Historic Route 66: Amboy, CA

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 In California, the original Route 66 is known as The National Old Trails Highway. It runs from the Colorado River west of Needles, CA through Goffs, Essex, Danby, Chambless, AmboyLudlow, then on to Barstow before reaching Los Angeles.

Part 1: Amboy, CA | Part 2: Goffs, CA

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.

Route 66 past Roy's Cafe

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.

Click here for Google Map. 


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.

Roy's Cafe and hotel.
Roy’s Cafe and hotel.

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

Canal near Bristol Dry Lake
Canal near Bristol Dry Lake

Amboy Crater

On 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

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.



Related resources on DesertUSA.com:

The History of Goffs
The Goffs Railway Depot Route 66
100th Anniversary of the Goffs Schoolhouse
Dennis Casebier, The Mojave Road and Goff, CA

Mojave National Preserve
Museums of the Mojave
Mojave Road: An Adventure Through Time
Mojave Road Trail Notes
Kelso Depot
Amboy, CA
Amboy Crater
Bristol Dry Lake


Exploring Route 66, Amboy and More.

23 thoughts on “Historic Route 66: Amboy, CA”

  1. Driving with my mom around 1956 when Rt 66 was the main road through the “desert” I recall my mom not filling up with gas in Needles. We stopped in Amboy at one of their stations, and my mom was “incensed” at the outrageous price for the time—–40cents a gallon.!

  2. When I left home in 1969, I hitchhiked a lot on Rte. 66. Wow, so many miles of enjoyment
    on that two-lane road… Las Cruces, Tucumcari, Needles, CA., Had many memorable times
    under those skies.

  3. But I do have a lava rock from the crater!
    Also, mom told me a story of my brother and I running away and we were found by the railroad tracks there.

  4. Interesting reads about Amboy!
    I lived in Amboy as a kid 1966-1968?? I was 2-4 years old.
    I actually have memories of Amboy!
    My dad was employed for CalTrans and we moved a lot.
    I remember a little girl called Tiger… My brother had a thing for her. They graduated kindergarten together. My mom kept pictures.
    There was also a mean little boy named Jeff Grenier. Oh he was mean! He was my brother’s buddy.
    There was a big tree in the yard and I remember actually falling out of it and breaking my arm.
    Of course, I don’t remember Roy’s Cafe, motel, gas station, post office or store…. ?

  5. My first trip through Amboy was in the summer of 1966 when my mother moved us from Ohio to California.
    About 1 1/2 years later I married my husband. He was a heavy equipment operator. His job sent eventually sent him to the Amboy area. That’s when they were working on the new freeway section of Hwy 40. I actually looked for a rental home to live in Amboy but nothing was available.
    We ended up living in Newberry Springs for a short time but we then relocated to Needles where we lived for almost two years.
    I used to travel the back way from there to Riverside to visit my family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traveled that road. It’s still my favorite way to go from the San Bernardino area to Laughlin.
    I’ve walked out on the salt flats and climbed the crater and explored the area many times.
    Many people just drive through thinking that there is nothing in the area but there are a lot of things.
    One time I took Kelbaker Road out to the railroad depot. There was a small cafe there where I had the best country fried steak.
    A few years ago my husband and I were traveling through and stopped at Roy’s Cafe. I got to looking at the souvenirs and books. A very nice young man working there (forgive me for forgetting his name) and I got to talking about the area and books and I purchased the book about the man who bought the town and he gave me another book about the area that was signed by the author. He told me that I knew more about the area than anyone he’d talked to about Amboy and since I enjoy reading so much he thought I’d enjoy the book. The next trip through there I dropped off some goodies for him. He wasn’t there but a nice lady said that she would give them to him when he returned. I’ve stopped by there several times but have always missed him.
    When we passed through there we’d always get a milk shake if the cafe was open.
    I also worked for a plumbing supply business in San Bernardino who Roy made purchases from. Occasionally I’d have to call Roy. I had to go through an operator to reach him as they didn’t have a regular phone number.
    I have been from one end of Route 66 to the other. I still miss traveling along that old highway seeing the small towns along the way. I’m glad to see that some towns have tried to preserve things along the way.
    There are Mitchell Caverns near Essex and further east down the old route are the Grand Canyon Caverns near Peach Springs AZ.
    They are both worth a trip to visit them as well as many other things.
    One last thing, I was driving through the salt mine area and I came across a memorial that someone had made by talking pictures of the sky and making a really pretty large picture from them. I took pictures of it and probably still have them somewhere.
    Sorry for rambling but this article brought up so many memories about Historic Route 66. Take the time to visit portions of it and enjoy the things that you see.
    Get your kicks on Route 66!!

