June 2, 2010 by Rob Hurlbut
Amboy, CA & Roy’s Cafe
Just north of Joshua Tree National Park, situated along Historic Route 66 is the town of Amboy, which consists of Roy’s Cafe and a decaying, 60 year old church. As you head north out of Joshua Tree, you will travel through Bristol Dry Lake to get to Amboy, where you can gas up and have a meal at Roy’s Cafe.
Roy’s Cafe has been an institution in Amboy and Historic Route 66 since 1938, eventually serving travelers with food, a place to fix and/or gas up as well as stay the night. At the height of travel along Route 66, Roy’s employed 70 people. That all changed in 1972 when I-40 opened up to the north, which meant that Amboy would lose all the transcontinental traffic that made it into a boom town in the years after WWII. I-40 completely bypassed Amboy and Roy’s Cafe, so the area became a ghost town and fell into disrepair. As a visitor during Memorial Day weekend in 2010, it is hard to believe that 70 employees were needed to run the place because I saw less than a dozen travelers the entire time I was there. It is sad to think that 30 years ago, with the stroke of a pen on a map, Route 66 and the town of Amboy became relics of the past, and I-40 became the corridor of the future.
Barstow, which lies to the west along I-40 boomed, while Amboy and Roy’s Cafe, along the instantly forgotten Route 66 were stripped of their status as a way point for travelers and were reduced to a point of curiosity that people only see if they specifically mean to go there.
At the intersection of Amboy Road and Route 66 were some roadside vendors selling fresh jerky and cherries. The jerky vendor advertised a website: www.freshjerky.com that I explored and found that they have a two California retail locations: One in Olancha and another in Needles, as well as a location in Golden Valley, AZ. My cousin purchased a bag of jerky from this “retail outlet” of Gus’s Really Good Fresh Jerky and it was in fact really good and really fresh. The photo of Amboy Crater above as well as the top photo in this post were taken from the vantage of this roadside vendor.
Approaching Bristol Dry Lake, Amboy Crater & Roy’s Cafe
The silent movie above shows just how timeless a journey through the desert can be. When you drive through a dry lake on the fringes of the Mojave desert, it is easy to forget what planet you are on, but it’s even easier to forget what year you are in. The grainy, jumpy video above might be 50 years or 50 days old. We just don’t know for sure.
Desert towns rely on a steady traffic flow of desert travelers for their economy to flourish. In 1972, when I-40 opened and bypassed the town of Amboy, the town went belly-up, and became a novelty destination, which does not encompass enough people to be sustainable for small desert town situated along a now defunct Route 66.
Historic Route 66 Shoe Tree
After a nice meal at Roy’s Cafe, head east on Route 66 and you will see history rewind before your very eyes. So many people over so many years have passed through here that even roadside garbage has a story to tell.
Immortalized On Historic Route 66
As you leave Amboy and head east on Route 66, you will notice the shoulder on the north side of the road contains the names of countless travelers, hand-printed with stones for miles and miles. It is difficult to say when this impromptu tradition started, but I think it must go back to the 1920’s. With that in mind, I decided to add my name, with dozens of carefully selected and positioned stones to the roster. Take the time to do the same and who knows what you’ll find in the process. For example, I planned on arranging my name with stones, snapping a picture and leaving. Who would have known that a .38 snub nose revolver and a beer can, so old that it was made out of steel would make an appearance? Either way, Historic Route 66 is American heritage, so on your next road trip, you really should veer off of our interstate highway system and detour along the original cross-country highway… Historic Route 66.