After our barrelling-through-the night strategy to kick off our Christmas Across America Tour, we woke up in Barstow and were ready to hit the Mother Road, Route 66. Barstow didn’t look like much at night, beyond a strip of chain hotels and fast-food joints (or at least to the weary traveler). Barstow’s primary claim to fame seems to be it’s location along the historic Route 66, the way west for dust bowl refugees in the 1930’s. Barstow has clearly seen better days, and let’s hope for better days ahead.
Our first stop was the Route 66 Museum, one of six Route 66 Museums dotting the historic road. The museum is housed in basement of the old Harvey House Hotel, sitting beside a row of a dozen or more parallel train tracks. In its heyday, the Barstow was a prime stop for the Santa Fe Railway, and Harvey House was renowned for its hospitality. The museum has a few old vehicles, like a Model T Touring Car, and displays on the various eras of Barstow’s history and on Route 66 generally. The gift shop of every kind of trinket imaginable emblazoned with “Historic Route 66” was nearly as big as the display. Since my son is a fan of gift shops, we spent as much time there as we did looking at the memorabilia.
After learning all about the importance of Route 66,we set out to find it. Some of it is subsumed under I-40, and then it diverges off through the Mojave Desert. We took the interstate for parts of the trip and went off on side trips down Route 66 from time to time, depending on what we wanted to see. I was struck by how incredibly pristine both the interstate and Route 66 were–not a single piece of stray litter in sight. I remember the famous commercial in the 1970’s of the Native American chief character looking out over a landscape filled with trash and a single tear running down his face. Anti-litter and highway clean-up programs over the years must have worked, because the desert road was amazingly clean.
We headed down the historic part of Route 66 to Newberry Springs, California. We stopped for lunch at the famous Bagdad Cafe, location of the 1988 film of the same name. Both Frank and I had seen the movie many years ago, and decided this was as good a place as any for lunch. It’s not the most luxurious place by a long stretch, and what you might expect of a roadside stop on an otherwise deserted stretch of highway in the desert. The food was good, the staff was friendly and accomodating, and it has a certain nostalgia for many tourists traveling on Route 66.
Our main stop of the day was at Kelso Dunes, part of the enormous Mojave National Preserve. We had to veer off Route 66 for a while and drive several miles down a dirt road to find the trail, but it was worth it. I wrote a little about it yesterday, but none of the pictures I took really capture the magic of watching the light change on the desert. The shadows on the dunes took on deep pools of color, turning the normally beige landscape into a breathtaking display of sand and sky.
We made it to Needles by around six pm, but couldn’t decide on a place to stop for dinner, so we forged ahead to Kingman, Arizona. We dined on hearty, delicious Mexican food at El Palacio on Route 66, then made our way to the Springhill Suites for the night. Springhill Suites is a very modern, upscale motel near I-40 that we were able to use some of our Marriott frequent-stayer points to score a free room.
Road Trip Tip of the Day: Visit natural landmarks and parks an hour before sunset for the best light for photos. You will get some amazing results, even with a simple camera, if the lighting is right. These were taken with a Nikon D90, but my husband got some gorgeous results with his point-and-shoot as well.