These past few months I’ve learned quite a few lessons, often ones that I should have learned the first time or recognized a lot earlier on. And some of that came to a head while I was on a road trip along classic Route 66 in California.
I’ve never been one for spending lengthy periods of time in a car, but I’d also never had a road trip – or any kind of trip – that actually reduced me to tears almost daily. The only sort of kicks I got on good old Route Six-Six were the kicks life gives you once in a while to wake you up and make you realize “Wow, what on earth am I doing?”
Toward the end of this trip, I was so miserable that I started making excuses to get away – while secretly going back to the car to cry alone. I’ve never felt so incredibly relieved to have a trip be over. As much as I love California, I couldn’t wait to leave so I could officially shut the door on this trip.
But there were a few small things that made me feel better. And one was that I had a lot of photographs of some truly cool sights! So, to focus on one of the good parts of the trip, I’ve rounded up 10 of my favorite shots from Route 66. Here’s to living and learning!
Although these guys are apparently also called Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs, I’ve never heard them referred to that. They’re the Cabazon Dinosaurs! Located on a dull stretch of freeway, they’re the only thing of interest aside from a stretch of outlet shops. You can actually go inside the dinosaurs. The brontosaurus has a gift shop inside its tummy, and you can climb up the T-rex into its mouth to get your picture taken.
The dinosaurs have names – Dinny and Mr. Rex – and there was originally supposed to be a slide going down Mr. Rex’s back, as well as a wooly mammoth and a garden.
Bizarrely, a Christian fundamentalist group now owns the dinosaurs and uses them to promote creationism. Look closely and you’ll see information about how evolution is impossible scattered around. The tags on the toy dinosaurs sold read “Don’t swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution.” (Probably a good reason not to spend any of your money there!)
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
About ten minutes’ drive off the 15 freeway near Victorville, there’s a truly bizarre piece of art – Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. A guy named Elmer Long created the ranch. As a kid, he went around the desert collecting all sorts of stuff with his dad. They amassed a huge collection of glass bottles, and Elmer started making tree-like sculptures out of them.
There are over 200 of these in the Bottle Tree Ranch, as well as all sorts of odd trinkets. When the wind blows through, you’ll hear light chiming and jingling sounds as assorted pieces of glass, metal, and plastic gently knock against each other.
I drove through Oro Grande to get to Elmer’s, but the Route 66-themed stuff pleasantly surprised me.
On your way back towards the freeway from the ranch, make a stop at the tiny little town to see some fun Route 66 photo opportunities, including a big map, an old train cart, and a few seriously bizarre restaurants and shops frequented by…well, I’m not really sure.
Just before you hit the 15 again, pull in at Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe. This true all-American diner from 1947 feels perfectly old-fashioned. Sit at the counter and watch as the cooks fry up all sorts of burgers and sandwiches. Also, it’s been featured in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (very briefly!), so it makes a great stop for movie fans, too.
Calico Ghost Town
Pretty much the only reason you’d go to Calico is to stop off on the way to Las Vegas. It may be the sort of thing you drive up to and literally drive off again without getting out of the car. Around since the late 1800s and restored in the 1950s, this is a real ghost town. Rather than the gold that lots of miners famously came to California for, Calico had silver.
There are a handful of old buildings you can wander around for a fee. You can also see performances like staged gunfights and do some shopping . It costs $8 per adult to get in, and if you want to do a tour the price goes up to $50 (from what I could find on TripAdvisor, as the “prices” section of their website mysteriously didn’t work). Drive up and have a peek anyway, as it’s just off the freeway.
Joshua Tree is a huge national park in southern California. If you love all things desert-related then you definitely need to stop by here. Even if you’re not normally a desert fan, there are some genuinely amazing rock formations and otherworldly plants. The park gets it name from the Joshua trees, these spiky, twisting plants given the name by Mormon settlers who were crossing the desert. They thought that the trees looked like Joshua reaching up to the sky.
On top of the spectacular scenery, there are also a handful of odd things to see as you get deeper into the desert. Look out for the artistic centers opened by creative types wanting to get away from the L.A. chaos.
Santa Monica Pier
Officially, Route 66 finishes when it hits the Pacific Ocean . The idea is that the road doesn’t end until you can’t drive any further. Today, there’s a sign on the pier to mark the end of the famous drive. But it’s not the original. There used to be a sign that just appeared on Santa Monica Boulevard, though it disappeared. Some people think it might have been there as a movie prop. The one that you can see today is actually a replica!
There’s also plenty of stuff to do on the pier, all of it pleasantly touristy, from an old-fashioned soda shop to getting caricatures done to a selection of restaurants to a mini theme park. Stroll all the way to the end taking it all in. You might be lucky and catch some truly talented street musicians performing.
And after all that time in the car, what better way to finish than with a refreshing dip in the Pacific? There’s no place quite like a California beach!
So, that rounds up my little jaunt on Route 66. Although it wasn’t my favorite trip, there are so many fantastic sights to see along the way. Once again, there really are some places that the best way to see is by car. Of course, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, more places to visit along Route 66. It starts all the way out in Chicago!
What’s the best road trip you’ve ever taken? Or, alternatively, have you ever had things go wrong on a trip? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!