Day Trip #7: Historic Route 66 To Amboy, CA

Updated 7/28/2015

I decided to take a day trip to visit a short stretch of Historic Route 66. Just north of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park lies a part of the National Trails Highway (formerly known as Route 66) that leads to the towns of Ludlow, Klondike, Bagdad, Amboy, Essex, Fenner and Goffs.

My itinerary included a visit to the town of Amboy, the Amboy Crater and Bristol Dry Lake in the Mojave National Preserve. My journey began from the town of Amboy, CA at the intersection of Amboy Rd. and the National Trails Hwy.

It was my first time driving on Route 66 and I was excited to experience a part of American history. As I turned onto the highway I wondered why Route 66 was so famous? What has made Route 66 so different from other highways? After my trip, I did a little research to learn more about the history of Route 66 and the story behind the near-ghost town called Amboy.

Route 66

Route 66 was an American icon, and also a way of life for many local residents along the highway, who provided food, gas and lodging services to the motorists who passed through their towns. This 2,300-mile route brought travelers from Chicago to Los Angeles and back again from 1938 until 1985. Route 66 was not just another highway, it was part of American culture, and a well-remembered colorful part of our history. There have been songs written about Route 66, a television series called Route 66 and many stops along the way have been the backdrops of movies and music videos. Even today, fascination with Route 66 continues to thrive. In fact, during my visit to Roy’s Café, there was a rock group from Holland filming a music video in front of the bungalows there.

The cracked window in Roy's Cafe is still there.
The cracked window in Roy’s Cafe has been fixed recently.  It was a trademark of the Cafe for many years.

What happened to Route 66? In 1956, the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed, and plans for a national interstate highway program were initiated. This program created new interstate highways and Route 66 slowly became part of the past. While Route 66 was still intact, it was no longer the only route to travel across its stretch of the country. In 1985, the department of transportation built Route 40, creating a shortcut between Needles and Ludlow. The shortcut rerouted traffic from Route 66 to Route 40 and the towns along this section of Route 66 became ghost towns. Businesses had to close and residents moved away.

Today, empty gas stations, abandoned churches and other reminders of what “used to be” mark the Route as you tour down memory lane. You can still drive on sections of Route 66 and see many of the historic points of interest that helped make it so famous. If you decide to visit one or more sections of Route 66, make sure you get some good maps and information before you go. The Historic Route is not well marked and it takes some planning.

The Town of Amboy and Roy’s Café

Amboy, a small town that developed and supported Route 66 tourists, was a busy gas, food, and lodging stop. In its heyday, Amboy was home to 800 residents, a post office, a school, an airport and the famous Roy’s Café and Hotel, which employed 70 people at its height. The story goes that people would fly into town just to get one of Roy’s Route 66 Double Cheeseburgers. Roy’s Café and Hotel was one of the best-known stops along Route 66, partly due to its colossal sign, and was a favorite backdrop for many Hollywood directors.

Today, the nearly deserted town of Amboy still has a few residents . . . less than 10img_0543 since 2000. Amboy was  purchased by Albert Okura for the amount of $425,000. Okura’s plans are to restore parts of the town, including Roy’s Café and the gas station. A 20-room motel and six bungalows are also to be rehabilitated in the future. The aim of the restoration is historical as well as commercial – a cracked window in the Café featured in many films was replaced. The store is open, and though they are not serving food yet, they are selling souvenirs. There is an old cemetery, a church and a post office nearby – all closed now – but the grave markers remind us of the history and the residents who used to live there.

The Shoe Tree

img_0521After my stop at Roy’s I continued east on Route 66 and didn’t get far before I found myself pulling off to the side of the road. There was a tree on the south side of the highway that was filled with shoes. People had tied pairs of shoes together and thrown them up into the tree. This was one of two “shoe trees” that I saw along the road after leaving Roy’s. This particular “shoe tree” is just a few hundred yards down the road from Roy’s. There are hundreds of pairs of shoes hanging from the branches of this lone tree. It stands along Route 66, intertwined into the history of the highway. I wondered how old some of those shoes were and who started the shoe tree?

Bristol Dry Lake – Mojave National Preserve

If you have time for a brief excursion, take a few minutes and stop at Bristol Dry Lake. Located just three miles east of Amboy, Bristol Dry Lake is an active salt mine. There are approximately 60 million tons of salt in reserve there. You have to stop and walk out on the dry lake to really see the halite crystals and how they form on the surface of the ground. I picked up a chunk of the white, crusty halite layer and tasted it. Yes, it tasted like salt.

