing leg of our journey, at least for a midwestern girl. The remoteness of the place is sobering and a reminder of the vastness of our country. Although it was not much to look at, I was fascinated by the refurbished rest area, one of the first on Route 66, dating to the 1950s. There wasn’t much there back then...just a few picnic tables. Today all that is left is some concrete pillars that anchored them. The sign at the rest stop states: “Stop a moment. Listen to the quiet. Experience the spirit of Route 66 that lives on in the travelers of today.” As one of those travelers, I appreciate that sentiment, and I can testify to the quiet of the desert. We heard nothing but the sound of the wind.
From Essex to Amboy is a constant string of names spelled in rock on the northern embankment. The author of my guidebook calls it “public art,” and although it isn’t anything more than words made out of rock, it’s oddly charming. To me, it shows the fascination of Route 66...there are miles of these rock words in the Mojave desert, made by travelers from all over the world.
Cadiz Summit (which is no longer a town) is also another form of artistic expression, and people have spray-painted the few structures remaining. Also oddly charming, but also more than a little creepy. If the end of civilization as we know it eventually happens, this is what things will look like.
Just before Amboy is the Roadrunner’s Retreat Cafe and Station, and the sign is great. Sadly, it wasn’t until I edited the picture of the sign that I saw that the roadrunner’s head is missing! Oh no! This would be a great sign to restore, but I’ve heard nothing about any plans to do that. This was also a rather unpleasant encounter with humanity. As we drove up, we saw some guy set up with his tripod and camera gear. He shook his head at us, like “Stay away. I’m busy here.” We both had the attitude of “Oh, really?” I said to Ken, “So who died and made HIM the lord of the Roadrunner?” We pulled up, and I got out and took my pictures. If he was doing some sort of official shoot (and I really don’t think he was...I think he was just being a dick), get a permit from whatever town or authority regulates such things, get it roped or barricaded off, and do your thing. Otherwise, don’t you shake your head at me and expect me to drive on by and not get a picture. Damn straight.
On a happier note, our next stop was in Amboy, at pretty much the only place to stop in Amboy: Roy’s Motel and Café. This is probably the most famous sign on all of Route 66, as it has made appearances in several films. It is an especially large sign, the cabin motel is classic, and the motel office with its swooping roof over the wedge building is a great design that looks fantastic in pictures and on film. They are working on restoration of the entire complex; the gas station and cafe have already been renovated and are open for business. The cabins seem to be in the process of restoration, and although the guy manning the counter in the cafe didn’t seem to know much about it, he did say that the plan is to renovate them all and open them to tourists. I hope the work continues!
I was able to take a few pictures of the interior of the office through the windows. This turned out to be a pretty neat shot…do you see what makes it kind of cool?
Near Amboy is the Amboy Crater, a lava flow that Route 66 cuts through. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lava flow before, and I was pretty impressed. We encountered several more along the way, an indication that this area was once pretty active when it comes to volcanoes. It was neat to see, and Ken actually climbed one of the bigger hills of lava by the road.
The Road out of Amboy is pretty rough in spots, probably the roughest we’ve encountered other than dead end spurs. It’s still very travel-able, though, and a great trip through the desert! Next up was the new location of the Bagdad Cafe. It was formerly located several miles to the east (we passed the former location, now marked only by a tree and a small, empty lot), and the owner moved it to its new location. Amazingly enough, I’ve never seen the movie, only know about it from my Route 66 readings. (I’ll remedy that soon enough.) Apparently, this is a major cult movie in France, and the majority of their visitors are from there, and many more from Europe. There are football flags hung all over this little hole in the wall place, and the guestbook is full of signatures, notes, and drawings from people all over Europe.
We ended up talking to Bill, an interesting character who turned out to originally be from our neck of the woods. I told Ken that I’d guess that about 50% of what he told us was true! It was an interesting place, and the curvy booths were super cool.
Several miles farther on through the desert, we came to the Bottle Tree Ranch, which was a favorite of both of ours. Elmer Long created this oddly beautiful art installation, with metal posts bearing glass fruits of many colors. Many of the “trees” are topped with old objects, and are interspersed with things like old typewriters and old stoves. The sunlight was hitting the bottle trees just right, and it made me think of a forest of jewels. There was a “tree” that consisted of an old sign filled with green plastic bottles, and even THAT had a beauty of its own. It was a nice reminder that beauty is where we find it, and sometimes where we make it.