California: Barstow to Needles

A Railroad Primer

Before we visit Barstow let's take a travel break and run through some area railroad history in the next ten paragraphs.

The Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad (once called the Overland Route) built the first transcontinental railroad that culminated in the pounding of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869. The Central Pacific Railroad organized a subsidiary called the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad to construct its own transcontinental railroad unencumbered by agreements with the Union Pacific. The SP laid track south from Sacramento and then up and over the Tehachapi Mountains to reach the edge of the Mojave Desert at the present-day town of Mojave. The SP intended to build southeast through Cajon Pass and San Bernardino and on to Yuma to closely follow the border with Mexico toward Texas and the Midwest. But the growing city of Los Angeles offered a payment of $250,000 to the SP with the stipulation that they instead lay their rails through the Santa Clara River Valley (present-day California State Route 14) into the city itself. The railroad could then continue east to San Bernardino and on to Yuma. The SP accepted that proposal so the transcontinental railroad from San Francisco to New Orleans via Los Angeles, Yuma and El Paso was finished in 1883. In 1884 the Central Pacific Railroad was renamed the Southern Pacific Railroad.

The SP also laid tracks from the town of Mojave across the desert to Needles in 1883 where the SP met the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad that built west from Albuquerque. Passengers and freight were exchanged between the two railroads at Needles.

The California Southern Railroad built their railroad line north from San Diego through Cajon Pass and into the Mojave Desert in 1885. The plan was to join the SP tracks near present-day Daggett. Land speculators bought up property in the vicinity and then offered it for re-sale at inflated prices. In response the two railroads moved the junction about 5 miles to the west at a place called Waterman Junction.

Santa Fe Railroad Yard in Barstow RPPC This viaduct is First Avenue north of Main St. in Barstow and carried both US 91 and 466 at one time. The Casa del Desierto Harvey House is in the background above the steam and smoke.

Eventually the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad absorbed both the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad and the California Southern Railroad and they also acquired the SP tracks between Mojave and Needles. They renamed Waterman Junction for their president, William Barstow Strong.

William Clark purchased an interest in the small Los Angeles Terminal Railway that connected Los Angeles with San Pedro and several other nearby towns. Clark boldly proposed expansion northeast to Salt Lake City and he named his venture the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad.

The Union Pacific controlled much of the strategic railroad right-of-way property in southern Utah. An agreement with Edward Harriman, who controlled the Union Pacific, was reached in 1902 whereby the Union Pacific contributed track between Salt Lake City and Nevada and a number of locomotives and cars in exchange for cash and 50% ownership in the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad.

Next the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad contemplated how to breach formidable Cajon Pass where the Santa Fe Railroad already reached Los Angeles. Fortunately Edward Harriman had accumulated enough Santa Fe stock to gain a board seat and used his position to induce it to lease track occupancy rights to the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad from San Bernardino to Daggett. The San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was then able to connect Los Angeles and Salt Lake City in 1905. In 1921 the Union Pacific bought Clark's interest in the railroad and brought it into its own system.

Much more recently the Burlington Northern Railroad, itself formed from a 1970 merger of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroads, and the Santa Fe Railroad merged in 1995 and this railroad is called the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad. The Union Pacific acquired the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1996.

Track occupancy rights negotiated over a century ago are still in effect today from San Bernardino to Daggett. It is likely to see both BNSF trains and Union Pacific trains on these BNSF-owned tracks. Such agreements are actually common among the large railroads even today. (For example, the Santa Fe Railroad - now BNSF - gained track rights on the Southern Pacific Railroad - now Union Pacific - through the Tehachapi Mountains a century ago to gain access to the San Joaquin Valley of California. These track occupancy rights are also still in effect today. So if you are driving on California State Highway 58 between Mojave and Bakersfield, California, you may see both BNSF and Union Pacific trains on these Union Pacific-owned tracks.)

Since it was the Santa Fe Railroad that existed and not the BNSF during the entire time that Route 66 was a commissioned US Highway, I will refer to the "Santa Fe" Railroad as the owner of the railroad tracks which I frequently mention in this section of this web site.


Route 66 through Barstow RPPC Looking east in 1943 as Main Street straightens out for the run through Barstow. Steam locomotive smoke is in the distance .

Route 66 through Barstow RPPC Main Street Barstow looking east. The steam locomotive smoke reaches into the sky.

Route 66 through Barstow RPPC The junction of US Highway 66 and US 91 and (then) US 466. US 91 heads northeast toward Las Vegas and US 466 heads west to Mojave. (US 466 was later re-named State Route 58.)

Beacon Tavern on Route 66 in Barstow RPPC The Beacon Tavern and Hotel opened in 1930 and was six blocks east of the US Highway 66/91/466 junction. It was razed in 1970. The Beacon Bowl was built behind it in 1961 and it still operates today as Barstow Bowl.

Route 66 through Barstow RPPC A Richfield gasoline station advertises its presence on a steel tower at the edge of town.