For more information about Bristol Dry Lake and the salt that is mined from it, please visit our information page on DesertUSA.com

http://www.desertusa.com/mnp/mnp_blake.html

Amboy Crater

img_0558-1On the return trip I passed by Roy’s once again and took a few more photos, then promptly headed out towards Amboy Crater. It was late in the day and I didn’t have time to hike into the basin. Late afternoon was a nice time of day to take a few photos and enjoy the quiet surrounds. There was only one other car in the parking lot and I didn’t see anyone nearby. They were probably hiking inside of the crater.

Amboy Crater and Lava Field, an extinct cinder cone crater, is located in the Mojave Desert near the town of Amboy. The black lava rock that forms Amboy Crater rises up from the landscape and can be seen from miles away. It is a National Natural Landmark that is managed by the BLM.

Amboy Crater and Lava Field was the only volcano along Route 66 and therefore a popular tourist stop over the years. Take Route 66 and climb a volcano! Just another reason Route 66 was so unique. The points of interest along the highway were all part of the recipe for a uniquely American experience.

For more information on Amboy Crater, directions on how to get there and information about hiking the related trail, please visit our information page on DesertUSA.com.  We also have a story about the area.

 

amboy

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Hiking Fiery Furnace

Arches National Park, UT
by Lynn Bremner

 Fiery_furnance_1759

What is the most thrilling hike in Arches National Park? I pulled up Trip Advisor, hoping to find an answer, as I was headed there on my long awaited vacation. Fiery Furnace was ranked number two on the site, second only to the Delicate Arch hike.

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Interested, I read further. Fiery Furnace is a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons, orange and tan colored fins, towers, spires and arches. The colorful sandstone lights up when the setting sun casts its rays on the canyon walls, making it look like a “fiery furnace.”

The delicate nature of the ecosystem requires that only guided tours enter the area, or hikers who have a permit. The park service offers an affordable tour into Fiery Furnace, but those tours sell out months in advance. I hadn’t planned that far ahead! I researched tour companies and turned up the Moab Adventure Center, which offered the hiking tour for $86.00 per person. They had an opening, so I quickly booked the tour online, excited to have completed my travel plans.

The morning of the hike, a shuttle picked us up at our hotel and dropped us off at the Moab Adventure Center in downtown Moab. After a brief introduction by our tour guide Cort, we piled into the tour van and started our adventure.

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The first stop was the Park Visitor’s Center where we watched a video about the Fiery Furnace that included notes on how to keep our impact to a minimum while we hiked in the canyons. Cort then drove us to the trailhead where we started our hike into the Fiery Furnace.

It was overcast that day and the temperatures were in the low 90s. Fortunately, many shady corridors in the canyons keep the trail cooler than the temperatures outside, making it a pleasant trek in warmer weather.

The Fiery Furnace hike is different than any other hike at Arches. Its labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons and fins are mesmerizing.   Rock formations, slots, arches and other geologic features are so abundant that we stopped often just to look up and take it all in. Every turn of the path yielded a photographic vantage. Finally, I decided to just put my camera away and marvel at the incredible terrain without the distraction of the lens.

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Towering fins and canyon walls made me feel as if I was in another world. It seemed as if our group was hiking inside of a giant rock maze, walking back in time. I was glad I had chosen the guided hike. It would be easy to get lost in those canyons and lose all sense of direction.

Several times during the hike we had to cross over gaps and chasms, and to walk on narrow rock ledges. Cort showed us techniques for navigating the difficult parts of the trail. Two rocks had a gap that we had to straddle down. We crossed a chasm by bracing ourselves against the opposite wall and sidestepping the full length of it, until we reached the outlet. The rock scrambling and obstacles along the trail made the hike truly an adventure.

If you have the time and are physically able to make the hike, Fiery Furnace is definitely worth your time and effort. I’m also happy to recommend the Moab Adventure Center for their guided tour.   The experience was excellent all around. Our guide Cort was informative and made the hike really fun.

