May 21, 2010

Searching for Route 66

Route 66 signs are everywhere in Southern California's Inland Empire; in malls, on street corners, lining the main boulevards. You can't throw a stone without hitting one. But despite the fact that I live right on Route 66, I haven't found one vestige of the Route 66 of old in the year I've lived here. It's like an entire period of America's past never existed. So I'm setting out... Searching for Route 66.

I'm beginning only 7 miles from home off Interstate 15, the Mojave Freeway, heading north towards Barstow where a single nondescript sign directs only someone who pays close attention to road signs toward the exit for Old Route 66.

At the entrance to Old Route 66 I noticed these guys panning for gold. They said all they got today was gold dust but once in a great while they score a nugget. Anyway, they looked like they were having a good time and staying cool. Overcoming my shyness, I asked if I could take their picture. They said of course and that was a golden moment for me.

In San Bernardino County, when you come across a structure like this, you always assume someone lives in it so you keep a respectful distance, stay alert, and don't peek in windows or try to gain entry. As I was clicking away, a dark haired bearded man appeared in the yard and simply watched to see what I was up to. I gave him a friendly wave, told him I was just taking pictures and I'd leave if he wanted me to. He walked over to the gate, invited me into his yard and introduced himself as Marshall. He said he had some cool things I might want to photograph, though he declined having his own portrait taken. He led me to an overgrown side yard where an old Route 66 billboard clung tenaciously to its last days of existence.

Marshall then produced this coyote skull he found in the wash that runs along Old Route 66 and where the Union Pacific train winds its way through the Cajon Pass and eventually across the country. We chatted a bit more and I took my leave to continue my quest.

Further along I spotted this old diner sign. EAT. Like the billboard at Marshall's, it was sheltered behind a cyclone fence but was visible from the road. Then I got sidetracked, drove off road and got caught up shooting wildflowers and looking for Lost Lake, which I eventually found.

The wind picked up and those wildflowers wouldn't stay still so I headed back to the paved road. I joined some trainspotters watching the Union Pacific wind its way through the canyon and decided this was as much of Old Route 66 that I would see on this day.

Heading back to the freeway I came upon this prophetic looking scene. It seemed so mysterious yet full of meaning and purpose this worn leather let's kick our feet up and have a nice chat by the fire chair. So lost and alone yet expectantly hopeful in the middle of nowhere with no one in sight. The American west with its unforgiving and harsh beauty is full of ghosts, lost memories and vanquished dreams with no witnesses left to know or to care. Strange days indeed.