Route 66 through Barstow RPPC Looking west on Main Street through Barstow in 1948. The Hotel Drumm is on the left and a Texaco station is on the right.

The Oasis Cafe in Barstow RPPC The Oasis Cafe and Desert Trading Post in West Bastow [sic]. (Even photographers can misspell.) The expanded cafe operates as the Costa Restaurant. The trading post was razed.

El Rancho on Route 66 in Barstow RPPC The El Rancho Motel is still open for business in downtown Barstow. The railroad ties used to build the motel units are almost hidden under a heavy coats of white paint.

Barstow grew to be a very important town to the Santa Fe Railroad. The enormous railroad shops provided much of the maintenance for the steam locomotives operating on the western portion of the Santa Fe's system. As diesel locomotives replaced steam locomotives and the Santa Fe Railroad consolidated their maintenance facilities in the 1960s, the shops at Barstow became the largest that the railroad had. But later-generation diesel locomotives required even less maintenance so most of the facilities that once existed in Barstow have been dismantled. The huge yard once visible from the US 91 bridge (North First Avenue) is essentially gone too.

US Highway 66 through Barstow was Main Street, always the commercial center for the city. I think that there have been more RPPCs of Main Street in Barstow than RPPCs of US Highway 66 in any other city. Burton Frasher was the most prolific photographer and printer of Barstow RPPCs but other photographers worked the town too. Photographers often duplicated the efforts of each other by sometimes standing on the exact same street corners. Many easterly RPPC views show Main Street running through Barstow with dark spots in the distant sky. No, these dark spots are not flaws in the photo negative or fractures in the photographic emulsion. These spots are really puffs of smoke from the Santa Fe steam locomotives as they entered or left the Barstow yard and are a subtle reminder of the history of steam railroad transportation in the twentieth century.

The El Rancho Motel is the most interesting of the many motels that line Main Street. The motel units were constructed from railroad ties from the failed Tidewater & Tonopah Railroad, which once ran from Ludlow north to Tonopah, Nevada. The big El Rancho sign is still supported by twin steel towers just like it was in the RPPC shown here.


Daggett was originally called Calico Junction. Silver was discovered in the Calico Mountains north of this settlement and borax followed. The town was re-named for John Daggett, the Lt. Governor of California at the time. Silver and borax and other minerals were hauled by the Calico Railroad down to the Santa Fe Railroad at Daggett. When the silver played out and the borax diminished around the turn of the century, so did Daggett. Most commerce then moved to Barstow.

The interesting Santa Fe / Union Pacific railroad junction in Daggett can easily be seen. From the National Trails Highway, which is old Route 66 of course, the traveler who turns north on Daggett-Yermo Road will immediately encounter a grade crossing of three tracks. The rail lines have already merged at this point. Looking east past an overhead steel signal bridge and several switches, one can see two Santa Fe tracks as they head out across the Mojave Desert where they substantially parallel Route 66 and two Union Pacific tracks as they curve sharply northeast toward Las Vegas.

Beyond the crossing the traveler can take Santa Fe Street to the east. On the north side of the street is the concrete-walled Desert Market which dates from early in the twentieth century and is still open for business today. Farther on the traveler passes a wooden general store and the Stone Hotel, two structures that date back to the 19th century. Finally on the south side of the street is the steel-clad, severely rusted and weathered building that has an extensive history as an engine house for an old narrow gauge mining railroad, a livery stable, a store, and finally in the 1960s as the Fouts Brothers Garage & Machine Shop.

Newberry Springs

Cliff House on Route 66 in Newberry RPPC The Cliff House provided overnight lodging along the south side of Route 66 when this RPPC was taken in 1933.
Cliff House on Route 66 in Newberry RPPC Here are the modest Cliff House cabins as they appeared in 1934.

Cabins in Newberry RPPC The wood-framed cabins on the shaded grounds of the Cliff House at Newberry.

The early settlement was called Newberry Spring by the Santa Fe Railroad. It was later just Newberry and now it is named Newberry Springs (plural).

Steam locomotives could not travel very far without requiring water at frequent intervals. Water tanks were added to many sidings across the Mojave Desert by the Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad found good water in a spring that flowed from the black rock Newberry Mountains and called the place Newberry Spring. "Good water" to a railroad meant water that had a low mineral content. In fact water can be and was found by the Santa Fe Railroad at many different locations along its main line in the Mojave Desert but the water more often than not would have too high a dissolved mineral content to be prudently usable in steam locomotive boilers. The resulting maintenance requirements for using this hard water would have been horribly expensive. Most of the water for the Mojave Desert water tanks was actually transported by tank car from one of the few locations, like Newberry Spring, where good water could be found.

East of town on old US Highway 66 is the well-known and well-photographed Whiting Brothers gasoline station which closed in 1968. A movie production company painted "Dry Creek Station" over the old signboard, a name they thought more appropriate for the film setting they envisioned. But even that lettering is almost indeterminable by now. The upper signboard has partially collapsed.

