Lunch in Ludlow
Article and photos by Lara Hartley
I like going out for lunch to a homey cafe in the desert. A little trip down the Mother Road, Route 66, always puts me in a bright and sunny mood and in the mood for sunnyside-up eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy. Probably all loaded with cholesterol.
But since I am not eating this type of food every day, I figure I am safe once in a while.
I had a nasty car accident in 2002 — I call it “The big car-go-crash-boom,” (trying to make light of a serious situation.)
Two and a half weeks in the hospital, a month in a nursing home (I was the youngest one there), three months in a wheel chair, a couple of months with a walker and then crutches. Life was a challenge.
A friend called me one day while I was recuperating and wanted to know if I would like to go to lunch — anywhere I wanted.
I said, “Ludlow.” His reply was, “You want to go to Ludlow for lunch?” Yes, I did. Cabin fever was making me downright cranky and Ludlow is one of my favorite desert haunts — even if it is 50 miles away in the middle of nowhere.
All-righty then, Ludlow it was. We loaded the crutches into the car and headed east on Interstate 40 out of Barstow, Calif.
Barstow is about halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nev. Most people only stop in B-Town to get gas and food and then hop back on the freeway to go on their merry ways.
But here, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, is where I call home.
Ludlow is one of those little towns that refuse to die.
It started as a water stop for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad in 1883 and when ore was found in the nearby hills, Ludlow became a happening-kind of place. There were no wells in those olden days so water had to be brought in from Newberry Springs — about 27 miles to the west. The major portion of the town was built along the railroad tracks where many shacks are still located.
When Route 66 was established in 1926, the townspeople of Ludlow moved Main Street north to line up with the road.
Even after I-40 came through and Route 66 was decommissioned, Ludlow held on by providing gas and food for travelers on the interstate. With the popularity of the movie, “Bagdad Cafe,” Route 66 in the Mojave became a must-see for tourists — homegrown and foreign-born.
Did I mention the trains? I do love the trains. Ever few minutes a long freight rumbles through, sometimes so quietly coming down the western approach to town, they can hardly be heard until they are very close.
The old mercantile store is the victim of time and earthquakes, as are many of the other structures. Vandals seem to take delight in grabbing and destroying what they can.
Ludlow is one of those places that is just plain fun, photographically speaking. While the trains are always rushing through to destinations mysterious and unknown, the surrounding desert beckons with a siren song of dusty creosote and decaying buildings. Old mining camps dot the far away and unnamed graves can be found along the railroad route — probably old-time track or rail workers, their identities lost in the sand.
Dirt roads and gullies wrinkle the land, always saying, “Let’s see what’s over there?”
This almost-ghost town is the last stop for gas and gastronomic delights heading east until Fenner — another 58 miles down the freeway. It is also the perfect place to get off the interstate and take an adventuresome detour down Route 66 — which is far enough from the freeway to get the sense of what it must have been like for early wanderers.
Truckers and tired tourists can stay at the very reasonably-priced Ludlow Motel, a clean and tidy little lodging next to the cafe. The motel also makes a good home-base for people who are exploring vast areas of the desert, driving 66, chasing trains or rockhounding. Spring can bring floral joy in the way of short-lived wildflowers. Fields of yellow blooms can carpet the rolling hills surrounding the town, beckoning photographers and nature lovers. Each spring is different and the bloom is dependent on the amount of winter rain and weather.
Back at the cafe, food is as American-diner as it comes.
But once I heard a couple exclaim they could have a French dinner at the cafe: French dip, French toast and French fries.
The food is tasty, not floating in a puddle of yellow grease like many mom-and-pop diners. Hash browns are crispy, eggs are cooked just as I like them, and the cream gravy is almost as good as my grandma’s. Soups and pies are homemade and at $2.65 for a generous slice of pie, a bargain. I usually buy a couple of extras for friends or just “for later.”
The entire town and its businesses are owned and operated by the Knoll family and most of the town is signed off-limits but it is still possible to appreciate the haunting, decayed buildings without trespassing.
If you go, take your appetite with you, try the daily specials or an old fave like ham and eggs. The ham slice is huge! You won’t be disappointed and be sure to tell Charlie, the weekend waiter, “Lara sent me.”
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