Historic Route 66 California-Style
By Richard Carroll
Photography: Halina Kubalski
ith incredible stories to tell, the remarkable roadway is as earthy
as a blues singer, as touched by fatigue as an aged opera singer, and
as wonderfully passionate as a Hollywood diva, and conveys surprising
charm around its every bend.
Tagged The Road of Dreams, The Main
Street of America, and The Mother Road, as portrayed
in John Steinbecks novel Grapes of Wrath, the
currently dubbed Historic Route 66 offers astounding possibilities for
folks with a sense of discovery and those willing to relinquish freeway
clutter and the monotony of Interstate Highways.
The great pathway, a long silk ribbon leading to a gleaming
pot of gold in the far distance, was established in 1926 extending from
Chicago to California, a whopping 2,448 challenging miles of sweeping
scenery. Originally ending in Los Angeles the highway was later extended
to Santa Monica, and, according to historians, entirely paved by 1937.
Winding through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas,
Oklahoma, Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona and California, Route 66 was the first ever United
States transcontinental highway, and from its launch was the legendary
setting for overflowing sagas of broken dreams, and innumerable tales
of first-person adventure encountered along the lengthy journey. During
the Great Depression of the 1930s and the devastating Midwest drought
that created the Dust Bowl, when countless families lost their farms
and homes and in desperation turned to migrant work, Route 66 became
their paramount prospect for a new beginning.
Last Chance gas pump
The highway beckoned like a mischievous rascal, yet
despite the prospects of a difficult journey, travelers shared lofty
expectations and hoped for a touch of luck and an opportunity to find
work and some palm-laden sunshine out west.
The popular catchphrase California Here I Come,
was ringing on the lips of Route 66 travelers as they cautiously maneuvered
overloaded vehicles not up to the task, discovering that gas stations
are not always conveniently located, that flat tires and boiling radiators
were a given, and that blazing neon-lit hotel signs glowing like beacons
in the night all too often included the ominous and unwelcoming No
Historic Route 66 state
Californias 286 miles of Route 66 meandering through
San Bernardino County can capture the hearts of those with a bit of
imagination. The county, with an area of 20,105 square miles, is the
largest in the United States by area, larger than 71 different sovereign
nations. History buffs with camera in hand, and a tank of petrol, can
enjoy the awaiting nostalgia, and experience an era of Americana that
remains an enduring legend.
With much of the vast landscape, rolling hills, lingering
night sky, and enormous horizons locked in the remarkably unchanging
California time capsule, one can picture the original travelers negotiating
San Bernardino County and hear the humming whirl of a million tires.
Today, large numbers of Historic Route 66 aficionados, as well as club
members from the United States, Holland,
Germany, and the California Historic Route 66 Association, are reliving
Route 66 history and the captivating highlights.
Through the 1960s weary travelers from the east were
ecstatic upon arriving at Needles, the first California Route 66 stop.
A proud town of 5,000 residents established in 1883 on the Arizona border
and now bypassed by the Interstate Highway, Needles is lined with buildings
from the first half of the 20th century, and was a location for the
1940 movie, Grapes of Wrath, and the popular Route 66
Eleven miles southwest of Needles at the Moabi Regional
Park tucked away on a Colorado River channel adjacent to Route 66, Pirates
Cove Resort & Marina hosts a large Historic Route 66 sign on the
original signposts. Nearby is the trusty Old Trails Arch Bridge, a pathway
across the Colorado River for dust bowl immigrants and other travelers
from 1916 to 1947. Converted to support a utility line, the bridge remains
in use today.
Opened after the heyday of the Mother Road, the resort,
a large family-style RV and boating destination, is an opportune pause
for todays Route 66 travelers, offering narrated boat trips on
the Colorado River, nature walks, dining opportunities, and exclusive,
five-star, kitchen ready, river-front accommodations.
The Kelso Depot Visitor Center was once a booming center
for the Union Pacific Railroad during the time of the mighty steam engines.
Today it is a designated U.S. Historic District located in the 1-6-million-acre
Mojave National Preserve, a fascinating side excursion via I-40 and
Kelbaker Road, and a shard of a desert ghost town. The depot, circa
1924, has museum exhibits, historically restored rooms, café,
theater, bookstore, and an amusing outdoor, freestanding jail, perfect
for the over-served ruffians of the day.
Southwest of Kelso off Kelbaker Road, the Kelso Dune
Field, covering 45-square-miles, rises some 650-feet into the sky. Accessed
by a three-mile gravel road, the wind-swept dunes, at times, can be
heard singing a timeless, wordless and unending desert song.
Roy's Cafe in Amboy, population eight
Returning to Route 66 via a thirty-minute drive to Amboy,
population eight, todays travelers can stop by Roys Café
(named for one of the owners), an historic landmark in Route 66 lore,
noted as the only food, lodging, and gasoline stop for miles in the
eastern part of the Mojave.