Mojave Water Camp / Poe's / Desert Oasis

Mojave Water Camp on Route 66 RPPC Mojave Water Camp 30 miles east of Barstow in 1939
Poe's Cafe and Gas Station on Route 66 RPPC Poe's Cafe and Shell gas station 30 miles east of Barstow in 1949

The Mojave Water Camp became Poe's which then became the Desert Oasis over a period several decades. This location was on the north side of Route 66. According to the Frasher archives this Mojave Water Camp RPPC dates from 1939. The Mojave Water Camp also appears on very early 1920s and 1930s AAA Strip Maps but it seems to be gone from AAA maps from after World War II. At some point, likely right after World War II, Mr. Poe acquired the Mojave Water Camp. The original main building with the canopy and fireplace on the west side seen here was replaced with a new gas station building that had a door on the east end and three windows toward the west. Then Mr. Poe built a modern cafe with a door in the center right and three windows, one to the east and two to the west. An early photograph that I have seen (not a RPPC so not shown here) shows these two new buildings lined up along the north side of Route 66 as well as the small cottage-like bulding with the two small windows seen at the far right (east) of the Mojave Water Camp RPPC. The gas station building was signed "Mojave Water Camp" and "Shell" and the new cafe building had the large square "Poe's Cafe" sign above the roof as seen in the Poe's RPPC. And Shell gasoline was the brand of gasoline dispensed at both the early Mojave Water Camp and the later Poe's complex. (Difficult to see in the Poe's RPPC are the glass Shell globes on top of the old-style gasoline pumps. Easier to make out is the Shell sign on the tall vertical pole beyond the cars. )

A motel was added to Poe's (I'm told it was really a series of cabins) on the south side of Route 66.

Desert Oasis Cafe on Route 66 RPPC Desert Oasis Cafe and Richfield Gasoline Service Station from the 1950s.

Mr. Poe sold his business and it was re-named the Desert Oasis. The Desert Oasis RPPC to the right has no automobiles to establish a specific date but the gasoline pumps seem to be from the 1950s. By this time Richfield gasoline was the brand dispensed. The window arrangement of the two buildings can be seen better in this Desert Oasis RPPC than in the Poe's RPPC. Also note that awnings have been added to the cafe windows to shield them from the hot desert sun. The Desert Oasis Cafe was listed in the 1968 Barstow City Directory as being 9 miles east of Newberry. My guess is that it closed soon thereafter when US Highway 66 was bypassed by the interstate.

On page 116 in Jack Rittenhouse's 1946 A Guide Book to Highway 66 he mentions that a traveler will find "the ground littered with semi-precious stones: agate and jasper predominating." I once saw a reference to "Poe's Agate" in a RPPC. Another interesting fact is on page 117 where Mr. Rittenhouse cites a "gas station, with café, few cabins, and garage" at a mileage point 33 miles east of Barstow. Then he cites a "similar, but lacking a garage" business that he places one mile closer to Barstow. One of these was likely this Mojave Water Camp / Poe's complex but what was the other business?

The Mojave Water Camp / Poe's / Desert Oasis is gone but the name lives on in the nearby Interstate 40 Desert Oasis Rest Stop. The old complex was east-southeast of this rest stop on old Highway 66 (National Trails Highway).


Ludlow on Route 66 RPPC The Murphy Chevron with the Shamrock Café in the distance. The automobiles place the postcard from about 1950.

Ludlow began like the other towns in the Mojave Desert as a railroad-oriented settlement with most buildings at the tracks a hundred yards or so south of present-day Ludlow and Route 66. It was named for William Ludlow, an employee of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. Two other smaller railroads used Ludlow as their terminals however. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad ran from Tonopah, Nevada, through the Death Valley area and south to Ludlow where it met the Santa Fe Railroad. It principally hauled borax. The Ludlow & Southern Railroad began at Ludlow and ran eight miles south to the Bagdad Chase Mine. It principally hauled gold ore. At Ludlow the minerals were transferred into Santa Fe railcars. As the gold ore played out and other methods were used to transport borax, the railroad settlement was abandoned and new traveler-oriented service buildings were built on Route 66, approximately 100 yards north of the railroad tracks. Early traveler services seem to be the expertise of the Murphy Brothers as I have seen old "white border" postcards of Ludlow that show the Murphy Brothers general store and hotel. The Murphy Brothers Garage was listed by AAA as the recommended service facility in a publication that precedes the numbered federal highway system.

Modern Ludlow is at the I-40 interchange and includes an operating gasoline station and a fast food restaurant on the north side and on the south side, where Route 66 was prior to the coming of the interstate, an operating gasoline station, the Ludlow Motel, and Ludlow Coffee Shop. There is also a closed gas station among these open businesses.

