GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN
Story and photos by Ray Seidel
Later this month many of us will be heading to Nevada for the Laughlin River Run. According to MapQuest that’s about a 4 hour trip from Riverside. That would be four hours by car, with no stops for rest, restroom, gas, or food. That’s not how bikers ride. In fact try doing 4 hours non-stop with a passenger on the back of your bike and you’ll be sued for damages! Why not just PLAN to make it a relaxing trip and enjoy the roadside sights and greasy spoons where mom & pop will show some interest in your trip, and avoid the Super Slab of the Interstate with the 18 wheelers riding up your butt, and those cookie cutter restaurants.
For a trip to Laughlin, this means riding the iconic Route 66. And this leg is in many ways much as it was in the 1950’s – 55 mph, and a relaxing pace without the drama of high speeds and fast cars.
If you head up to Barstow, likely you’ll go up the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15. At the top of the hill on the right is a water tower and the “Oak Hill” exit for the Summit Inn. This restaurant has been here since 1952 sitting on old 66. Breakfast, or if a late start for lunch, this is the stop for you. Certainly a popular stop for many, it has its regulars. Good ol’ traditional 50’s dishes, made just right. Want to try something different? They also have buffalo or ostrich burgers (order medium). Red booth seating, Route 66 décor, and a jukebox. Indeed, Elvis stopped here in the 50’s, looked for one of his records in it and, not finding one, kicked the machine and stomped out. If I’m here for lunch, I go for the thick date shake. The place has a new owner and the former staff is gone (who seem to have been there forever) but the food quality remains intact.
Victorville Route 66 Museum
Continuing north on the I-15 takes you to Victorville. I want to mention Victorville Harley-Davidson is on the way, and if you need something for your Harley (or to pick up a copy of Quick Throttle), you can see it from the road (east side) – no hunting around. I had a situation a few years ago where my Sporty wouldn’t start at the Route 66 Museum in Victorville, and after a coast start got over there where they had a new relay installed in 15 minutes, just charging me for the part. Now that’s good service!
In any case, if you’re heading through Thurs – Sat, the Victorville Route 66 Museum is open 10:00 to 4:00. Take the D street exit, turn right (east) and it’s at 16825 D St. Not very far from the Interstate, on the right, and parking is in the back – pull alongside the building. Staff is always friendly and ready to answer questions. Often the TV is running a video of The Mother Road, and they have videos, books and magazines for sale. Also there’s seating to just kick back and watch or read. There are also a couple of additional rooms in the back, so don’t miss these. I always pick up a copy of ROUTE 66 MAGAZINE, a quarterly, has well written articles.
At this point you can either continue on to Barstow on Interstate 15, or continue on Route 66 (heading back on D Street). I’ve done both, so depends how much of a hurry you are in. The 15 gets you to the Barstow retail outlet pretty quick, and you can gas up, hit STARBUCKS or BOB’S BIG BOY, shop, or otherwise spend some time to take a breather. Note that gasoline on the east side of the Interstate is much more expensive than the west side, should you want to save some coin.
If you’re not in a rush you can stay on 66 to Barstow – take in the look of that old road and pretty much have it to yourself. Some antique shops are along the way, and I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff in them. I also take note at how many gas stations were on this road back in the day; they are easy to spot – where the pump islands were and the station bay, even with the logos long worn away. (Though there is a MOHAWK sign you might notice). After a few miles you’ll see on the left The Bottle Ranch – a sizable bit of folk art that while behind a fence, you’re free to go in and look around and enjoy. (Even if the gate is closed, it’s not locked). Metal trees & branches populate the area capped bottles of all kinds, sizes, and colors. Interspersed are other odds and ends – an old ‘40’s Jeep, Russian rifles, one surprise after another. You might just meet Elmer Long, the artist who started this in 2000. Now retired, he’s happy to have a conversation; and it’s the people you meet on Route 66 that make the trip memorable.
Barstow Station – Santa Fe Railroad & Route 66 Museum
Continuing on US66 into Barstow, turn left on First Avenue. If on the I-15 north to Barstow, exit at “L” Street, turn left at the end of the off-ramp onto “L” Street, turn right on West Main Street (Route 66!), follow West Main Street to First Avenue, and turn left on First Avenue. The Harvey House is on the right after you cross the bridge over the railroad tracks. If you care for a snack on the way, the oldest existing Del Taco will be on your right before you cross the bridge.