Visitors can sit at the original 1940s lunch counter,
enjoy Roys famed Route 66 Root Beer, and feel as if the Mother
Road is giving you an endearing embrace. The lone gas pump is a bit
ragged around the edges, while across the highway a small post office
mails wish you were here postcards stamped Amboy.
The famed Bagdad Café, a celebrated Route
A few miles west the Pisgah Crater and the 6,000-year-old
Amboy Cinder Cone Crater, emerge on the horizon. Further down the highway
is the famed Bagdad Café, popular with Europeans who descend
by the busload. Sometimes it is frivolous French tourists beset with
the celebrated cafés awesome ambience, who pose for pictures
as if in the throes of a Paris fashion shoot. Other days German fills
the air, or the sibilant lisp of Castilian Spanish. Prince Albert of
Monaco, forgoing a bus, also has memories of the Bagdad Café.
The Bagdad Café is a favorite European Route
The 1988 cult film Bagdad Café, borrowing
characters from the café and starring Jack Palance, was filmed
here creating yet another chicken-and-egg conundrum: Was the café
chosen because it already gave the appearance of an uproarious movie
set, where anyone from Elvis to Bogart could be standing around enjoying
the place? Or did that look rub off on it during filming? Either way,
it has a Hollywood look all its own.
Walls are plastered with travel memorabilia from every
corner of the world. Hundreds of hats line the ceiling while an old
jukebox on its last legs is willing to play after a kick or two, just
loud enough to be heard over the noisy floor fan working hard to cool
a few tables.
Barstow Train Station and Harvey House, 1911. Also
home to the Route 66
"Mother Road" Museum
Barstow, a 30-minute drive from the Bagdad Café,
is another Route 66 bonanza.
A bypassed desert jewel, the tree-lined roadway runs
smack through downtown past 15 huge wall murals and the site of the
fascinating Route 66 Mother Road Museum tucked away in the
historic Casa del Desierto Harvey House, dating to 1911.
Visitors can pick up a t-shirt and browse among the
exhibits. Near the west end of town the Route 66 Motel, one of the oldest
motels in the city, in keeping with the era, has rusted vintage cars
and Route 66 memorabilia decorating its yard.
The Bottle Tree Ranch
The first sight of The Bottle Tree Ranch, 20 minutes
from Barstow, etches itself in the memory as an outrageously whimsical
vision of life on the other side of somewhere. Friendly owner Elmer
Long created a forest of 200 one-of-a-kind bottle trees using a mish-mash
of junk yard treasure items such as typewriters, pistols, telephones,
deer horns and road signs including one that reads Route 66, Bagdad,
Greeting visitors after the short drive to Victorville
is a large sign reading, Old Town Route 66. Nearby
is the celebrated, five-star, Route 66 Museum, noted as one of the largest
and most complete museums on the Mother Road.
The museum showcases everything from a 1966 Volkswagen
and classic teardrop trailer, to old Pepsi machines, juke boxes, signs
reading Gas, 18 Cents, and joyful memories of Route 66s
glory days and driving holidays. Sharon Foster, a Museum Board Member
said, Admission is free, there is parking for everyone, and remarkably,
60 percent of our visitors are international.
The historic discoveries along Route 66 are endless.
The notable 1949 Wigwam Motel, 42-miles from Victorville, on the border
of Rialto and San Bernardino, was depicted in Disneys Pixar film,
Cars, along with Route 66 and Roys Café. At the
Wigwam nineteen 30-foot-high teepee-style accommodations created for
Route 66 travelers of concrete and stucco live on.
The Mother Road, sharing its name with Foothill Boulevard
runs through the heart of Rancho Cucamonga past Vinces Spaghetti
Restaurant, a family tradition since 1945, serving spaghetti and meatballs
to eager diners on Saturdays.
Route 66 Cruisin' Reunion Festival
Though Ontario is a few miles south of the original
Route 66 route, the city celebrates Route 66 with the Route 66 Cruisin
Reunion Festival. For three days each September several thousand
classic cars are on display along with 16 rotating bands, dancing and
Get your kicks
Those with a clamoring for a taste of olives can tour
Ontarios world-renowned Graber Olive House producing olives since
1894. Located on 4th street, Graber has been awarded numerous honors
with their hand-based equipment. There is not a computer to be seen
and family members reside here helping to create a friendly feel in
A couple from Chicago enjoying their second Route 66
journey and the classic car festival in Ontario remarked, The
future is somewhere ahead, the moment is now, but nostalgia is forever.
It is the perfect motto for Route 66 travelers young and old.
When You Go
County of San Bernardino, California; www.sbcounty.gov/
to La Quinta; Highway
49 Revisited: Exploring California's Gold Country; In
Search of the Elusive Devils Hole Pupfish; California's
Central Coast: A Tale of Three Cities