Friday, July 29, 2016

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66 - Part 3, the Mohave Desert

Dear readers, this is Part 3 of our trip on the Mother Road. Head east from Barstow, California, and you really get into desert terrain. I was there in April, and the weather was gorgeous - brilliant clear sky and daytime temperature of about 25° C or 75° F. Just fantastic. But summer can often have midday temperatures above 110° F, so be warned.
Daggett is about 10 miles east of Barstow on the National Trails Highway. Although it is just off of I-40, the town has a sleepy feeling of time forgotten. The Desert Market was there to serve Route 66 travelers decades ago. The 1890 building still serves as a convenience store.
Some of the local gents were imbibing early morning. They were thrilled to talk about Route 66 and tell me about sights to check out.
The Stone Hotel was in business at the beginning of the 20th century during the borax boom. It is an example of the type of accommodations that were available a century ago for travelers crossing the desert. Borax is an evaporate (mined from nearby dry lakes) that has many industrial uses in detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. According to the Route 66 Adventure Handbook, John Muir frequented the Stone.
This is the odd house with a ski chalet roof. It opened in 1926 as a visitors' center and gasoline station, the same year that Route 66 was formally designated.
Head east out of Daggett, and you are really in the desert. The National Trails Highway follows close to I-40, then swings south away from 40 at Ludlow. There is not much 66 memorabilia until you reach Amboy.
Roy's Motel & Cafe is an iconic piece of 1950s Route 66 architecture, and the sign is famous.
The lobby has been preserved right out of the 1950s, complete with an entertainment center. The Adventure Handbook said new owners were planning to revive the site, but I did not see any guests. I was hoping to take some film photographs with my big Fuji GW690II camera, but the shutter locked up right in the porch at Roy's. So, no film this trip.
It does not get much stranger than this. A couple miles east of Amboy, in dry dusty desert, I saw two gorgeous marble dragons. It looks like a subdivision had been laid out, and possibly the dragons (lions?) were intended to guard the entrance. A gated community in the desert? With no water? And the residents would commute to???

I took a diversion to Palm Springs before driving to Amboy. Palm Springs is pretty funky; the people are friendly, the setting spectacular, and the restaurants excellent. And if you are really rich, there is some amazing high-end property you could buy (Russian billionaires have homes here). Not too far south of Palm Springs is the Salton Sea, which is worth a visit if you want to see what environmental degradation on a grand scale looks like. Please click the links to see Bombay BeachBombay Beach in black and white, and Salton City (non-city).

We will continue east on Route 66 in the next installment. Please stay tuned.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66 - Part 2, Central California

We continue our tour on the Mother Road, Route 66. Once you leave the Los Angeles valley and rise out of Cayon Pass on Interstate 15, you are in the Mojave Desert. The towns along I-15 still have the ubiquitous California urban sprawl, but there is undeveloped desert between them.
Route 66 is also known as the National Trails Highway in central California. About 15 miles from Cajon Pass, the National Trails Highway diverges north away from I-15 at Victorville. Drive north a few miles and you reach Oro Grande. There is not much to downtown Oro Grande other than an old-fashioned business block, but it contained an active restaurant and a couple of gift shops.
Salvaged & Tattered, at 19248 National Trails Highway, was open. Songs by Edith Piaf emerged from the door - what, Piaf in the desert of California? Interesting place; the charming proprietor graciously let me take a photograph in her store. She said many Europeans stopped at the store, and a surprising number did the trip both directions. They rented a car in Chicago, drove to Santa Monica, and then turned around and drove back on 66. She said she had also met Europeans who bought a high-horsepower American muscle car, did the 66 trip both directions, and then shipped their car home as a used car. Some people do interesting things....
Just north of Oro Grande, I passed a field with some old cars. By chance, a fellow was at the gate waiting for someone to let him in. The lady who came to the gate said I was welcome to photograph this handsome Hudson Statesman Custom. Her uncle or dad(?) was restoring it - one day. They really made massive cars in the 1940s.
A few miles further northeast, near Lenwood, I came across the abandoned Dunes Motel, at 23135 Main Street. The palms really needed pruning. Many odd birds lived in the foliage. I watched for snakes because I was wearing sandals.
I doubt anyone will ever use the Dunes again. Possibly it had been modified to serve as apartment units.

