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Route 66 California. Roy's Cafe and The Amboy Crater

I'm a big sucker for nostalgia. Even though Route 66 is before my time, I truly appreciate the history and importance of the historic road. My mother and grandmother traveled down Route 66 in the mid 1950's on a trip to visit friends in Southern California. My mother's best memory is the blazing heat of the desert. Carry a bag of water tied to the front bumper and mostly traveling by night. Stories like this one inspired me to seek out as much of the road as possible while in the area on our Lake Havasu winter getaway.

California Route 66

For this part of the journey we rode the road from just west of Needles California to Ludlow California. There isn't much out there except for the beauty of the desert and mountains. But the few sites that remain are well worth the effort. This part of Route 66 like all others fell victim to the Introduction of the Interstate Highway system. It's fun to pretend that you are back in time, traveling the road west to the Pacific. Thinking about the millions of people who made this journey. Many in cars not well equipped for the harshness of the desert. This was a superhighway. Filled with cars, diners, gas stations, rest stops and motels that no longer exist. And on this journey we are looking for the shells and foundations of these places. Visiting the ghosts of America's main street.

Route 66 begins through parts of Needles but we skipped that in favor of the open desert. Just west of needles you begin 66 just off Highway 95. If you like freight trains then you are in for a real treat. The road parallels the BNSF tracks for much of the trip and this a BUSY corridor. At any given moment there is a long haul train either next to you or approaching in the distance. I read that as many as 70 trains rumble through this area daily. I'm a train lover so this greatly added to the day.

The first stop was the town of Goff. Home of Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. Goffs is a strange little town. We turned down what appeared to be its Main street passing the cultural center which looked closed. Goffs was a typical railroad town that was later bypassed by Route 66 when a more direct route was found between Needles and Essex. Goffs is an interesting looking place that I learned more about after we left.

After Goffs, Route 66 drops south below I-40 and down to the town of Essex. Nothing really interesting as far as we could see. A few old gas stations and motels that were fenced off. The next town, Chambless was much of the same. Just west of Chambless we saw a sign indicating that a 'kiosk' was ahead. Really didn't know what to expect and almost missed it. The Kiosk was a series of roadside plaques erected on the spot of an Old Route 66 Rest Stop. I believe that 'Historical marker' would be a better description for the sign we had passed.

Route 66 Rest Stop marker

Our first thought was to ask if our mother has stopped here in the 50's. Judging by the distance between the towns it does seem likely. All that remains are some cement footings for the tables and shelters. The plaques contain interesting information about the road and area.

Not far from the rest area we came across our first accessible and interesting ruin. The Road Runner's Retreat. The old Road Runner had a gas station and restaurant. Some online searches showed that it had a colorful history and provided great food for the highway travelers.

We poked around the Road Runner thinking about all the people who stopped here for a cool drink and a hamburger.

Roadrunner Retreat

Road Runner's Retreat

Not far beyond the Road Runner is the town of Amboy California. Amboy is a High valued site along all of Route 66. And the main reason I wanted to explore this part of the road. This town, or what's left of it, has the famous Roy's Cafe and Motel. Very well preserved and partially restored and open. There are plenty of stories online about Amboy so I won't get into detail. Walking around the grounds of Roy's gave us the best feel for what it must have been like there in the past. The entire town is now owned by one man who continues to try and return it to its former glory. You can walk into some of the old motel/cabin rooms and visit the cafe for a souvenir or drink. At the time of our visit the kitchen was still not in operation. Click on the photos in the gallery below to expand them

Just a few minutes past Roy's is the Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark. An ancient Cinder cone volcano with very easy access by trail. The parking area has picnic tables and washrooms. Make sure you pick up a trail guide before venturing out. According to what I read, countless Route 66 travelers stopped to hike the volcano. Imagine telling your friends back east about what you did. "Stopped at Roy's, enjoyed a burger and a shake then walked it off in a Volcano'

It took us less than 15 minutes to reach the crater. We then proceeded to hike around the rim and then down inside and back out. All the while enjoying the solitude as we were the only ones there. I should mention that it was early on a Thursday morning.

An added bonus to the hike was how green everything was. This past winter was a wet one for the desert and the lava field was carpeted with green. I envy the people who followed us a few weeks later as there must have been an explosion of wildflowers.

Amboy Crater

Amboy Crater Trail

Amboy Crater

Inside the Cinder Cone


Heading west out of Amboy we didn't find much else to explore. Some small ruins and foundations at an old railway stop called Siberia.

Siberia Ruins

Just to the southwest across the valley from Siberia there is a mountain range inside the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms. We were treated to some very loud explosions and plumes of smoke. And of course, More trains!

This portion of Route 66 ends at Ludlow. Another mostly railroad town with a mining past. The Historic Ludlow cafe had great food, souvenirs and some great historical information on the walls.

Ludlow Cafe

If you are ever traveling through California on Interstate 40 I highly recommend getting off at either Ludlow or Fenner and enjoying this beautiful portion of Route 66. A stop at Roy's is a must and the hike into the crater is a unique experience.

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