1826_fiery_furnace_hike

Note: Our hike took about 2.5 hours. Some tours may be longer depending on the group and the tour company. Be sure to take a small backpack or waist pack to carry your drinking water (our guide recommended at least 1 litre per person). At times, you will need both hands to traverse parts of the canyon, so it is essential to have at least a small pack for hands free travel. A good pair of hiking shoes, and a hat are also essential. Don’t forget to pack a camera! Children under 5 are not permitted.

 

For information on the Park’s Guided Tours visit …

http://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/programs.htm

For information about Moab Adventure Center visit …

http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/trips/national-park/

 


View Fiery Furnace in a larger map

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How to keep ice COLD in the desert.

Tips on how to keep your cooler cold, your ice from melting too fast and your food fresh when traveling in the desert.
by Lynn Bremner of DesertUSA.com

One of the challenges of camping in the desert is keeping your ice cold and thus keeping your food and beverages cold and edible. How can you preserve your ice so it doesn’t melt so quickly? How can you keep your food from getting soggy from the melted ice? How can you keep a cooler cold for 5 to 10 days if ice is not available for purchase nearby? These are some of the most common questions asked by campers.

What type of cooler should you use?

There are many types of coolers to choose from, including metal, plastic, Styrofoam, soft-sided nylon and hard-sided plastic. The soft-sided nylon coolers and Styrofoam coolers are suitable for day trips. If you are camping overnight or going on a longer trip, it is very important to get a durable cooler that can keep your food and beverages cold over a period of time. Metal coolers hold heat longer when left in the sun, so plastic coolers are the most popular choice for campers.

One brand of plastic cooler mentioned numerous times in reviews, in blogs, and in articles, is the Coleman Xtreme Cooler. The Xtreme can keep ice frozen for up to five days in 90 degree F heat. It’s available in a variety of sizes including 52-, 62-, 70-, and 100-quart, and can be purchased with or without wheels. Another thermal-efficient cooler is the Max Cool Series made by Igloo.

When selecting a plastic or hard-sided cooler, make sure to choose a cooler that has an insulated lid with a tight seal. Wheels and big handles for easier management are also beneficial features. Make sure your cooler has a plug on the bottom for water drainage.

Preparation

Pre-chill your drinks and food before placing the items in the cooler. You’ll extend the life of your ice by pre-chilling all items. You can also pre-chill your cooler by filling it with ice to chill the interior, prior to packing it with food and beverages.

Freeze plastic bottles of water or canned drinks that are not carbonated, such as Hansen’s fruit juices. The frozen drinks will act as ice and will keep the other items in your cooler colder. You can also freeze water or other non-carbonated beverages in gallon milk or juice jugs. They can be consumed when the liquid inside melts.

Freeze meat, and any other food that can be frozen, to help keep the food cold and fresh. Freeze bread and other food items that don’t require refrigeration, and store these items in a dry cooler without ice to keep food fresh and dry.

reflectixLine your cooler with Reflectix (aluminized bubble wrap). You can find it at most home improvement stores. It was invented to insulate homes and buildings. Smart campers came up with the idea to use Reflectix to keep the heat out and the cold air in coolers. Cut the Reflectix into pieces that fit, lining the inside of your cooler, including the top/lid. You can even throw a sheet of Reflectix over the outside of your cooler to further insulate it.

Packing your cooler

Pack items in your cooler in chronological order based on when you plan to use or consume the items. Put the items you will use last on the bottom of the cooler, and those you will need access to first, on top. Cold air travels down, so pack the items in the cooler first and then pack either crushed ice or block ice on top. Make sure you pack your cooler tight as air pockets can increase the temperature inside.

Pack perishables such as meat or dairy products directly on the ice. Put food in zip-lock plastic bags or in plastic containers to keep it dry as the ice melts.

For longer trips it’s a good idea to keep your beverages in a separate cooler that can be opened more frequently. Put all of your food in another cooler and open it less often.

The Ice

What type of ice should you use? Crushed ice cools items faster, but ice blocks last longer. Block ice is recommended for trips that are more than one or two days. Dry ice will last the longest and keep your food dry, but requires some special handling.

You can freeze water in quart-sized zip-lock bags. They will work just like ice packs, but won’t leak water as they melt. In addition, the bags of water, once melted, can be refrozen and used again. As noted above, frozen water bottles, milk or juice jugs filled with water or juice can be used in place of, or with ice cubes or blocks. Frozen blue ice packs also work well in place of ice.