The National Trails Highway turns east, running north of I-15. We enter Barstow, which was a major mining and transportation center starting in the 1800s. It was on the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe as well as the Mormon Road from Salt Lake City. Barstow became a major rail center for the Santa Fe railroad as well as a stopover for Route 66 travelers.
And who could resist stopping at the famous ElRancho Motel? The signs tell you how far it is to various popular cities, including Cairo and Jerusalem (Route 66 goes that far?). A tenant who spoke to me emphasized that Marilyn Monroe stayed there.
Downtown Barstow is rather uninspiring, despite many attempts to link contemporary stores with Route 66.
The Route 66 Mother Road Museum is located in the historic Barstow Harvey House hotel. The hotel has been restored and is used for formal events and graduations. The National Park Service has a description of the Harvey House and other sites along Route 66. Amtrak's Southwest Chief train stops here. My daughter took the Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles many years ago but may have slept through Barstow.
The Western America Railroad Museum is next to the depot. Unfortunately, you can't go into the locomotives, but there is still plenty to see.

We will continue our Mother Road expedition in future updates. Please stay tuned and thanks for reading. These photographs are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera with the in-camera monochrome setting. I used a polarizing filter on many exposures to emphasize the dark sky.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66 - Part I, Los Angeles Area


Dear Readers, this is the first of a series of articles on Route 66, also known as the Mother Road. This was not the first paved road across America, but when it officially opened on November 11, 1926, it consolidated numerous existing highways into one identifiable path extending from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles (and later, Santa Monica), California. During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, mobile and post-war-wealthy families, dreamers, and wanderers explored the route, supporting thousands of restaurants, motels, gas stations, and roadside attractions through eight states and 2,400 miles of "Main Street of America." Most guidebooks start the journey in Chicago and describe the trip heading westward. But I drove Route 66 eastward from Los Angeles as far as Albuquerque, so I will organize these posts in a series of stages moving from west to east.

Recommended reading:  Route 66 Adventure Handbook by Drew Knowles (Santa Monica Press).
GPS waypoints: GPS waypoint files are available at You can load them into your Garmin device and it will display a heart-shaped icon when you approach a historical Route 66 feature.
Legends of America has a lot of good online information and a state-by-state guide.

Ron Maskell, an Australian, did an amazing bicycle ride on most of Route 66 in 2012. His blog is a readable resource with excellent photography, and he has interesting observations about Americans from from a non-US viewpoint. Some quotes from his summary page were sobering:
Route 66 does not run through the pretty parts of America. 
The roads between the towns often went through areas of severe rural poverty, lonely country, desolate country and towns that were either deprived, were looking extinction in the face or have died already.
Of the survivors, the older neighbourhoods were run-down and neglected, some almost derelict. Along the interstates, which are the scrub ticks draining the life from these towns, motel, Wal-Mart and service station development seems poorly planned and opportunistic. My impression was that the lack of government or official support is killing off Route 66. Many businesses are either struggling or closed down. 
A 2009 article in Smithsonian (March 2009, Volume 39, No. 12) titled 10 Must-See Endangered Cultural Treasures, included Route 66 as one of these treasures.

The Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, administered by the National Park Service, is attempting to restore and preserve many of the cultural artifacts. "It's a tremendous cross section of American history along those 2,400 miles," says Barthuli (program administrator). "If we lose those stories, we're really losing a sense of ourselves."

Los Angeles Area, California

Route 66 once extended into downtown Los Angeles via Figueroa Street and, in later years, continued to Santa Monica via Santa Monica Boulevard or Sunset. But the metropolitan sprawl of modern Los Angeles has gobbled up most (all?) traces of the old Route 66. There are plenty of dumpy buildings in Los Angeles that may date to the Route 66 era, but a visitor would be hard pressed to make much of a connection. I recommend you skip trying to find remnants of 66 in downtown Los Angeles and proceed east.