Up until recently one could drive the National Trails Highway to the east to see several other traveler-oriented building ruins along the north side of the road including the original Ludlow Cafe. The Ludlow Cafe burned in 2008 (locals told me that transients caused the fire) and it stood as a burned shell until 2015 when it was knocked down into a pile of rubble.


Siberia on Route 66 RPPC The Siberia store, Texaco gasoline service, and small garage at the right from 1939.

Siberia was another railroad settlement where steam locomotives could take on water. Most of the railroad structures were dismantled about the time US Highway 66 was commissioned but there was one gasoline station with an attached garage operational on the north side of Route 66 for many years. The foundations for this business shown in this RPPC remain today. There is even a rectangular hole in the ground within the foundation walls where there was likely a vehicle lift in the enclosed garage at the right of the building. The painted rocks that used to frame the driveway are still there but have been disturbed, albeit sometimes still wearing a bit of white paint.

[Siberia is tricky to find today. Unfortunately there are no mileposts along the highway but every old Route 66 bridge that crosses a wash has a number on it. The bridge numbers are sequential and increase as one travels east. All the bridge sign posts say A-10 on the top and then the bridge number is down the side. Siberia is on the north side of old 66 between bridges 40 on the west and 41 on the east. Bridge 40 crosses a major wash and is parallel to a large Santa Fe Railroad (now BNSF) deck bridge so you can not miss it. Unfortunately bridge 41 may not be marked for westbound drivers since the number sign was gone the last time I was there. It was marked for eastbound drivers though. In any case bridge 42 is marked for both directions so you should be able to figure things out. Here's the bottom line: use your automobile odometer and Siberia is 1.0 miles east of bridge 40 and 0.3 miles west of bridge 41. Now the important message: please respect these ruins, allow future Route 66 visitors and fans to view them, and please do not take stones or other items as souvenirs from the property.]


Bagdad on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert RPPC Bagdad Shell gasoline station, garage and cafe stretched out along US Highway 66 back in 1939.

Bagdad Cafe on Route 66 RPPC Bagdad Union 76 gasoline station, garage and cafe from the late 1940s

Bagdad was another desert settlement founded so steam locomotives could take on water but it grew beyond this. Back in the late 19th century Bagdad was a particularly important junction since it was located where wagon paths ran to the north to several gold mines and where a dirt road headed south along the Bristol Dry Lake, where silver and lead was mined, and beyond into the town of Twentynine Palms. Ore was brought to Bagdad so it could be loaded into railcars to be transported for further processing. By the early twentieth century Bagdad was the largest settlement between Barstow and Needles and included a depot, Harvey House hotel and restaurant, a school, post office, and numerous railroad structures and housing for the workers and their families. (The Harvey House, unlike most others, was apparently never staffed with "Harvey Girls" but rather men. To my knowledge the Fred Harvey Company/Santa Fe Railroad never promoted this House with a postcard.) But in time the nearby mines played out. Gypsum and salt began being mined east near Amboy and a road south from Amboy became the new main road to Twentynine Palms. The road south from Bagdad was abandoned. (There still exists a short north-south road in Twentynine Palms named the "Bagdad Highway". I'm not sure if that was the southern terminus of the old dirt road but possibly so.) With diesel locomotives replacing steam locomotives, railroad presence decreased and the Santa Fe began razing the buildings at Bagdad. But automobile traffic on Route 66, about 1000 feet south of the railroad settlement, was increasing and soon roadside businesses were established on the north side of Route 66. The Bagdad complex included a service station, a garage, café, and a motel. The motel was really six individual cabins. The second floor of the restaurant became a bunkhouse of sorts for truckers seeking rest or a shower. Bagdad was owned and operated by a series of people and families but the business abruptly ended with the completion of Interstate 40 across the desert in the early 1970s. Bagdad was razed by 1973. All that is left today is a single lonely salt cedar tree in the middle of a cleared area on the north side of Route 66.

The RPPC on the top right is listed in the Frasher archives to be from 1939. Shell gasoline is the brand sold. The Frasher RPPC on the bottom right is not listed in the archives but the postcard was dated 1948 by the person who had it. Union 76 gasoline was the brand sold then. (A later photo-chrome postcard shows Richfield gasoline as the brand sold.)


Approaching Amboy on Route 66 RPPC Route 66 approaches Amboy from the west. Bill's is on the left and Bender's is on the right.

Amboy was another desert settlement founded by the railroad where steam locomotives could replenish their water tenders. From this point east across the Mojave Desert the water stops for the Santa Fe Railroad were named in nearly alphabetical order: Amboy, Bristol (renamed three times as Bombay, Bengal, and finally Bolo), Cadiz, Danby, Edson (renamed Essex), Fenner, Goffs, Homer, Ibex (renamed Ibis), Klinefelter, Java, Khartoum (renamed Hartoum) and on to Needles. The inclusion of Klinefelter breaks the purity of the order. (I wonder if Klinefelter was added as a water stop later.) The Santa Fe squeezed in other named sidings between these water stops too but I was told that these were passing sidings only and water was not available but I am not absolutely sure about that.

