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 Route66maps.com. 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. 
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.)

1 comment:

  1. How cool! Can't wait for the next part of the journey!

    ReplyDelete