Wednesday, September 6, 1999...

Greetings from scenic Vacaville, California, former home of the Nut Tree. Today marked the transitional point of the trip: the halfway mark, and a reversal of direction. I'm now headed east on former US 40.

Began the day with a dash across the Mojave Desert from Needles to Barstow, California. In the Mojave, 120 is both the mileage between these towns and a common summertime high temperature. For nearly the entire distance, Route 66 runs near but not on the Interstate, following the National Old Trails Road.

66 Motel, Needles, CA [The National Old Trails Road was one of the first transcontinental "highways," its route proclaimed in about 1914. It ran from Washington to Los Angeles via, as the name suggests, a series of historic old trails: the National Road to central Illinois, the Santa Fe Trail farther west, and ultimately a wagon road into southern California. From Maryland to Illinois, the National Old Trails Road became US 40; from New Mexico west, it was largely Route 66.]

Route 66 landmarks in the Mojave include Roy's Motel in Amboy, which is featured in a current TV commercial (can't remember which); the "Bagdad Cafe," where the 1980s film was shot (which isn't in Bagdad, but some 30 miles away in Newberry Springs), and the Amboy Crater, the cone of a (presumably) dead volcano which once spewed black, rock-hard lava across the already- desolate landscape.

The Route returns to civilization, of a sort, in Barstow. Best known as the only decent stopping place between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Barstow caters to travelers to such an extent that the only local radio station dubs itself "the highway station" and nearly all its ads are aimed at those passing through en route to Nevada. Barstow Station, at the junction of I-40, I-15 and Route 66, offers one of the most complete selections of tourist junk anywhere.

Although Route 66 ends in Santa Monica, there was no way I was to drive the entire 65-mile length of the Los Angeles basin, on local streets, on a weekday afternoon. The only issue was when I'd give up and head north. Ultimately I decided that since 66 is the "Will Rogers Highway," with Rogers' ranch just a few miles north of its terminus, the best possible substitute was the Roy Rogers museum in Victorville.

Roy's a poor substitute for Will, though. Will Rogers was an authentic Westerner who first attracted attention for his astonishing rope tricks, then used his wit and common sense to become one of the best-loved Americans of his generation. Roy Rogers (born Leonard Slye in Cincinnati) began as a singer, then stepped effortlessly into near-identical roles as the hero of dozens of Grade B westerns, earning his reputation by personifying a cliche created by others. (And Will never lent his name to a chain of mediocre fast-food restaurants, either.)

The Roy Rogers/Dale Evans Museum displays everything Rogers-related anyone could ever want to see, up to and including the stuffed bodies of Roy's horse Trigger, Dale's horse Buttermilk and their dog Bullet. Another highlight: their custom 1960s Cadillac with six-shooters mounted atop the fenders. Many displays are accompanied by gruesome poetry written by their fans.

From here I turned north to Palmdale, northwest to Bakersfield, over to I-5 and up past the Bay Area. With the San Francisco Giants visiting the Mets, this deadly dull drive was enlivened by the same game I'd have been watching at home. (Have I commented lately on the worthlessness of Met shortstop Rey Ordonez? "Ordonez" is Spanish for "inept hitter who mistakenly, and smugly, believes he's God's gift to defense.")

Tomorrow I follow old Route 40 all the way to Salt Lake City. Between Sacramento and Reno, 40 overlaps the Lincoln Highway; from Reno through Salt Lake City, old 40 survives as frontage roads and business loops off I-80. Later...

Go to the next day


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