The notable scenic landmark at Amboy is the 250-foot high Amboy Crater just southwest of town. The crater is dormant but there are a number of dark lava flows that cross the desert lands mostly in southerly or easterly directions.

Amboy gained population as the mining of gypsum and salt in the area increased. The dirt road south to Twentynine Palms saw increasing traffic and the competing road south from Bagdad was abandoned. Amboy also began to focus on vehicle traffic on new Route 66.

Bender's on Route 66 in Amboy RPPC Bender's had a gasoline station, cafe, and two rows of cabins on the west
Conn's on Route 66 in Amboy RPPC Constantinos Pulos bought the complex from the Bender brothers and renamed it "Conn's"

Conn's on Route 66 in Amboy RPPC Conn's One Stop Service advertised Air Conditioned "Comfort in the Desert"

Ben Benjamin built the first service station and café on the south side of Route 66 in the early 1930s. He soon added ten cabins in two rows along the highway west of the service station and café. Some cabins were occupied by his employees and some were available for travelers. At the beginning of World War II Benjamin sold the business to brothers Martin and Joe Bender and it became known as Bender's. The Bender brothers enlarged the main building to add a store and built residences for themselves behind it. When Amboy gained a post office it was located at Bender's. Standard (Chevron) was the gasoline brand sold. The brothers sold the business to Constantinos ("Conn") and Lillian Pulos in 1948 and it became known as "Conn's". Conn also became the Chevron gasoline distributor for the eastern Mojave Desert region of California. His gasoline distributorship and storage tanks were south of this Route 66 business and adjacent to the Santa Fe Railroad tracks where they could, of course, receive tank cars full of petroleum products. Unfortunately, a fire burned the main building of Conn's down in the early 1960s. Conn and Lillian, after having operated the business for more than a dozen years, left Amboy and Conn's was abandoned for a time. The business was eventually acquired by Luther Friend who re-built the station and cafe. The business continued until I-40 was completed across the desert in the early 1970s and two-lane Route 66 was bypassed. Another fire ravaged the buildings and those ruins and the surviving buildings were all demolished. The wide paved shoulder on the south side of the National Trails Highway in the middle of town is where the business was once located.

Bill's Texaco on Route 66 in Amboy RPPC Bill's Texaco gasoline station, cafe, and tourist cabins from 1948.

The second major business in Amboy was known as "Bill Lee's." Wey Yim Lee emigrated from China and built a small café on the north side of Route 66 in about 1935. He later expanded it to include a Texaco gasoline station and some cabins, some of which housed his employees and some of which were available for nightly rental. In the US Army during World War II, Wey Yim was called "William" by his fellow soldiers since that was an Americanized phonetic resemblance to his given name. So William was known as "Bill" when he returned to Amboy after the War. Bill operated his business until about 1955 when he sold it to Arvin Guinn, who ran the service station and garage but leased the café out, which was renamed the Amboy Café. Thereafter the service station and café went through several operators. A kitchen fire closed the café for good and the buildings were eventually acquired by the Kleins who operated the business from 1966 to 1973. Without sufficient traffic after I-40 opened, the complex was closed and soon razed. (The location of Bill Lee's business is just to the west of present-day Roy's.)

Roy's on Route 66 in Amboy RPPC The Roy's Garage/Cafe canopy has been rebuilt and a "Googie"-style motel office was added since this RPPC was taken.
Roy's Cafe on Route 66 in Amboy RPPC Roy's Cafe was very busy this day in 1949.

The third major business in Amboy and the last one built is its most enduring and most famous one, Roy's. Roy and Velma Crowl bought a small garage on the south side of US Highway 66 in 1938 but later purchased four acres on the north side of Route 66 just east of Bill Lee's and built a new service station and garage. Shell was the gasoline brand sold. The business was expanded near the end of the War to include a café and a few tourist cabins. Herman "Buster" Burris came out west, landed in Amboy and was hired by Roy to help run the business. Buster married Roy's daughter Betty and both couples ran the enterprise. The motel units in the back were added in the early 1950s. Roy and Velma retired in 1959 and Buster and Betty continued to run Roy's. They sold the place in 1965, apparently financing the sale themselves, and things were fine until I-40 was completed across the desert and business collapsed and the buyers could no longer make the payments. The Burrises took the business back and it was sold and re-possessed at least one more time. Albert Okura, founder of the Juan Pollo chain of restaurants, now owns the business and he has made some restoration efforts in the past several years. The gasoline station has been re-opened.

Cadiz and Chambless

Chambless Camp on Route 66 RPPC Chambless Camp was located on US Highway 66 at Cadiz Road. This very early RPPC shows a Red Crown gasoline sign and a windmill on the right. Chambless Camp later sold Mobil gasoline and, just before it closed in the 1970s, ARCO gasoline.

Chambless Camp on Route 66 RPPC Tourist cabins were added to Chambless Camp as business increased along 66. This is how the camp appeared during its heyday in 1949 with a large canopy.