If you are going on a trip where you will not be able to purchase ice or where you need your cooler to stay cold for several days or weeks, consider dry ice. Dry ice comes in blocks wrapped in paper. Keep the paper on the dry ice or wrap it in newspaper or craft paper. Don’t pick up the dry ice with your bare hands. Use gloves or some sort of barrier between your skin and the dry ice as it will burn your skin.

Dry ice will crack a plastic cooler if it is sitting directly on the bottom of the cooler or touching the sides. The dry ice needs to be wrapped in paper (NOT plastic), and placed on a rack or barrier so it doesn’t crack your cooler. You can cut down a cheap Styrofoam cooler, place the dry ice in the bottom of the cut down portion, and then place that inside of the plastic cooler. This creates a barrier between the dry ice and the plastic sides and bottom of the cooler. You might also try putting a stainless steel dish rack with legs in the bottom of the cooler and then placing the dry ice on the rack. Stainless steel dish racks can be found in most stores that sell kitchenware.

Anything stored right next to dry ice will freeze. Keep this in mind when packing fruit, dairy products or other items that you don’t want to freeze. Dry ice does not melt, it sublimates and keeps items cold or frozen, and dry.

Another idea is to pack the dry ice in a separate cooler and surround it with frozen blue ice packs. Don’t put any food or beverages in this cooler, just the dry ice with frozen blue ice packs. Once the blue ice packs in your food or beverage cooler are used up, switch the blue ice packs with fresh ones out of the dry ice cooler. It’s a great way to refreeze your blue ice packs and avoid damage to your food by freezing it too much with dry ice.

Does Salt Keep Your Ice Colder?

Fact or fiction . . . does salt keep your ice colder? Well, kind of. Salt melts ice. When salt is mixed with water and ice together, it can bring the freezing temperature of the water to a lower degree, making the water colder without freezing it. What this means is that the combination of salt, ice and water creates really cold water. The down side is that salt also causes the ice to melt, and the goal of keeping your ice cold for a long period of time is to keep the ice from melting.

The ice/water/salt combo is s a great trick if you are having a party, run out of cold drinks and need to chill something quickly. Put some water in a big bucket or pot, put the canned beverages or bottled beverages into the container, add ice and salt to the water and stir the mixture. Put the container with the salt water mixture and the drinks in the freezer and those beverages will be chilled in a matter of minutes. Or keep the mixture out and spin the drinks in the fluid – that will also speed up the chilling process. If you don’t spin the beverages or put the mixture in the freezer it will still chill the drinks faster than ice alone or your refrigerator would without the ice/water/salt mixture.

During your trip . . .

Once you arrive at your camping location be sure to keep your coolers in the shade and out of the sun. You can put an old sleeping bag over them for further insulation. You can also use a tarp or Reflectix to keep the sun off the cooler. Ice will last twice as long when your cooler is placed in the shade.

Only open your coolers when necessary and when you do open the cooler, close it right away. Don’t drain the cold water from freshly melted ice out of the cooler, as the cold water helps keeps the items in the cooler cold. Drain the water only when necessary to create more space in the cooler or when adding more ice.

More Tips
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Desert Survival Tips

Desert Tips Series
How To Survive In The Desert
by L. Bremner of DesertRoadTRIPPIN

After years of desert travel I’ve picked up some great tips along the way.   My Dad always had big 5 gallon tanks of water and extra gas when we went on long trips.  He had spare batteries, fan belts, tools to fix a car break down and flares.  A basic first aid kit was always handy.  I can say that after 30 years plus of desert road trips we’ve never had a break down or major emergency.

In the earlier years we used to travel with a gold prospecting club and there would be a few cars that would get stuck.  One of us always had a winch on our jeep or 4×4 truck, so we were able to pull out the car that got stuck in the sand.  It is not a bad idea to travel in groups of several vehicles when traveling to more remote areas of the desert. [Read more…]

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A Hike Towards Heaven

Delicate Arch Hike – Arches National Park, UT

By Lynn Bremner

One hundred yards to go along the Delicate Arch Trail — I leaned into the rock wall behind me to take in the scenery and to photograph the breathtaking view.  It was overcast and a brilliant slice of rainbow peeked through the gray clouds. It was August and I was hiking with a friend.  Our goal was to see the Arch at sunset.

