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 it's 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.


  1. OMG ! What an epic day you had, an epic tale, chasing an epic dream... I love it, from start to finish, it just flows right along, just like traffic used to on the old highway. One piece of music which could perhaps go nicely with all this is "Telegraph Road"... Dire Straits.

    The patchwork building there is a painting in itself, and the old billboards just knock me out... but you knew that...

    Though it's not my business, I sure hope you have company when you go out on a hunt like this and aren't out there alone... I'd be a little worried for you otherwise, Southern Cal is full of crazy folks alongside the good people.

    That coyote skull is something else again... what a day you had ! Endless treasures. I wonder what else he had in that large old shack...

  2. These photos are like a dream or a fantasy. I've thought about doing this many times. I really wish that I did when I had the chance. Oh well. You did a great job of finding Route 66. I love these shots.

    In a comment the other day you mentioned combing audio with photos. It's funny because I've been thinking about that for several months. Great minds think alike. :)

    I have a few audio/photo posts in mind but I won't be able to put them together until later in the year. The sounds that I have in mind are in another country. :)

  3. A wonderful day trip to be true. I love the corrugated metal and the signage. Something about these in particular gives one a story or a sense of history. And Marshall,and the boys on the river, great you got to speak to these guys and maybe share some time.

    Great stuff here.
    You had a great day!


  4. Thank you Owen,

    I appreciate your kind words. This was my first attempt at weaving a narrative with photos.

    Usually I go out with my boyfriend but on this day he couldn't make it. This particular place was in the San Bernardino National Forest. Now that fire season is approaching, it's crawling with Park Rangers, even off road. You can't park without an Adventure Pass and trust me, they will route you out to check if you have your pass. So I feel pretty safe. Believe me, when Sgt. T isn't with me, I shoot what is close to my vehicle, scamper back when I hear an approaching vehicle, and never hike in.

  5. Thanks James,

    The desert is a quirky place that never quite seems "real" to me either. But now you've got me intrigued. Sounds from another country? I'm playing a fun guessing game in my mind as to what those could be. Sounds like you have some travel plans...

  6. Thanks Robert,

    I just wish there was more left over from back in the day. If there is, I'm determined to find it.

  7. Holy Moholy-Nagy!

    Text one day, people the next...

    I wouldn't be surprised if fireworks shot out of the laptop screen tomorrow!

    I'm glad to hear that you are indeed exercising caution. I had the same thoughts as The Magician, about security while shooting, that is.

    I am a big fan of the Motherroad so I love the photos. My personal favorite is the reeds in front of the water.

    Later 'gator,

  8. Hey Pliers,

    I KNOW. I don't know what's come over me. But there it is.

  9. I have one word for this trip and your photos:

    I'm glad you went chasing route 66 and encountered cool and generous people. I am amazed that a comfy chair like that is just sitting by the roadside. I'm sure someone eventually snatched it up.

  10. scrolling down, reading and looking, my enthusiasm was growing with every picture - until i was breathless by those wild flowers swaying in the wind... perfect travel log (i only saw such sights and houses in american films, i always wondered what it would feel like to actually come across them on a trip - for real!)
    so for me it seems like i am caught in a film (dream?) - especially given the surreality of that armchair...

  11. Thanks Amy,

    Believe me, I wanted that chair but I thought maybe someone who really needed it would happen along. I think that must be what it sat there waiting for rather than plummeting to its death down a canyon which is the way of most furnishings in there.

    So glad you enjoyed this post. I rarely encounter such cool people on the road and that was a joy and a blessing. It really added to my whole experience.

  12. Thank you Roxana,

    I wish I could imagine what you would make of this scenery. I try very hard to tell a story of this place I too find mysterious and wonderful. I'm so glad you enjoyed this trip. Surreal, yes that's a good word for it.

  13. I like the photo of the Chair that was left along the side of the road very surreal like an image cover for “Pink Floyd” nice find!

    I wonder that the person who sat in it was thinking. Liked they were off on a great Journey.

    This was a great serendipity of a shoot!

  14. Thanks Fi,

    It sure was some day and that chair does get you to thinking doesn't it?

  15. Fascinating blog, I really am enjoying it.... the environment is so mysterious and beautiful , twin peaks! It looks like a ghost state. Congratulations:)

  16. Hey Joanne,

    In many parts of the Mojave it does seem so. That would be another interesting series: Ghost Towns!

  17. Finding guys panning for gold! This is amazing!
    I absolutely love the red wood wall, the skull shot and the first grass image. As to the bottom photo, well, what a find! Love that leather chair in the desert.