Day 13. I’m going to be leaving Arizona and heading into sunny California where it’s going to be 63° here in May. The last state of my journey. I have to fill up with gas so that I don’t get stuck in Needles, California with no gas. I heard it’s over four dollars a gallon there. Needles it seems to me is famous for having absolutely nothing there. And I somehow have it in my mind that Snoopy’s brother lives there.
Leaving Kingman headed toward Oatman. There are some windmills slowly spinning in the desert here and the terrain reminds me of Palm Springs in California. The mountains and the desert palm trees, but it’s not as pretty as Palm Springs and there’s no mid century architecture here.
Slightly lost, I encounter Divine intervention as I turn left at Andy Devine Avenue. Once again being lost puts me on the right path.
The Oatman Highway takes me across a wide valley and then up the mountain which is very steep. The road is narrow and it winds and twists all over the place. Just for giggles there are wild burros and Longhorn sheep wandering the road. Free ranging across the road.
The land is cheap out here. You can buy a 40 acre ranch for $20,000. And here somebody else is selling 1 acre plots just so you can say you own a piece of the mother road. Maybe I’ll get one as a souvenir.
I’m going through a depression called the Sacramento wash. Apparently when it rains it really floods. Right now it looks kind of dry as a bone. There are these weird looking little scrubby palm trees, palm shrubs. On the side of the road, in the desert and mountains are groups of probably five or six of them. Nothing else growing out here.
Burros standing on the side of the road eating rocks I guess. They just stood there and stared at me until they finally calmly walked off. Where are the sheep?
The town of Cool Springs is a shack on the side of the road. There’s a gift shop and a snack bar. The food they are cooking smells good, but it’s not time for me to eat. I think it’s a hot dog. There’s a bulldozer hanging over the side of the mountain behind the building, and a picnic area if you climb 200 feet up the hillside. There are several cars stopped here. A weird thing I’ve noticed is that you can drive for miles and not see another car, then you get to a place like this and its crowded.
Now the road gets interesting. Moving speedily along at 15 miles an hour, winding and twisting, there’s nothing on the side of the road to keep you from going off the edge. It’s 100 feet straight down. Would not want to do this one at night.
Grinding up the mountain I stopped on the side of the road at the scenic overview. There is a set of rock steps that go pretty steeply up the side of the hill. They are cut into the mountainside. There are about 30 steps that go to a man-made spring fed pond. The view back is really spectacular. Down there you can see the winding twisting road and the mountains you just came up on.
I got a little surprise when I reached the top of the stairs and approached the pond. There was a prospector there with his dog. I don’t know where he came from because there’s no car here other than mine. He looked like he’d been living up here for a while. I think he was trying to hide from me until he realized I was coming all the way up the stairs. He just popped up out of the rocks.
He told me he was mining fire agates and he showed me two jars full of them. He was washing them in the pond and he showed me some dirty ones, and the polished ones he was wearing around his neck. He said this is the only place where you can find them and then he disappeared off into the side of the mountain somewhere so that I could take some pictures. I have no idea where he went. It must be a cave or something that he went into because I couldn’t see him again. I’m sure he doesn’t want to be bothered. Several cars have driven by here but nobody stopped other than me so I guess he’s not used to visitors.
Just below the top of the mountain there’s a little pull off. I got out of the car and walked up a path I saw and found a weird cemetery there. I don’t know whether it’s real or not. There are probably 20 wooden crosses spread out in the area, flowers on the ground, and there’s a big rock that’s painted with some words of wisdom. There are ribbons and bows in the bushes, and all over the ground nearby there are a lot of stacked stone cairns. Turns out that this is a real cemetery. Many motorcyclists have had their ashes placed here, and markers erected, because they wanted to be in this place where the road provides such a glorious ride.
Going down the hill is just as much fun as going up. Use low gear. Off to the left about halfway up the side of the mountain there’s an orange car that obviously rolled down the mountain and crashed. Or was pushed. It’s pretty well smashed up. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t see a road up there.
They used to mine gold here, and they still find some and run small mines. Down on the sides of the hills there are buildings that were made of stone to blend into the hillside. Probably where the miners lived so nobody could find them. I don’t see any prospectors. There’s a mineshaft and the entrance to the mine. Barbed wire going all around some kind of a mine here.
There is also some kind of large pipeline running through here. It passes through a big swath of clear cut and dynamited gash in the middle of the mountain. It looks terrible.
I didn’t see any longhorn sheep but I know they’re up there. I did see a lot of funky little short cactuses that have big blooms of flowers on the top. Kind of a yellow or green. And everywhere you look there’s burro poop.
Now approaching Oatman, famous for its wild burros. Coming around the bend in the road Oatman seems to be about 20 trailers. I see one yellow building here and I don’t see a burro anywhere. There’s a pretty pink trailer that’s really funky looking. I think that’s mid century. I hope this isn’t the town. There’s Nob Hill and a nice airstream. Somebody’s got a boat. Ha-ha. Then there is the white bird trading post.