  6. I have driven through or stopped in Amboy many times on the way to the river. We frequently went to Lake Mojave or Havasu in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Roy’s had really good shakes from what I remember.

  7. Thanks for the article about Route 66 and Amboy I recall my last ride through there, prior to the Interstate 40, was in April 1951. Prior to that adventure, I had been through there many times in the 1940’s with my father’s family. I visit the area occasionally from my home in Mohave County Arizona. The desert is fascinating.

  8. We bought some beautiful land in Arizona about ten years ago . We currently live in California. Wev’e been making the drive from Ca, to Az, about every other month. So some trips we take old route 66 ! Some parts are very bad and other parts are just fine …Sometimes I 40 may have an accident . And the traffic can come to a complete stop. But we know every off ramp between Barstow and Kingman ! So we just get off the interstate and take 66 ! Great places to take pictures ! …. One time we pulled into Roy’s cafe in Amboy to get some lunch. When we walked out a tourist bus just pulled in. The tourist were all from Japan. I had a old cowboy hat on and boots etc, They never seen a real cowboy (Im Not) but i guess i looked good enough for them …. They all wanterd there pictures taken with the cowboy ! .I know one thing ! … My picture is on all those Japaness cameras in Japan LOL !……… Get off the interstate ! see the real America ! …. And bye the way ….. we generaly get around those accidents by taking 66 ! Adios ….

  9. In 1927 my family moved to Twentynine Palms because my dad’s asthma needed a dry clean climate. It served him well, and even though there were only eight or ten other families within 30 miles of our home, we all loved the desert. Never the less, mother’s father, who lived in Oregon, became worried about us because he couldn’t find a “29 Palms” on any map of the time. When he finally did find it’s rough location by some verbal instructions, his map showed the only town within fifty miles was Amboy. He sent mother a note recommending a visit to nearby Amboy if she ever wanted more social activity. That became a favorite family story.

  10. I greatly enjoyed the piece on Route 66. This may be nitpicking, but 66 was commissioned as far back as 1927, not 1938. Also, I-40 was opened between Barstow and Needles in 1973.

  11. I just read your article on Route 66, The Mother Highway. It was memorialized in John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Read the first page and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
    66 was the main road to California from Oklahoma, and other states in the Dustbowl.
    Once, in AMboy, I asked the young man in the store what the population was. He replied, “You’re talking to it!”

  12. I first went to Amboy back in 1970 ate a hamburger at Roys back then and gassed up my jeep. I have returned many times since then, even took an Aussie friend there to climb the crater and photograph the cemetary about 3 years ago.I’m glad it is being restored . so much of rte 66 has been destroyed and is gone forever.

  13. (originally posted on our older blog and moved to the new version)

    Mary L McGee says:
    February 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Hi, I was the last school teacher at Amboy School…1989-1999. You can contact me f you so choose….I have plenty of stories…I am now retired and live 58 miles from Amboy, in Newberry Springs, Ca.

  14. (originally posted on our older blog and moved to the new version)

    Charlie says:
    March 6, 2011 at 2:35 am

    Hello again ,
    Delphi that was good amboy history I would love to hear more. I am doing a lot for Amboy right now I have been trying to learn as much as I can about everyone in town. I have some real good projects that I am going to have complete soon. I have in my possession all of what is left of buster and Bessie as well as all Betty’s personal belongings. I have a lot of old stuff like letters from important people as well as very important friends. I am compiling a book of all the known history as well as stories. Send me an email I would like to know everything you will tell me. I have so much history to compile I am going to do my best to have a section in Mr Albert Okuras new Route 66 museum in San bernardino soon. And something about Mary I have been looking for you for a long time I have a copy of your book “the crater” I am very impressed. I would like to have this in our Amboy Museum also.

