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Route 66 - Pasadena to Needles

Last summer I had the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do - drive a significant portion of Route 66. Having spent 4 days in LA, I started a drive to Albuquerque to meet up with  The Amazing Ms. D. Instead of rushing down the Interstate, I decided to follow the "mother road."


At the start I want to acknowledge the EZ66 Guide For Travelers by Jerry McClanahan for providing and fantastic resource in planning this trip.


Yes, this is a Fork in the Road - Pasadena CA

Since I have been to Santa Monica on several occasions, and my hotel was in Korea Town, I decided to start this trip in on the Arroyo Seco Parkway (CA 110) to Pasadena. This highway was built in the 1920's, and similar to parkways built at the same time, has lots of curves and really short acceleration and and exit lanes.


The San Gabriel Foothills 

Route 66 travels along Colorado Blvd and then Foothills Blvd from Pasadena all the way out to San Bernardino a distance of 50 miles of mostly suburban driving. While some people might want to skip this stretch there is a lot of Route 66 nostalgia and Americana to see, Just off of the route, at the intersection of Bellefontaine and Pasadena Avenues the is a literal giant fork in the road. The route parallels the San Gabriel Mountains which can be sen throughout the drive

San Gabriel Mountains from Foothill Blvd

San Gabriel Mountains from Rialto CA

One of the sights is the Aztec Motel, in Monrovia, now closed, which dates to the 1920's.





There also a few classic gas stations - such as Dale's Garage, also in Monrovia




You might make out that Ethyl was 32 cents/gallon

 In the town of Upland there is a monument to the women who made the transcontinental journey by covered wagon



The drive also takes you through several towns with cultural connections - San Dimas (say hello to Bill and Ted) and Rancho Cucamonga, one of Bugs Bunny's favorite stops.


They really do exist

In the town of San Bernardino CA I found something I had heard about, but didn't believe actually existed - The Wigwam Motel. Thought to be a figment of the imaginations of travelers past, they really existed, and some are still with us:






Over the Mountain and into the Desert

From San Bernardino Route 66 turns north and climbs through the Cajon Pass. The next 200 miles took me across the Mojave Desert.




Victorville started as a supply station for people crossing the desert in the 1860's. then the California Southern train came through, and it became a station stop. It also hosted an air force base. Today it's main business is cement. It is worth stopping at the Route 66 Museum in town. It has a nice collection of memorabilia.








Bottle Tree Ranch

About 3 miles west of the town of Helenville is the Bottle Tree Ranch. The work of Elmer Long, the word "collection" does not do this justice. Elmer uses bottles, iron and other found objects to create this forest of bottle trees. This has become his life work





Elmer Long (left) with yours truly




 Barstow Harvey House

Barstow is a small city of 23,000 people in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The place I found really interesting was Casa Del Desierto, which serves as the Amtrak Station for Barstow.




It was built as a Harvey House - what might have been the first hotel chain. Fred Harvey built a number of restaurants and hotels in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railroad. The trains would stop at these houses for meals or overnight. See Judy Garland sing "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe from the movie The Harvey Girls here.


The Bagdad Cafe

In 1987 German director Percy Adlon released a movie that played to little notice, but is one of my favorites - Bagdad Cafe. The movie is about a German woman who is abandoned by her husband in the middle of the Mojave Desert and the affect she has on the people who help her. The movie was filmed in the town of Newberry Springs CA and the buildings are still there.










Lavic Lake Volcanic Field


The Mojave Desert between Barstow and needles sit above the Lavic Lake Volcanic Field. I observed 3 volcano cones along the route today, including the Amboy Crater.



 Coming next week  - Needles to Flagstaff.










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Comments (4)

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Thanks for the journey, JL. This one has been on my wish list for some time. I do intend to make it one day. Also love the Bagdad Cafe. I remember the movie, it was one of those cult classics that, like you said, went almost unnoticed. Good to know the buildings are still there.

The journey starts with you. Just open that door and start walking!


I've only had the pleasure of a small part of the road (east of Flagstaff and yes, passing that corner in Winslow, Arizona, but Route 66 is pretty much the symbol of the feeling so many of us have, of wanting to discover a past still visible in the present, and worth holding onto. 


Another good book for "shunpikers" is George Cantor's "Where the Old Roads Go: Driving the First Federal Highways of the Northeast." It's an easy and rewarding read even if you're not setting out on Rte 6, Rte 20, etc. Out of print, but a lot of used copies listed on Amazon.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

In the mid-90s the National Park Service sent a team of professionals to do a survey of surviving road and features of the entire route, Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier, with my husband as illustrator for the report.  I don't know if it's generally available but it might be interesting reading for someone with more than a casual interest.


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