Come Along on a Desert Road Trip
There’s a great song from the 1970s called “A Horse With No Name” by America. To me, it’s the perfect tune for road trips in the western United States, particularly those that take you through the wide open spaces of the desert. Some of the lyrics really capture a desert road trip for me, such as:
“The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz,
And the sky with no clouds.
The heat was hot and the ground was dry,
But the air was full of sound.”
(From “A Horse With No Name”, America)
Love those lyrics! So with “A Horse With No Name” and other favorites loaded on my iPod, I took off on a short solo road trip to Phoenix, Arizona.
You can listen to the song while joining me on my road trip by clicking on the link.
After exiting Interstate 40 to get gas in Ludlow, I decided to take a detour on Historic Route 66 (nicknamed “The Mother Road” as it was called in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath). It used to be the main cross-country highway from Los Angeles to Chicago. Today, most people stay on the interstate highway, but old Route 66 is still a unique road trip experience for some and a nostalgic journey for those of us who traveled on it when we were young. Some of the loneliest stretches of the famous route are through the Mojave Desert in Southern California.
For the first few miles out of Ludlow, the road runs parallel to the highway, but then heads southeast further into the desert for about 25 miles. The pavement also becomes progressively rougher with potholes. But what I noticed most was the feeling of being totally alone. I had the road to myself that morning. Although temperatures can be scorching in the summer, now the warm air was invigorating as I drove with the windows down. I kept the radio off and enjoyed the solitude. There was no cell phone coverage most of the time I was on Route 66, adding to the sense of adventure.
These boarded up shacks are on the outskirts of Amboy, a town with zero population about a half hour’s drive from Ludlow. The town was sold by owner Bessie Burris in 2005 for $425,000 to restaurant chain owner, Albert Okura, who plans on restoring the town in 1950s style. Okura runs a website that describes Amboy as “The ghost town that ain’t dead yet.”
Roy’s Cafe stands as a symbol of the boom days of Amboy when it was a popular stop for travelers after hours of driving through the desert with no available services. After years of being closed, Roy’s gas station is now operating again and there are plans to re-open the cafe. The only other business in town is a small post office.
At Kelbaker Road I had to make a decision about staying on Route 66 or going back up 17 miles to the main highway to head to Needles, California. Given more time, I would have taken the old route just as we did when I was a kid and it was the main road, but it was still a pleasant and quiet drive up to I-40, encountering only one vehicle the whole way. Before getting on the highway, I stopped to look back at the road I just traveled and take in the scenery.
Founded in 1883 as the railroad came through the west, Needles, California on the Colorado River has long been a welcome sight for travelers through the hot and dusty desert looking for food, lodging and services. Needles is sometimes in the news for setting national record high temperatures. It was here that I turned south down U.S. Highway 95 on what was a scenic and memory-filled highlight of the trip.
I loved riding on this wavy part of the road. I took this route with my dad a few times in recent years when we went to visit family in Phoenix. On one of those trips, the desert flowers were in full bloom creating bursts of gorgeous colors against the cactus, sagebrush and earth. At this time of year, the rugged landscape is still stunning in its vastness and desolation.
At Vidal Junction, I turned on California Highway 62 and headed east across the border into Arizona on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Although there was some traffic on this road and Arizona State Highway 95 as far as Parker, Arizona, it was easy to feel the satisfying sense of taking the road less traveled.
At Arizona State Highway 72, I turned toward Bouse to Vicksburg instead of continuing on the recommended and faster route toward Quartzite. In past trips, my dad and I continued even further through remote territory on roads where cattle crossings are frequent and other vehicles are rare.
But reliving that part of the road trip experience will have to wait for another time. From Vicksburg, I made my way south to Interstate 10 to travel the last 100 miles into Phoenix.
“You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,
It felt good to be out of the rain.
In the desert you can remember your name,
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”
(From “A Horse With No Name”, America)