    Do you have any pictures from 1959 of rosy and what it looked like was the rosy sign already up because it was built by buster in 1959 as a gift to Roy. I learned that buster constructed the sign himself and hired a neon specialist to bend the glass tubes. I would really like to obtain some really old original photos email me please Charlie@amboyroute66.com or royscafe66@yahoo.com

  15. I am a former Amboy School student attending from 1966 to 1971. Our family of six plus parents resided due East approx 10 miles. I completed 7th-10th grades at Needles Jr/High schools. My dad, now deceased, was employed by Leslie Salt in Saltus.Of course, I was very fortunate, since we resided 1/4 mile north of Hwy 66, to have witnessed its heyday and its subsequent demise. Some memorable events I recall include being the spelling Bee champion in the 5th grade which included all students K-8. I will never forget the Calico Ghost town field trip in 1970 and seeing all the peace sign trinkets in the shops, which of course reflected the current cultural climate.

    My father would ensure that we always attended the Catholic Church in Amboy every Sunday, with Father “L” presiding. I recall several events there. Our family mailbox was PO Box 6. We lived beyond TV reception and no homes were wired for phones.

    Another memory was the 90 minute school bus journey to Needles. Of course the buses had no AC and were never warm at our 6 AM pickup time. You guessed it. By necessity my wake up time for 4 years beginning at age 12 was about 5:15 AM which provided the discipline I would need when I entered the USAF after graduation and served six years as a military policeman followed by a stint with the CA Highway Patrol and L.A. County Police Dept., now absorbed by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept.

    Being a “gifted” student, per my 5th grade teacher Mrs O’Donnell who gave me many books to read up to the college level, I guess it was only expected that I also excel in High School as I won 2nd place in a grade 9-12 Essay Contest while in the 10th grade. The topic was “Public Schools–our future” and the prize was $5 and free LA Dodger tickets. Our family moved from Chambless in 1976 to Glendale CA and my parting memory was a 4.0 GPA during my entire 10th grade. As you can see, my time in the desert was one I will always treasure. I had hoped to transfer to Needles as a CHP officer which meant I would have patrolled my childhood stomping grounds which include Highway 66. But somehow fate has a way of thwarting man’s best-laid plans.

    While working out of Newhall Station on I-5 (Santa Clarita), as a 24 yr old who hadn’t yet moved out on my own, I arrived home and witnessed my father’s unexpected passing at what I now know was premature at 66 years of age. My world turned upside down and try as I might I was unable to regain my intestinal fortitude that had served me well in my CHP journey that included a super-rigorous academy in which 100 of us began training but only 57 of us earned the badge.

    I often dream of returning to the area one day. Maybe Mr. Ocura might have the need for a “new sheriff in town”. Thank you for all you do Lynn. Your dedication to the Desert somehow is endearing as we share the requisite reverence for this are that was my childhood playground and home. Please let me know if there is anything else I can contribute in some manner to be of assistance in a synergistic way to ensure that future generations can likewise find the desert as alluring. Cheers!

  16. From I-15

    Take the Nipton Rd exit 0.3 mi
    Turn right at Nipton Rd 3.4 mi
    Turn right at Ivanpah Rd 26.8 mi
    Continue onto Lanfair Rd 19.1 mi
    Turn right at Goffs Rd 15.1 mi
    Turn right at National Trails 66 Hwy 35.2 mi
    Turn left at N Amboy Rd 39.8 mi
    Turn left at Godwin Rd 2.0 mi
    Turn right at 29 Palms Hwy/CA-62 W
    Continue to follow CA-62 W 48.8 mi
    Merge onto I-10 E via the ramp to Indio/Palm Springs
    or to go to LA change this last part of the directions to head W or to take another route.

    These directions came from google maps. So it is probably a good idea to put the address of the Las Vegas location and an end destination to get directions or to double check them.