Oh, here’s Oatman. It looks like a real town. I’m still waiting to see the burros and gun fights in the wild, wild western show.
Now I see the burros. They pretty much do whatever they want. They walk down the sidewalk and up on the porch of the shops. Just stand there and let people pet them. Signs say they bite, but people are always trying to feed them. And they certainly do poop.
As I walked down the street a cowboy was playing his guitar and singing Blue Suede Shoes. But he substituted the words cowboy boots until I pointed out to him that I was wearing my blue suede shoes. He sang the song again correctly. A little while later the same cowboy was part of the wild west show. He and his partner robbed a bank and then shot it out with each other to see who would get to keep the money. No one won.
There are a lotta motorcycles here in town. I know they love to ride on that road. I would.
From Oatman the road winds its way to the border with California just past Topock. And the Colorado River marks the border. The last stop on the Arizona side is the Topock 66 Spa and Resort. I pulled in to see what was going on there and found a café with live music, and a marina with surprisingly big boats. The marina is actually in a small tributary of the river, but when you cross the old bridge into California you can see that the river is very wide, and carries a good deal of recreational motorboating and pontooning traffic. The water in the river is green. So different from the muddy and black waters of Georgia rivers.
In California the first place I stopped was the Park Moabi Regional Park. Down the crumbling road is an old billboard, made of rock, welcoming travelers to Historic Route 66. From here you can also see the old Trails Arch railroad bridge which now carries a pipeline. This bridge appeared in the movie The Grapes of Wrath. You can also see the bridge that currently carries I-40 traffic across the river.
From here it was on to Needles, which turns out to be quite a bit more than nothing. It’s an old railroad town and there are a number of old rail cars to be seen as you head toward Amboy.
In March of 2018 “Mad” Mike Hughes put Amboy on the map by launching himself toward outer space in a steam powered rocket. At about 350 miles per hour he propelled himself to about 1850 feet, and then came down with a thud, landing in the Mojave Desert. He believes that the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee and wanted to go up in space to see that fact. His flight was inconclusive in this area, and he plans to build another rocket to be launched from a hot air balloon to go much higher.
Amboy has a much more grounded attraction in Roy’s Motel and Café. The whole complex is being restored at this point, but you can get gas there, and a snack, and use a restroom. Roy’s may very well be the one place on Route 66 that has appeared in more TV commercials than any other.
Outside of Amboy, in the distant desert but visible for miles, is the cone of Amboy Crater, an old volcano that has left its mark with a lava flow across the desert, and through which the road passes. There is supposed to be an old scraggly tree near there that marks the former site of Bagdad, the ghost town that once housed the Bagdad Café. This place inspired the movie of the same name, which was actually filmed down the road in Newberry Springs.
Ludlow is the next stop to check out the Ludlow Café and Coffee Shop. The building is described as “Googie” style, which I couldn’t describe other than that it had an angled stained glass window. A big one. They also had a decent cup of coffee. But what’s most interesting about this place is the historical marker out front that describes a roadbuilding plan so weird that it could only be fiction. Or the work of the United States government.
As part of our nations massive road building campaign of the late 1950’s, someone thought it would be a good idea to blast a hole through the mountains for the road by using 23 nuclear bombs. The plan was scrapped when someone really thought about what that might entail..
In Newberry Springs I passed by the Bagdad Café. I haven’t seen the movie so it didn’t mean much to me. Maybe I’ll see the movie now. I also passed by the remains of the former Whiting Brothers Gas Station, also called the Dry Creek Station. It has a fence around it so you can’t get a good look. And a very angry dog inside the fence.
Dagget comes next and while there are other things there, the coolest thing I saw was the old Dagget Café. It is interesting because of the roofline. It goes up to a steep peak, and at the lower edges curves down and under.
The next thing you know you’ve come face to face with the Marine Corps logistics base in Barstow. They built the base right in the middle of the road, so you have to make a detour around this sprawling facility.
Barstow is another old railroad town that owes its location to the Santé Fe railroad. In fact, to accommodate the expansion of the railroad yard, the whole town was moved several blocks in 1925.
Barstow also houses another of the fabulous Harvey House Hotels. The old Casa Del Desierto, called the finest remaining example of the depot style hotel. Of course it’s no longer a hotel. It houses some government offices and a railroad museum and is used as an event venue. While I was there a large group of people were celebrating a wedding with a reception. I didn’t go inside, or crash the wedding.
After dinner at a very nondescript chain place, I went back out hoping to see some of the wonderful old neon signs lit up in the dark. It was a little disappointing. The cactus at the Stardust was lit up, as was the sign at the 66 Motel, but the Desert Motel was dark. There is also a movie theater with a sign, but it too is dark. So is the El Rancho. More and more of these sigs go dark, or are switched to LED lights. It’s just not right!
Tomorrow I push on to Santa Monica and the end of the road. It’s kind of sad to think that the trip will be over. But what a ride it’s been. Hollywood, here I come!!
That’s part of my story. What’s yours?