Old Route 66 Loop: Ludlow and Amboy
Thanks to the orderly planners of the Santa Fe Railroad, which first blazed this route across the desert in 1883, many of the place-names on this old Route 66 loop come in alphabetical order: from west to east, you have Amboy, Bristol, Cadiz, Danby, Essex, Fenner, Goffs, Home, Ibis, Java, and Klinefelter. Yes, Klinefelter.
If you want a quick and convincing taste of what traveling across the Mojave Desert was like in the days before air-conditioning and cellular phones, keep your eyes peeled for Historic Route 66 signs, and turn south off I-40 and follow the National Old Trails Highway, one of the many monikers Route 66 has carried over the years, on a 75-mile loop along the old road. Heading west, the loop leaves I-40 about 25 miles beyond Needles; heading east, the old road turns off I-40 at Ludlow, 50 miles east of Barstow, where two gas stations, a coffee shop, and a motel represent a major outpost of civilization.
While the drive alone is worth the extra time it takes, the real attraction comes midway along this old road loop: Amboy is synonymous with Roy’s Motel and Café, a museum-worthy assembly of roadside architecture that has survived solely due to the willpower of its longtime lord and master, Buster Burris, who ran the place from 1938 (when he married the daughter of owner Roy Crowl) until 2000, when Buster died at the age of 92. In the late 1940s, Roy’s was the prime stop between Needles and Barstow, and as many as 90 people staffed the café, the motel, and the car repair shop, working around the clock to cater to the thousands of passing cars. Roy’s fell on hard times after the opening of I-40 in 1974, but the whole town—complete with a huge “Roy’s” sign, a set of simple motor court cabins, and a pair of gas pumps—has hung on. Now, thanks to owner Albert Okura (who also owns the San Bernardino-based restaurant chain Juan Pollo and the “First McDonald’s” museum), Amboy is used as a film and photo-shoot location as well as being a photogenic reminder of the heyday of Route 66.
From Amboy, you can leave Route 66 and head south to the lovely high desert of Joshua Tree National Park and the newly re-energized, 1950s Rat Pack-era resorts of Palm Springs. Staying on Route 66, you’ll pass the lava flows around Amboy Crater, and you may see and hear helicopters and Warthog fighters playing war games on the huge Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base, which stretches off to the south. At nearly 1,000 square miles, it’s the largest base in the country and often the last U.S. stop for personnel bound for battle in the Middle East.