Cadiz, named for the Spanish city of the same name but pronounced more like "KATE-ez" rather than the Spanish "KAW-deez", was a water and fuel stop for the Santa Fe Railroad. The Santa Fe later built the Parker Branch rail line toward Parker, Arizona, and the junction with their east-west main line was at Cadiz. Thus Cadiz became an important stop in the Mojave Desert for the Santa Fe. It had a depot, section house, and a number of other houses and boasted a population of 50 at one time. A post office was established within the depot itself. With the coming of diesel locomotives, though, there was no longer the need for water stops. The Santa Fe closed the Cadiz depot in 1967. Nothing is left of the original Cadiz settlement today.

The National Trails Highway ran about four miles north of Cadiz. James Chambless operated a store on the highway but when the highway, newly re-named US Highway 66, was re-aligned in about 1932 approximately one mile to the south where it is today, he re-established his store at the junction of the new US Highway 66 and the road south to Cadiz called, logically, Cadiz Road. As traffic increased James and Fannie Chambless added gasoline pumps, a café, and cabins. They called their enterprise "Chambless Camp" and in an early advertisement for Chambless Camp they listed their location as "Cadiz Junction" to distinguish it from Cadiz, the original railroad settlement three miles to the south. They operated Chambless Camp until 1944 when they sold it to William and Wilma Riddle who operated it for a while and passed it on to their son, Jack, who eventually sold it to Steve and Lorraine Stephens in 1965. At some time around World War II the location once called "Cadiz Junction" became known as "Chambless". It is Chambless that appears on nearly all the highway maps that I have seen published since 1950.

When the Santa Fe Railroad closed their Cadiz depot in 1967 the post office was moved north to US Highway 66 in Chambless. Because the post office name of Cadiz and its zip code were preserved from the long-established location at the railroad depot, there has been some confusion ever since about whether to call this Route 66 settlement Chambless or Cadiz since the "Cadiz" post office was located in "Chambless". But today the consensus is "Chambless" particularly since the post office was shut down in 1995 (although the building still stands). Today the main building and cabins of Chambless Camp are in ruins, the canopy is gone, and the roof elements substantially damaged. There are several more modern occupied residential buildings on the north side of old Route 66 in this area.

(The Whiting Brothers built a gasoline station just to the west of Chambless Camp and on the south side of Route 66 but even they ambiguously referred to the location as "Cadiz". See the picture of a Whiting Brothers "Courtesy Card").

Cadiz Summit on Route 66 RPPC Cadiz Summit consisted of store, cafe, gasoline station and garage back in 1948. The main center white building was moved from Goffs. A string of lights crossed Highway 66 to draw motorists' attention to the business.

The other important part of the Cadiz/Chambless story is the roadside business three miles east of Chambless which has been known as "Cadiz Summit". (Jack Rittenhouse's 1946 A Guide Book to Highway 66 referred to this location simply as "Summit".) Tom Morgan believed that where the new US Highway 66 crested and cut through the Marble Mountains would make an ideal spot for a business catering to the traveler of the day. In 1928 he moved his family out from Amboy and built a small café, gas station, residence and several guest cabins and an outhouse on the north side of the road. A garage was eventually added on the south side of the road. Tom ran the business for about six years. It was eventually acquired by George Tienken and his family in 1936 and they ran it until 1942. The Tienkens made many improvements and even dismantled an unused store in Goffs and re-assembled it at the site to expand traveler services and add some more comfort to their living situation. (It is possible that this building from Goffs became unused and available after that town was bypassed for a more direct route between Essex and Needles in 1931.) A new garage on the north side of Route 66 was built and the original one on the south side was dismantled. By the time that the Tienkens sold Cadiz Summit the primitive cabins were no longer rented to others. Clint Hunt and his family ran Cadiz Summit in the immediate post-War years and Jim and Mae Flannagan ran it from 1949 to 1961. There was a big fire about 1960 and several of the buildings were destroyed. Food service never returned and the emphasis from that point on was in gasoline sales and garage work. For a couple of years Cadiz Summit was actually abandoned. Dick and Nadine Cruse operated the property from the mid-sixties until it finally closed for good in the early 1970s when I-40 was completed and old Route 66 across the Mojave Desert was completely bypassed.

The gasoline station sold Texaco branded gas when Tom Morgan ran Cadiz Summit. Later it became a Standard Oil station and finally a Mobil gasoline station.


Wayside Camp on Route 66 in Essex RPPC Wayside Camp from 1932

Woods Gasoline Station on Route 66 in Essex RPPC Woods gasoline station in Essex

Originally named Edson and renamed Essex in 1906, Essex, like most of the small named settlements across the Mojave Desert, was the name of a siding with a water tank on the Santa Fe Railroad. During the last few decades of commissioned Route 66 Essex was known as the turn-off to the Mitchell Caverns. Whether traveler services were established at this location because there was an existing road to the Mitchell Caverns, or a road was built to Mitchell Caverns because Essex existed, I do not know. Mitchell Caverns, the only known limestone caverns in California, are located in the Providence Mountains State Recreational Area northwest of Essex.

