Route 66 in the News

Cave, Cafe, and Crater on Route 66

2010-03-18 08:06:39

A cave, a crater and a ragtag cafe of movie fame are strange bedfellows on a stretch of the Mother Road in the western portion of the Mojave Desert.

They are on or near Route 66 in the vicinity of the often-overlooked town of Newberry Springs.

Atop an ancient lake, Newberry Springs, once known as Warm Springs, enjoys a high water table, which made it an ideal water stop for steam-powered trains. The Southern Pacific set up a station there in 1883. The town's supply of water was so ample that it exported water via tank cars to "dry towns" in the area.

So rich with water is Newberry Springs that in the past, and even today, water seeps into excavated areas, creating small lakes and ponds for recreation and irrigation.

Newberry Cave, located in the Newberry Mountains, is a draw to adventurers and archeologists. Also called the Schuilling Cave, it requires a short hike into a steep canyon. Here archeological items have been unearthed that suggest cultural activities took place at the site as far back as 1500 B.C.

On the short ride west from Ludlow to Newberry Springs, a prominent sight will catch your eye. The looming black Pisgah crater is a young volcanic cinder cone which may have been active 2,000 years ago. Although the land surrounding the crater is privately owned and subject to aggregate mining, it is a favorite spot of spelunkers who relish in navigating through miles of lava tubes and tunnels.

This desert town has another claim to fame. The Sidewinder Cafe in Newberry Springs is the site where the cult movie "Bagdad Cafe" was filmed in 1987, and that name stuck after the movie became popular. The story goes that the original Bagdad cafe was located in the now vanished town of Bagdad, east of Newberry Springs.

"The original title was `Out of Rosenheim,"' according to Linda Lee of Monterey Park, a dedicated fan of the movie. "I remember reading that it was a big hit in Germany, and tourists come to the U.S. just to visit it."

In the loose plot, a Bavarian couple touring the California desert becomes stranded when their car breaks down. After they have an argument, the wife, Mariane Sagebrecht, luggage in tow, stomps off and ends up at the cafe where she befriends the odd characters at the "fleapit truck stop."

The "real characters" at the cafe appeared as extras and hung out with the film's stars, such as Jack Palance, during filming.

Belly up to the counter today and the staff will dish out an earful, pointing out the movie photos and memorabilia which decorate the walls. The film's success was followed by a TV sitcom starring Whoopi Goldberg and Jean Stapleton. However, it was short lived.

The cafe is about 100 miles from the San Gabriel Valley, a bit far for lunch but worth the experience. Out of Barstow on I-40, it is located just off the Newberry Springs exit on National Trails Highway. Don't expect a gourmet meal, but you are sure to get an earful of Route 66 nostalgia, memorable photos and perhaps a few autographs.

~Claudia Heller, the Weekly Star


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