In the morning of our second day of driving the Route 66, we woke up in our cozy guestroom in Bea’s and Meredith’s house in Barstow. We ate breakfast with them, took pictures, hugged and said our goodbyes, and then we were off on the road again. It was a very hot day, reaching 37 degrees as we entered the Mojave Desert.
The next part of Route 66 is also known as ‘Ghost Town Road’, as the stretch is home to many abandoned mining towns, some of which are now completely demolished with no traces left of their existence.
The most famous ghost town, Calico Ghost Town, is very much still alive and thriving. Calico is a former mining town located in the Calico Mountains of the Mojave Desert region of California. The mining town was founded in 1881 with the opening of the Silver King Mine after silver was discovered in the mountains. In the mid-1880s, Silver King Mine was the largest silver producer in California, and the town of Calico grew into a large village with a population of 1,200 people and with over 500 mines during the height of silver production from 1883 to 1885.
A few years later, colemanite was discovered in the Calico Mountains, which helped the village’s fortunes, and the population rose to 3,500 people by 1890. But when the Silver Purchase Act was enacted in 1890, it drove down the price of silver, resulting in many of the silver mines of Calico closing. This was the beginning of Calico’s decline, and by the turn of the century, Calico was a ghost town. After 1907, when the town was completely abandoned, many of the original buildings were moved to nearby villages.
In 1951, Walter Knott purchased the village of Calico and began restoring the remaining buildings to original condition referencing old photographs. In 1966, Knott donated the village to San Bernardino County, and it beame a County Regional Park.
The town has since been converted into an open air museum called Calico Ghost Town, where tourists can get a somewhat authentic experience of how life used to be in a small silver rush village. The place was very atmospheric and just like I had imagined the ghost towns along Route 66 to be like, although I recognize its inauthenticity.
Back on the historical Route 66 we went. I was loving the fact that we got to drive so much of the original road that day, up until we had to turn off for Las Vegas.
Our next stop along the road was Bagdad Café, a very atmospheric little café with posters, stickers and flags from all over the world plastered across the walls and ceiling.
The café was made famous by the 1987 German film ‘Bagdad Café’. The name of the café back then was actually Sidewinder Café, but it was still chosen for the film although the former town of Bagdad, which is now completely demolished, actually had a “Bagdad Café”. Even though then-Sidewinder Café lies 50 miles from the former town of Bagdad, it adopted the name of “Bagdad Café” to attract tourists coming from all over the world to experience the little café’s special road-side atmosphere.
Our next mission was to try to find the two neighbouring ghost towns of Siberia and Bagdad, as we didn’t know that they had both been demolished several years ago, leaving no trace of either of them. The road was very rough, probably actual original Route 66 road from back in the days. Instead of finding any traces of the two ghost towns, we found something else really interesting; The Amboy Crator, an extinct cinder cone type of volcano, rising high above a large lava field in the Eastern Mojave Desert.
The next stop for us on Route 66 was the village of Oatman. Unfortunately, we had to turn off Route 66 and enter Highway 40 on the stretch from Amboy to Needles, as the stretch was closed. Before getting to Needles, we stopped at a GINORMOUS Walmart located literally in the middle of the remote Mojave Desert, where we shopped for necessities and I bought a tripod, as I had forgotten mine for the upcoming eclipse.
On this stretch, we entered the canyon state of Arizona!
Soon after, we arrived in Oatman, a traditional atmospheric true Route 66 village with wooden houses, neon lights, Route 66 signs and plenty of life. Oatman lies high up in the Black Mountains at an elevation of 830 meters. The village was founded in 1915, when gold was found in the nearby mountains. This caused the population to grow to more than 3,500 people in a year.
Nowadays, Oatman is home to only 128 people, as well as several burros that roam its streets! For this very reason, the village is extremely popular with tourists driving the Route 66. The burros freely roam the streets and can be hand-fed with hay cubes that can be purchased in literally every store in town.
The drive from Oatman to Kingman was absolutely breathtaking. We drove along a mountain road through the Black Mountains with the most stunning scenery. It was definitely my favourite stretch of the Route 66!
From Kingman, we turned off Route 66 and drove the long highway stretch to Hoover Dam on the way to Las Vegas, crossing into the state of Nevada on the way!
Halfway to Hoover Dam, we had a really heavy downpour and thunderstorms with several lightning strikes. The rain came down so hard that the road was flooded for over a mile, and our car got very dirty! The weather in the USA can be really weird sometimes. The only rain that we experienced in the country were extremely heavy downpours that only lasted for a couple of minutes, but still managed to flood the roads!
Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam located in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between Nevada and Arizona. The dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression. In 1947, the dam received its name after President Herbert Hoover. The enormous concrete dam was built to control floods, provide irrigation water and produce hydroelectric power. In 1936, it was the largest concrete structure in the world!
Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the United States. The reservoir serves water to the states of Arizona, Nevada and California, to almost 20 million people!
A few hundred metres from the turn off to Hoover Dam, there is a turn off for a viewpoint of the lake. We stopped there for a few minutes before continuing on towards Las Vegas.
The last few miles before Las Vegas, we could see the city skyline in the distance. It looked way bigger than I had imagined, thinking it would be only one street (‘The Strip’), but there is settlement for many miles surrounding the city center. It’s slightly weird seeing such an enormous city appearing out of the blue in the middle of a desert!
Before coming to Las Vegas, we had found a parking lot next to The Strip online where we could park the car overnight for 10 USD. This night, we were going to sleep in the car after exploring The Strip!
If you don’t already know Vegas, let me tell you something about it. It’s this weird casino city located in the middle of the Mojave Desert with two million inhabitants and over 40 million visitors per year.
We spent about three hours walking up and down The Strip, the center of the gambling and entertainment industry, experiencing the beautiful fountain show at the Bellagio, and the amazing volcano show at the Mirage. Both shows were done to perfection.
We met an Elvis, a Batman and countless half-naked people. We gambled in the Mirage. Amanda gambled one dollar, and I gambled two. I first gambled one dollar on a machine and won it back, then put it back in and won 10 cents… Then I gambled one dollar on another machine and lost. Can’t say we had much luck in Vegas!
Vegas really lived up to its reputation and my expectations. It’s a fun city and I could’ve easily spent many more days there, had I been rich. But as a budget traveller, Vegas wasn’t really the place for us to hang out for too long!
So the next day, we left the casino city and tried our luck with getting to Death Valley. Read how that went in the next post!