The Heat Was Hot: My Desert Road Trip

Come Along on a Desert Road Trip

"Morning on a Desert Road Trip Through the Mojave"

Mojave Desert

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.

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.

Route 66, 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.

Amboy, California

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.”

Amboy, California

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.

Kelbaker Road

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.

Needles, California

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.

U.S. Highway 95

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.

Highway 95

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.

Vicksburg, Arizona

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)

Interstate 10 into Phoenix

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53 thoughts on “The Heat Was Hot: My Desert Road Trip

  1. Turkey's For Life

    I love that song too. No wonder you were enjoying the solitude – a great set of photos showing the vastness of the area. Beautiful. My dad is now in love with the US after travelling from Chicago to LA recently. He’s booked a trip for next year to New Orleans. 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks, Julia — I really did enjoy the solitude. So glad that your dad is enjoying the USA — there are a lot of great road trips to take here.

  2. inka

    I could look at these pictures forever. I am so into desert, heat desolation and, to quote Orhan Pamuk: a compelling beauty in decay. I so enjoyed this post.

  3. Leigh

    Love the song. Love the pictures & love the blog.

    I’ve been thinking of doing a similar trip in February when its freezing in Calgary. Hit the road, head south towards Phoenix where my father lives, meet my husband for a few days & then explore all the backroads I’ve always wondered about + I’d love to visit Antelope Canyon. Have you been there yet?

    Sounds like you thoroughly enjoyed your own company on this one.

    1. Cathy Post author

      THANK YOU! Sounds like you’ve got some great ideas for a road trip coming up! I’ve been to Antelope Canyon, but it was many years ago. That would be an awesome trip — lots of good hiking, I think!

  4. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    When I’m freezing I always threaten to move to the desert… and when it’s too hot I always threaten to move to Canada. 😛 There’s something so peaceful and serene about deserts, though, and I think you captured that really well in this post. Deserts are captivating, if too dang hot. 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      I really love the desert, even when it’s hot (maybe not super-hot, though). I’m so glad that you liked the post. Thank you for the kind words!

  5. Grace

    What a delightful road trip. I haven’t been through this road but it looks interesting. I didn’t know you can buy a ghost town here!!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Isn’t that something about the guy buying the town? I remember hearing that it was for sale back then. I wished I had a lot of money & could buy it since it’s nostalgic for me — but then I wouldn’t know what to do with it!

    1. Cathy Post author

      How cool to drive it at night, Christy. Alone, I don’t think I’d drive it at night, but enjoyed it when I was with my dad or husband.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Hey, Ruth — glad you got some ideas from the post! I’ll look forward to reading about what you do at the end of the year.

    1. Cathy Post author

      So glad that you like the post title (so did I)! I actually didn’t use the air conditioning much at all. It wasn’t super-hot like in the summer and I loved having the warm air blowing through the open windows.

  6. Sophie

    That’s such a cool song, isn’t it….
    Ages ago, I drove from California to Oklahoma, much of it through desert landscapes. So interesting the deserts of southern USA, very different from those of the Middle East and Africa.

    1. Cathy Post author

      That’s been one of my favorite songs forever! Deserts of all types are fascinating to me. Would love to see those in the Middle East and Africa someday.

  7. jamie - cloud people adventures

    “the ghost town that aint dead yet” – i like that.
    im really looking forward to taking an iconic us road-trip through the desert – just like in the movies.

    1. Cathy Post author

      That is a cool quote, isn’t it? Have a great time when you take your desert road trip. Since you mentioned the movies, several films have been shot there, I believe.

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  12. eileen ludwig

    I think I was here before but this time, played the music which lasted through my reading and looking at your pictures. Felt like I was there with you.

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  18. Andrew

    Love those expansive views, Cathy. What a trip that must have been. And as I said on Facebook, the vegetation and mountain backdrops in the road scenes do look a lot like Chile.

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