But moving east is equally frustrating because Pasadena, Arcadia, Monrovia, San Dimas, and Glendora have also suffered from extreme urban sprawl. 66 is essentially gone. But starting in Glendora, the map shows Route 66 proceeding along historic Foothill Boulevard. Well, the first few miles are solid modern strip with malls, gas stations, and condominium complexes. The waypoints on my Garmin GPS showed features along the way, but all were gone, overrun by modern malls and concrete.
Finally, as your enter Rancho Cucamonga, a handsome bridge announces that you are on Route 66. Well that is hopeful. And to the left (north), the historic Sycamore Inn still serves fine food. But the urban sprawl continues and there is little 66 memorabilia to see for the next few miles until you reach Rancho Cucamonda.
Continue along Foothill Blvd. It is pretty dull, but when it rains, the water gushes along the pavement. It reminds me of Houston.
Finally, something interesting, the Wigwam Motel. Each concrete teepee is an individual motel unit, and all looked immaculately clean.
A friendly Indian lady (from India, not native American) graciously let me take photographs. She said she and her family had run the motel for 13 years.
There were some period Route 66 vehicles on the property, a theme that I was to see all along the route.
San Bernardino is reputed to be a pretty rough town, but compared to many places I have visited, it is not too bad. Route 66 bypasses downtown and turns north on Mt. Vernon Avenue.
There is a large Hispanic community in San Bernardino with numerous churches to serve them.
The former Lido Motel at 2140 Cajon Blvd. is now rented as apartments. They looked reasonably clean and a couple of residents help me find the original Route 66. Notice the square boxes on the roofs. These are swamp coolers, which are evaporative coolers, where the cooling occurs via the evaporation of water.

Ascending the narrow Cajon Pass is difficult because parts of 66 have been overridden by the modern Interstate 15 (I-15). But once over the pass, we are in the desert and we can continue to look for Route 66 remains (to be continued).

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. I set it on black and white mode to fit the 1950s ambience of my expedition. I reprocessed some RAW files with PhotoNinja software. (Note, click any photograph to expand it to 1600 pixels wide.)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Burmese Days 21: NaPyar, the Odoriferous Fish Village

While driving from Rangoon eastwards towards the Golden Rock, our driver took us along a short stretch of the Yangon-Mandalay Highway, then turned right on the Maylamyaing Highway (NH8).

Historical note: the Yangon-Mandalay highway was originally surveyed and laid out by an American engineering company, Louis Berger & Associates, in 1961, under the sponsorship of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Moorhus and Grathwol, 1992). Initially, conditions seemed to be in place for construction bids to be let, but planning and economic assistance for the project ended in 1963, a victim of deteriorating domestic politics in Burma and worsening relations between the United States and Burmese government. The expressway was finally built by the Burmese between 2005 and 2010, with some funds generated by exporting natural gas to Thailand.
At Waw Village, we stopped for a rail crossing. The train trundles along at a leisure pace because of the rough condition of the track bed. We could see the cars swaying back and forth, I suppose likely to generate cases of mal de mer (or mal de chemin de fer?).
A short distance east of Waw, our driver stopped at NaPyar Village. This is low terrain, crisscrossed by canals and rivers. It reminded me of southern Louisiana. On the barge just off the bank, piles of fish were drying in the sun.
The aromatic dry fish are neatly piled on tables at roadside stands. In the photograph above, the leaves are used to wrap betel nut (chewed by ladies and gents alike).
The lady even uses a pole with hook to neatly organize the fish curls on hooks.
I was impressed by the amount of business these stands attracted. Maybe the Vicksburg farmers' market needs a dried fish stand.
This sturdy gent was mashing up fish remnants in a giant pestle. Afterwards, the mush was poured into a clay pot, sealed, and left to ferment for an unknown amount of time. The resulting fish sauce (juice) was sold in gallon-size glass jugs at the roadside stands. Think of this the next time you buy oriental fish sauce at the supermarket.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera.

Moorhus, D.M. and Grathwol, R.P. 1992. Bricks, Sand, and Marble: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction in the Mediterranean and Middle East, 1947-1991. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 660 p. (available online,

Blogger note:
I am trying to overcome the problem with photographs not uploading into the blog. Based on suggestions from other bloggers around the world, I removed all the EXIF data from the photographs. For now, the photographs are all appearing, but there is still some issue with the Google servers because for five years, all jpeg files uploaded successfully.