Route 66 in the News

Bastion of Nostalgia

2010-02-03 21:19:45

AMBOY, Calif. - It was a quiet morning in Amboy when the towns people, to their horror, spotted smoke spiraling from the "dormant" crater south west of town. Panic set in. Route 66 was shut down as was the Santa Fe Railroad mainline.

Residents could swear the ground beneath them was rumbling.

Hadn't they noticed the smiles on the faces of students from Barstow High School? Wasn't the date a clue: April 1 (circa 1945)?

According to The California Route 66 Association, the Los Angeles Times hired a media plane, a reporter and photographer to investigate and soon the hoax was revealed. For months the students had hauled trash and tires up the trail to the cinder cone and on the fateful day, set it afire.

Amboy is a town that refuses to die, bucking the fate of neighboring towns. Best known for its iconic sign advertising Roy's Cafe, the town population hovers around eight.

Pulling into Roy's, I am greeted by the town Sheriff Farrell Hastings. He points to where a fire station will soon be built and confirms that the post office is open for business. Across the street is an old Volkswagen bug which he says serves as a search and rescue vehicle.

The town is owned by Albert Okura who also owns the Juan Pollo Restaurant chain and the first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernardino, which he operates as a museum. Motorists can gas up at Roy's and drop into the cafe for Route 66 memorabilia and a personal greeting from the sheriff.

"Wheels turn slowly around here," he said, "But one day the motel and cafe will be finished and motorists can stop and stay a while."

The closed schoolhouse stands, as does the church, albeit a bit crooked. Clean restrooms are located behind the courtyard where large statues of a ram and horse stand.

Amboy is located about one and a half hours west of Needles and east of Barstow. The nearby crater was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1973 and a historical plaque has been placed there by the Billy Holcomb Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus at the parking area entrance. The crater is accessible by a 3.5-mile trail. A picnic area provided by The Needles Field Office offers covered picnic tables, rest rooms and a 1.1-mile path to the crater trailhead. A viewing platform allows an amazing view of the crater and the lava lakes, tubes, sinks and spatter cones beyond.

In this series, we have traveled west from the California border town of Needles and visited sites along Route 66, some of which are recognized only by foundations. Amboy is fighting to stay on the map, not for the reasons that spurred its birth, but as a bastion of nostalgia, an opportunity for the people of today to understand the plight of those who traveled the Mother Road in search of a new beginning.

Waving goodbye to Amboy, we head west toward Barstow. Along the way we will stop and remember some forgotten towns which have vanished into the desert sand.

~Claudia Heller,


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