Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kicks: Day Eighteen (The End of the Road)

IMG_4487smLast night, we stayed just a little south of Victorville, in Hesperia. It was right by where we needed to pick up our Route 66 trip this morning, and it...you know...wasn’t in Victorville! So that worked out well!

The first thing we encountered was Cajon Summit and Cajon Pass. Not only was this a beautiful descent through the mountains, there were stretches of the other two lanes of 4-lane Route 66 that were open for, if not driving, pulling over and checking out. You could see where they had added on to make the lanes wider, and it was neat to see the old Road still intact, even though it was closed off. (The guidebook mentions that this is now often the site of “illicit activity.” I’m not quite sure what sort of illicitness was happening there, but we did notice a few cars parked along the way, usually with one guy driving. Sex? Drugs? I do not know. We were just there to check out the Road! Ha!) It was really a neat drive, one of the prettiest we’ve encountered along 66.

One of the neatest things was the suggestion of the guidebook to look back at the silos (some sort of plant) as we passed Devore. The concrete slab that extends off from the curve of current Route 66 is the original 66, paved “well before 1926.” And we saw it! The book said, “This is possibly the only example of this type of Route 66 pavement left!” I don’t know if that means in California, or on all of Route 66; we have seen quite a few other examples of original Portland concrete, but this was possibly a unique concrete used here. It did seem to be more full of rocks, rather than smooth concrete.

Yes, I’m fascinated by the composition of the Road’s pavement, too. But how rare is it to have original pavement left from almost 100 years ago?? Most of this stuff has long been paved over. It’s a treat to encounter that original concrete, and especially the brick pavement!

We soon came to a long stretch of towns large (San Bernardino) and mostly small (San Dimas, Azusa, Monrovia, and several others) that marked the path of 66. There were a few crummy areas, but many of these small towns have embraced their Route 66 heritage, and it is really played up along some stretches. Not a lot of original signage remains, but old buildings (many still in use) abound.

We were happy to encounter the seventh and final Wigwam Motel built in the country, and the second on Route 66, in Rialto. We stayed in #6, in Holbrook, Arizona, and the one here has also been restored and preserved. It’s a beauty, with more teepees than the one in Holbrook, and set in the midst of a green oasis with palm trees. Lovely!
Much of Foothill Boulevard (originally Route 66, and marked as Historic Route 66) is strip malls and newer places, but there are still a lot of fun things to see along the way. I really liked Bono’s Historic Orange, one of the classic orange stands, and possibly one of the last Giant Orange Stands that once populated the roads here. I don’t have a date for this, but the nearby Bono’s Restaurant dates to 1935.

I’ve always loved the name of the town, so we stopped in Rancho Cucamonga for some lunch and a beverage. The lunch was good, the service not so good, but we didn’t let it spoil our day. What’s the point of that?

One of the things I was excited to see was the Foothill Drive-In Theatre sign. The drive-in has been closed for a while, but it seems that the beautiful sign will be preserved. It looks to be in excellent shape, so long live the drive-in! Or at least their signs!
A cool spot in Arcadia was a building that apparently is typical of California drive-in style. It is currently a Denny’s, but this building once housed the last of the Van de Kamp’s restaurant chain on Route 66. What a great roof, and that is one big windmill!

After cruising through the little towns along Foothill, we entered Pasadena, made our way north of LA, and through Hollywood and Beverly Hills. (Did you know that old 66 went through Beverly Hills?) As we approached Santa Monica, I began to get really sad, because I knew that our Route 66 journey was almost at an end. A couple of blocks away from the official end at Lincoln and Olympia, I cried like a little girl. The official end is anti-climactic, with just a street corner in Santa Monica. No big signs announcing the end or anything like that. It’s kind of odd that after all the signs and tributes along the way from Victorville, the official end is essentially ignored by everyone except those who know the significance of this intersection. I didn’t notice it right away, but Ken pointed it out to me, saying “How appropriate!” On the opposite corner was a business (I think it was a dry cleaners) with a big penguin on its sign! The penguin was even looking towards the intersection that is the end of Route 66. That made me happy!

The UNofficial end to Route 66 is considered to be the Will Rogers monument in Palisades Park, at the end of Santa Monica Boulevard. Although I got choked up there, too, I think I’d spent my emotions at Lincoln and Olympia, so I managed to keep myself under control.

I’ll write more about my thoughts on Route 66 after we get back, and I’ll have more pictures of Santa Monica Pier tomorrow (including the famous gateway to the Pier), but for now, I’m physically and mentally exhausted. Ken and I have had a quiet evening, just trying to regroup and settle in at our digs in Marina Del Rey. We’ll be meeting our friend Marty for dinner tomorrow evening, spending some time with Ken’s cousin Ros and her family, then attending our friend Andy’s graduation from Cal Tech, and THEN (I’m exhausted already!) meeting with our nieces from San Diego, and good friends Kim and Steve.

A fitting end to today’s entry is this:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kicks: Day Seventeen (Iconic sign, movie set, and bottles galore)

IMG_4419smAfter 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 CafĂ©. 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.