The last 200 yards of the trail is along a rock ledge with steep drop offs.
Author taking photos of the rainbow before reaching Delicate Arch. Photo by Abbie Archer.

The wind picked up as we continued along the ledge.  The gusts kept us cool, but also kept us reaching for our hats as they threatened to sail off!  The last leg of the trail to the arch is cut into a rock wall with a steep drop off along the left side.   It was fairly wide, but my fear of heights kept me on the right side leaning into the wall.  I asked another hiker how much farther we had to go to arrive at the arch.  Recognizing the look on my face he said, “Don’t worry.  It’s not that bad and only a short distance ahead. I’m afraid of heights too.”   Encouraged, I continued on and worked my way around the corner.  When the arch came into view I stopped in my tracks.  It was breathtaking.

Delicate Arch.  Photo by Lynn Bremner.
Delicate Arch. Photo by Lynn Bremner.

Poised on the far side of a natural amphitheatre, Delicate Arch is a grand sight to see.  Maybe it was the stormy sky or the rainbow in the distance, but it felt like I was on top of the world and somehow closer to heaven.  My eyes scanned the landscape as I took in the scene in front of me.   As time slowly ticked by I became lost in the moment.  It was so peaceful there.  It was a place where you could detach from the noise around you and just be still.

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Side view of Delicate Arch. Photo by Abbie Archer.

I set up my tripod across from the arch and took a few photos.  My hiking partner Abbie decided to explore the amphitheater. She got some great photos of the arch from the side.  Behind the arch there is a steep drop off and from the side you can see how delicate it really is.  It’s incredible to imagine how time and the elements have shaped this natural phenomenon.

Quite a few people were spread out along the top portion of the amphitheater.  At first glace the natural bowl seemed quite steep, but as I moved to a different angle I could see that it was easy to navigate and safe enough for families with kids to sit in, and take in the views. Hikers lined up to have their photos taken under the arch.

Delicate Arch in the distance  and the natural amphitheater. Author in the foreground photographing the Arch.  Photo by Abbie Archer.
Delicate Arch in the distance and the natural amphitheater. Author in the foreground photographing the Arch. Photo by Abbie Archer.

The sky never cleared for a sunset shot, but we were satisfied with the photos we were able to capture.  After spending about 30 minutes photographing the arch, we packed up the equipment and started back towards the trail.  We both turned around one last time to look at it.  What an amazing place. As I engraved the image into my memory, I turned back towards the trail.  Maybe my mind was on the arch and the experience of seeing it in person, because I hardly noticed the steep drop offs along the rock ledge on the return route.

The arch itself is amazing, but I think it was the combined experience of the hike, the natural amphitheater, and views from all directions that made Delicate Arch an unforgettable experience for me.  The hike was strenuous at times and there are steep drop offs, but only for a short portion along the trail.  The effort is well worth it if you are physically able to make the journey to the top.  It was one of the highlights of my trip.

 

Facts about Delicate Arch …

Formed of Entrada sandstone, the fin was gradually worn down through the process of erosion, and Delicate Arch was created.  Its distinct shape sets it apart from other arches in the park. The arch is 65-feet high and free-standing, which makes it the most widely-recognized landmark in Arches National Park according to Wikipedia.  It is depicted on Utah license plates and was featured on a commemorative stamp in 1996.

If you go …

Be sure to take plenty of water and to allow enough time to hike up and back.  It took me at least 45 minutes and I was moving at a fast pace.  Plan on two to three hours for a round trip hike.  It’s up hill for a majority of the trail to the Arch.   You’ll get a good workout on the ascent. There were a lot of families up there with older kids who were able to make the hike.  I would not recommend it for families with young kids due to the strenuous nature of the hike and the steep drop offs without railings.   There are restrooms at the trailhead and parking is hard to find, so you may have to park down the road if the lot is full.   It is recommended that you hike the trail in the cooler hours of the early morning or late in the day during the summer months due to high temperatures.

Delicate Arch

Starting Point: Wolfe Ranch parking area

Length: 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip

Time: 2 to 3 hours

Elevation change: 480 feet (146 meters)

Take at least 1 quart (1 liter) of water per person! There is no shade. Open slickrock with some exposure to heights. The first half-mile is a wide, well-defined trail. Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns. The trail climbs gradually and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail goes along a rock ledge for about 200 yards.

 

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