During the heyday of rail passenger service in the western United States, Barstow boasted a splendid rail depot/restaurant/hotel complex called the “Casa del Desierto”, House of the Desert. Completed in 1911, it was the fourth “Harvey House” built by the Santa Fe railroad along its right-of-way and operated by the Fred Harvey Company. These Harvey Houses established an unparalleled standard of food service to the traveler, as did railroading with the Santa Fe rail line up to the time of the Super Chief until the AT&SF discontinued passenger service. AMTRAK still continues service to the Barstow station, but Fred Harvey is just a memory, so it’s the Railroad and Route 66 Museum that are worth the stop. Even so, Casa del Desierto has been restored, so look in the windows for a hint of what was.
To continue on your way, get back on to Main Street (Route 66) and hang a left, in a few block you’ll see the sign “TO I-15” and turn right to the freeway. Here you’ll find a Valero gas station and your last chance to buy gas for under 4 bucks (regular) for the rest of your trip.
Hours for Barstow museum: Fri-Sun; 10-4:00. However, BOTH Victorville (760) 951-0436 and Barstow (760) 255-1890 museums will open for you if you call in advance.
Heading west on I-40 will bring you to the Newberry Springs exit in 20 miles, and a good place to stop for lunch. Bagdad Café is the Café of the movie with the same name (which is really good – check it out). Originally called the Roadrunner, it was given a makeover for the film, and the present owner decided to just keep the name and continue with the theme. The film was about a German woman stranded in the desert who happens upon the Bagdad Café and her interactions with the people there. As such, the movie has proven to be a big hit particularly with the Germans and French who literally stop here by the bus load. While it might look like a dive that uses a smoke detector for a timer and entertainment is a fly swatter, the food here is really quite good. Some of the dishes are named after the actors in the film, and I recommend the Jack Palance burger (bacon burger, best I’ve had). Unlike a wimpy fast food burger, this comes to you HOT off the grill, not sitting around on a counter getting cold waiting for someone to get it to you. Every time I’ve been here, the REAL guests have been more interesting than the fictitious ones in the film. On one occasion there was a young couple feeding their parrot on the table bits of their hamburger. Okay, how many restaurants in California allow you to do that? One of the regulars was “General Bob” (no longer with us) an old timer who said “All INTERPOL and the British Secret Service report to me. I own three casinos, I speak 255 languages, and I’m a professional archaeologist.” Yes, you would get an interesting conversation from General Bob.
When leaving continue east on Route 66 to the first exit that gets you back to the Interstate 40. Nothing but a solid axle off-road SUV need go beyond this pot-holed stretch of blacktop.
To get to Amboy, exit at Ludlow and top off the tank at the CHEVRON station. Then continue east on Route 66. There actually is a lot of history in Ludlow, but not for bikers. This was a mining town, and if you were to poke around you’d see the old rail beds are still here for moving ore. If you’re into history and have a truck or SUV, look Ludlow up for the story.
You’ll know you’re almost at Amboy (30 miles from Ludlow) when you see the volcano / crater on the right. The 250’ high volcano is long extinct, which is not to say it CAN’T become active again. That fact once gave a scare 60 years ago before the Interstates and all traffic came through Amboy, as volumes of black smoke came billowing out of the volcano. This of course shut down both Route 66 and the Santa Fe railroad mainline for days. Eventually the LA Times sent a helicopter out to take a closer look, only to discover some kids from the Barstow high school had dumped tires, oil, and lumber into the volcano and set it on fire. If you have a vehicle with really good ground clearance you can drive up to it, climb up the backside, and see what’s INSIDE a volcano.
Amboy itself, as ROY’S MOTEL and CAFÉ, has been seen in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials. On occasion the CHP car driven by Broderick Crawford in the 50’s TV series Highway Patrol would be on display out front. The town is presently owned by Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain, who offered $425,000 in cash and promised to preserve the town and reopen Roy’s. The town had a population of 800 in the 1950’s, but less than 10 today. Albert gave me the full tour a few years ago, and even though he owns a restaurant chain, it will take a lot time, work, and money to really get the café and motel working again as it once did. Albert didn’t buy the town as a money making venture, “I’ll be happy to break even.” Tens of thousands of dollars will be needed to bring in electricity and running water. Add a lot of legal codes to meet as well. Two of the four gas pumps have been given a green light by San Bernardino County (gas is sold at about cost), but the restaurant has not, so food and drink on a normal business day is snack food and bottled beverages (water for only $1 a bottle, which could easily be much more in the middle of the Mojave). However for the Laughlin River Run the place is turned into a giant tailgate party, with plenty to eat and drink. This will likely be your last stop until you head north to Laughlin (gas up when you pull off the I-40) so enjoy yourself and all the people here. By the way, if you come across a Juan Pollo restaurant, do NOT assume it is ANYTHING like KFC. It is the best chicken I’ve ever had.
See you on the Will Rogers Highway heading to (and from) Laughlin.