Traveler service became the principal business in Essex and soon it was the biggest stop between Amboy and Needles. Wayside Camp was the largest traveler-oriented business in Essex. As can be seen from the RPPC on the right, the Wayside had gasoline service, a garage, a grocery store, a café, and in the distance cabins for overnight guests. However other gasoline stations and at least one more café lined the highway too. The story is familiar by now: business in Essex collapsed when Interstate 40 was completed north of the town. The main Wayside building is abandoned and all of the other businesses are closed and most old structures have been razed. Today just the post office is open. The State of California built a modern highway maintenance station on the north side of old Route 66 after I-40 was completed.

Originally the road through Fenner and Goffs that followed the Santa Fe Railroad was designated US Highway 66 but this alignment was active only during the first five years the highway. Route 66 took on a new alignment way back in 1931 for a more direct alignment away from the railroad tracks that today is pretty much overlaid by Interstate 40 between Mountain Springs Road east of Essex almost all the way to Needles.

Mountain Springs and South Passes

Mountain Springs Auto Camp on Route 66 RPPC The Mountain Springs Auto Camp in 1939.

When Route 66 was re-aligned away from Fenner and Goffs for the more direct route between Essex and Needles, there were two major desert passes that had to be negotiated. Mountain Springs Pass is 15 miles east of Essex and once was the site of the Mountain Springs Auto Camp. 10 miles later, after a bit of a descent and another ascent, South Pass is reached signaling the beginning of the long descent into Needles on the Colorado River. Jack Rittenhouse's 1946 A Guide Book to Highway 66 indicates that there was a gasoline station at South Pass too. Both desert passes are about 2700 feet high in elevation, higher than Essex which is 1700 feet high and much higher than Needles which is only 500 feet high.


Front Street Needles RPPC Front Street in Needles was the early alignment of US Highway 66. The El Garces can be seen in the distance on the right. This RPPC is from 1940.

Broadway in Needles RPPC Broadway, one block south of Front, was the later alignment through downtown Needles. This RPPC is from 1940.

C & A Chevron Needles RPPC The C & A Chevron station is the old Carty's Camp station. It also sold groceries back in 1940s. Closed in 1969, the building is abandoned today on East Broadway just east of the 66 Motel.

Robinson's Motor Inn in Needles RPPC Robinson's Motor Inn was one-half block south of Broadway in Needles.

Needles was named for the jagged rock formation south of town on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. The settlement was a major construction site for both the Southern Pacific Railroad, which ran tracks from what is now the town of Mojave east, and the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad which ran tracks from Albuquerque west and actually crossed the Colorado River. Passengers and freight were exchanged between the two railroads at Needles. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad absorbed the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad and they also acquired the Southern Pacific tracks across the desert. Needles became important water and fuel stop and steam locomotive maintenance facility for the Santa Fe Railroad where there was a large turntable and a 14-stall roundhouse. An early passenger station was eventually replaced by the El Garces Harvey House that stands today.

US Highway 66 entered Needles from the west, jogged south, crossed the Santa Fe Railroad tracks and early on came into downtown Needles on Front Street which bordered the El Garces Hotel. Later US Highway 66 was moved from Front Street one block south to Broadway, where it existed through the post-War years.

For many small and medium-sized towns bypassed by I-40 in the West there is an exit at each end of the town and I-40 bends around the nucleus of the town leaving old Route 66 to pass through the town on its last alignment relatively undisturbed. (Optionally one or more additional exits between the first and last exits from I-40 may also lead into town somewhat perpendicular to old Route 66.) But that is not the case for Needles where Route 66 has been chopped up. US Highway 66 leaves I-40 well west of town (River Road exit) and runs north but then crosses I-40 and briefly runs on the south side. It then goes underneath I-40 back to the north side and the developed part of town. A new railroad overpass (US Highway 66 used to cross the Santa Fe Railroad tracks at grade) disturbs this alignment too and the railway overpass itself is squeezed by I-40 again. Finally old US Highway 66 reaches Broadway for a straight run through downtown Needles and on to where the eastern-most interchange with I-40 awaits.

Street names and addresses have changed on the western side of Needles and this can make research difficult. When US Highway 66 arrived at the western edge of Needles it came in on Arch Street and then it jogged south on N Street, crossed the railroad tracks and then turned east onto Front Street (later on Broadway). In about 1973 the City of Needles renamed their streets on the western side of town and changed the street address numbers of the businesses and residences in the vicinity as well. Both Arch Street and N Street were renamed Broadway where they carried US Highway 66. That permitted a driver to stay on Broadway all the way through Needles on Route 66, albeit Broadway did change direction twice along the way which was weird. Simultaneously the street addresses changed radically. Formerly the old motels on Arch Street had street numbers in the 400-1000 range. After this change the same motels, then with Broadway addresses, had street numbers about 1300 higher (e.g., the River Valley Motor Lodge was at 429 Arch Street and was then at 1707 West Broadway; the TraveLodge was at 600 Arch St. and was then at 1900 West Broadway). Street addresses in downtown and east Needles were unaffected.