  17. Lynn

    Hi. I too live in the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs in fact. My cousin with husband and two sons plan to visit us during their ten day vacation from the UK in March. Arriving at LAX, driving to the Grand Canyon, then a day in Vegas before coming to us for a couple of days before heading back to LA. I suggested they took the back road from Vegas to Palm Springs. I have done it myself several times and so know the way without directions, but, am at a loss to give the directions. I know the turn off from 215 but do not know what the sign to turn off says or the road number. I have tried searching the internet but not too helpful. Is it possible for you to email me the directions? Or, suggest where I might find this. I did go to Triple A, maybe I got there on an off day, but, that was not a helpful experience!!!

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Sallie Albertina
    760 778 6931
    Transformation Hypnotherapy

  18. Hey Dean I am very interested in your comic. I am acuually working here in ROY’S Cafe in Amboy which is Roy’s Gasoline We get a lot of tourist coming through the cafe just to stop in at the present time we are not selling food but we do have cold drinks like the classic coke bottles and the route66 rootbeers and lots of gifts. we are working on getting the kitchen opened soon maybe by next summer we need to raise enough money to add a large septic tank and new drains and a handicap bathroom once thats is complete we can begin restoring the kitchen. We are keeping everything as it was while it was operated by buster burris. Drop by if you are in the area we keep it nice and cool in here and play 50’music. email me charlie@amboyroute66.com

  19. Thanks for the comments about Amboy. We also enjoyed the time we spent there and found everyone to be friendly. It was fun seeing shadows of what used to be. Route 66 became such a big part of American Culture. During our visit to Roy’s, a band from Europe was driving through on their way to Vegas and decided to do film part of their music video there in front of the bungalows. It really was fun to watch!

  20. dean westerfield

    A friend and I have been working on a comic book loosely based on Amboy. I’ve been out three times to kick around take photos and talk to people there. I was there a few days ago. In reference to Amboy being a lawless town. I don’t see it. It is in fact very friendly. The first two times we hung out with Larry, who is the caretaker of Roy’s. He drove around on a golf cart and kept the cafe open for no reason other than to sell water and t-shirts. He also had gas stored somewhere and could sell you a gallon or two. He was open and conversed freely. The last time I saw Larry was in 2006.
    The last time I went was last week, Aug. 2009. Larry no longer works there. We talked to Danny who lives there and volunteers in the post office across from Roy’s. He was very kind and talked to us for quite awhile. Another individual worked in the cafe. He wasn’t a talking kind of guy, but polite to our presence. The cafe was cleaned up. Everything was painted. Two of the four gas pumps now sell gas. There were four huge photo albums on the cafe counter and we flipped through everyone. We spent about a half hour in the cafe itself and another hour wandering around it. Danny told us they are in the process of getting the well water approved, (said he’d been drinking it for awhile, so he felt it was ok). Albert Ocura, not Okura, is doing a fine job. I guess he has a matching grant from the government to restore the place. It is a historical location, so he has to keep it as it was, that means no MacDonalds thank god. Danny said A & W might be ok, since it was around back then. they will get the cafe open agian once the h2o is settled. If you like googie buildings and spending some time with people who enjoy polite converstion about their unique town, go spend an hour or so in Amboy. By the way, the comic is at 75 pages and growing.

  21. There is so much information on Amboy, CA. I certainly appreciate anyone who attempts the journey. It is way, way out of anywhere. I traveled on a road trip in 2005, it looked like migrants working and lounging around. I wondered what was going on so I got out to brouse around the old cafe and gas station and one young man they asked me to leave! It did not make sense it was like it was private property. Be careful heading out there it appears as a lawless ghost town and visitors are not welcome.
    A new owner of the town; Albert Okura hopes to rebuild the town as a memorabilia point. The ex-owners tried the same thing, but were unsuccessful.
    Amboy is not a public interest point, most people do not find it interesting.
    In the late June my vehicle thermometer measured 106 degrees. You better have a good reason to go it’s hot and the road needs repair. I am a fan, keep researching “Desert Road Trippin'” good article

  22. Love this article. In 1959, I had the oportunity to travel on Rt. 66 through Missouri into Oklahoma. So glad I had the chance to go that far on 66. I hope to get the chance to come out to AZ and CA to see the places featured in the above article. Rt 66 is indeed a unique experience. Thank you for this story. ER

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