Then in about 1977 the City of Needles changed things again. Broadway was limited to its original east-west alignment in downtown Needles and the name of N Street was restored to the north-south segment of old US Highway 66. (Actually US Highway 66 was decommissioned through downtown Needles by this time.) Old US Highway 66 at the western edge of the city, originally Arch Street, was renamed the Needles Highway which is what it is today. The Needles Highway name is carried north out of City of Needles to become the roadway along the western slope of the Colorado River and it goes all the way to Laughlin, Nevada. Numbered street addresses along this Needles Highway did not change a second time with this renaming. (The River Valley Motor Lodge is at 1707 Needles Highway today; the TraveLodge is today operating as the Best Motel at 1900 Needles Highway).

The three most notable tourist courts in Needles are/were at the far eastern edge of Needles: Carty's Camp, the Palms Motel, and the 66 Motel. The few remaining buildings of Carty's Camp are abandoned and closed up with corrugated steel panels on the southwest side of Broadway (look next to the home at 213 East Broadway). The photogenic Palms Motel is tucked between Broadway and Front Street, both Route 66 alignments at different times, and is across the street from the iconic Needles borax wagon. The Palms Motel consists of a main building and a couple of comparable sized buildings and half dozen small individual cabins. It had a try as a bed-and-breakfast inn called the Old Trails Inn in the middle and late 1990s but it has returned to long-term rentals. (The cross street is Palm Avenue. Was the Palms Motel named for Palm Avenue or vice-versa?) With its picture-perfect sign, the 66 Motel, on Desnok Street just footsteps away from East Broadway, has been for long term rentals for at least two decades now.

One favorite yet overlooked old lodging complex is Robinson's Motor Inn, once called Robinson's Motel, and now called Robinson's Apartments, at 222 F Street. Although never quite on Route 66 proper, it was always associated with the old road and is just one half-block south of Broadway at 3rd Street. It looks much the same today as it did in the 1941 Frasher RPPC shown here. There has been a "For Sale" sign on the property for years but I guess no one wants to buy it.

It is curious to me that Robinson's was not mentioned on page 113 of Jack Rittenhouse's 1946 A Guide Book to Highway 66 since this Frasher RPPC affirms that it was in business by that time.

One old motel that is mentioned in Jack Rittenhouse's book was Swain's, which was located on Broadway. It became the El Vee Motel in the mid-sixties and then the Budget 1 Motel in the mid-eighties but has since been razed. Its location at Broadway and B Street is an empty lot today.

The Bridges Across the Colorado River

Colorado River Bridges RPPC Both the Santa Fe Railroad bridge and the US Highway 66 Arch Bridge are shown back in 1936.

Colorado River Route 66 Arch Bridge RPPC The first Route 66 Arch Bridge over the Colorado River

The first bridge to cross the Colorado River was built by the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad near the town of Needles in 1883. Of course during this time the Colorado River was untamed and unregulated by the many dams that exist today so river flows were much more seasonally variable. High water swept the railroad bridge away within a year and bridges built later in that decade eventually met the same fate. The idea of spanning the Colorado River near Needles was abandoned in favor of a superior location 10 miles to the south. A new railroad bridge was built in 1890 near the present location of the highway and railroad bridges. The Santa Fe Railroad used this single-track cantilever bridge, later known as the Red Rock Bridge, for 55 more years.

Travelers on horse back or motorized vehicles crossed the Colorado River by primitive ferry until the majestic Old Trails Arch Bridge was completed in 1916 just downstream of the railroad bridge. The National Trails Highway became US Highway 66 in 1926. The Arch Bridge, with a weight limit of 11 tons, could only accomodate one-way traffic when heavy vehicles like trucks or busses wanted to cross. The weight constraint was particulary frustrating for motorized military equipment during World War II. Nevertheless, together these two bridges served railroad and vehicular traffic until 1945 when the Santa Fe Railroad, as part of their project to double-track the far western main line of their system to accommodate increasing rail traffic, replaced the single track Red Rock Bridge with a new bridge about 500 feet upstream that was wide enough and strong enough to accommodate two parallel railroad tracks and the weight of their trains. This railroad bridge is the one that is in operation today. The Santa Fe Railroad donated the Red Rock Bridge to the States of California and Arizona. These states converted it two years later to become a replacement US Highway 66 bridge. The modern 4-lane Interstate 40 bridge was built in the mid-sixties which led to the abandonment of the Red Rock Bridge and its destruction in about 1970. The early arch bridge is used today to support a natural gas pipeline across the Colorado River. All three bridges can be seen during the opening credits of the 1969 movie Easy Rider.