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Visiting Amboy: A Small Town on Route 66

Updated on August 22, 2014

Amboy's Ghost Town was once a thriving stop along Historic Route 66

I have passed through the small town of Amboy several times. You might remember seeing it in the Movies or in the News when they were selling the whole town for just a couple million dollars back in the late 1990's. The town has a contested population of anywhere from 4-20 permanent residents, and with nothing here but the famous Roy's Motel and Cafe, a Post Office, and a gas station it's no wonder it's now a Ghost Town on the way to Laughlin or Las Vegas.

Before Interstate 40 was built in the early 1970's, people traveled Route 66, and Amboy was a bustling stop in this part of the Mojave Desert. Amboy is one of the oldest towns in California and was originally a train stop and residence for the Chloride Fields that are still in production just outside town. But it's Roy's Restaurant, the old Motel, and the gas station that people remember most. Currently Amboy has another icon that travelers along this portion of the old Route 66 stop for; The Shoe Tree.

Amboy was founded in 1858

The town of Amboy was founded in 1858 and later in 1938 Roy Crowl bought it and built a gas station and cafe named after himself, Roy's. This was the only gas station in this part of the Mojave Desert and he did well. He later added the Motel and did a thriving business until the I-40 Interstate was built North of the town. Slowly the once thriving tourist stop became a virtual ghost town.

Currently the town is owned by Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain who bought it for a pittance with the promise of revitalizing it. I have to say I don't particularly like the new Cafe as the old one was filled with icons, gifts, and had a lot of Route 66 memorabilia in it. But if Roy's can stay open, that's the most important thing. It would be a shame to lose this part of our history of the old Route 66.

Traveling the 350 Miles of Route 66 in So California

Route 66 in California (Images of America: California)
Route 66 in California (Images of America: California)

The Image of America Series is a Must have for not just the historical information, but the pictures. I have several of these books on different themes. this one takes you through the last 350 miles of the Chicago to LA route, through Southern California.


Traveling to Amboy from the Coachella Valley past the Chloride Canals - Amboy is by the Chloride Fields

Amboy Chloride Canals
Amboy Chloride Canals

Amboy is about 70 miles from the town of Twentynine Palms. Most of the people going this way are going to the Colorado River, Kingman, or Las Vegas. It's the shortcut for Coachella Valley residents that go through Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms by way of Route 62, then make the Amboy turnoff. From here it is pretty desolate, and not much to see until you get to the Chloride Fields. If you like photography, the Chloride Canals are beautiful, and you will probably see people stopping to take pictures.

The Chloride Fields are in dry lake beds and you will know you are there when you see mound after mound of what appears to be dirt, but is really chloride. Then you will see the canals on the left of the road (coming from Twentynine Palms), and if you are lucky enough to be able to turn around it is a great photo op. If you are traveling late in the afternoon, early evening, the dry lake beds look like they have snow on them as they are white. I have never seen the same sight twice as I am never there at the same time of day, but each time I have marveled at the Canals with their turquoise coloring.

The Amboy Shoe Tree- a Cultural Icon in the Desert

The Amboy Shoe Tree- a Cultural Icon in the Desert
The Amboy Shoe Tree- a Cultural Icon in the Desert

Travelers love the Amboy Shoe Tree

There are two main activities that have intrigued travelers along Route 66 from Amboy to the Colorado River, one of them is the Shoe Tree by the bridge in Amboy, and the other are the names spelled out in rocks along the Railroad tracks further East from Amboy.

No one really knows how this particular Shoe Tree started or who threw the first pair up into the branches. Someone a long time ago threw a pair of shoes onto this Tamarisk Tree on the edge of the dry wash, next to a small bridge about 1/4 of a mile East of Roy's Motel and Cafe. Highway travelers have been adding to the shoe collection ever since.

The Amboy Shoe Tree has split in recent years as you can see by the photo, but that hasn't stopped people from decorating it, as can be seen by the Cowboy Hat and clothing on the split branch.

Update 2013: The shoe tree is gone now, but travelers still leave shoes on the fallen branches in this area.

The Amboy Shoe Tree with a view of the Crater in the background

The Amboy Shoe Tree with a view of the Crater in the background
The Amboy Shoe Tree with a view of the Crater in the background

Amboy Crater

6,000 year old Cinder Cone

Another sight just outside of the town of Amboy is the Amboy Crater. You will notice a large black cone shaped "mountain" to the West, but this is really a 6,000 year old Volcano. It's extinct now, but you can see pieces of lava rock dotting the desert floor for miles.

The Amboy Crater is 250 feet high, 1500 feet in diameter and was formed by ash and cinders. It was designated a California Historical Natural Landmark in 1975. You can walk to the Crater, but we never went as it was always too hot when we happened to be in Amboy. I'm not into walking up and down a volcano, a black cinder one at that in the heat.

If you do want to visit the Amboy Crater there are signs directing you, and a parking lot. I heard it was a 3 hour hike up to the Crater so make sure you take plenty of water with you if you decide to make the hike, especially in the Summer.

Famous Landmark in Amboy

Famous Landmark in Amboy
Famous Landmark in Amboy

Seeing a rare Rainbow Cloud - The Mojave Desert is full of wonders

Rainbow Cloud
Rainbow Cloud

Driving through the desert to Amboy we saw a Rainbow Cloud. It was pretty hard to stop at 70 miles and hour to get a picture, that first "oooohhhhh" when you see something spectacular. As someone that loves photography I was upset that we had already passed the larger part of this rare Rainbow Cloud with all the vibrant colors, and had to settle for this shot. But that Rainbow Cloud is etched in my memory, of just one more beautiful thing I saw out in the desert.

The kids and I started talking about Rainbow Clouds and one of the Native American legends about Cloud People, including The Rainbow People that made Rainbows. These rainbows and Rainbow Clouds are made to bring beauty to the people of the Earth. There are other legends and superstitions, but the one of bringing beauty fits with my beliefs, so that is the one we embraced while watching the last remains of our Rainbow Cloud.

I love the ride as it is so peaceful compared to the freeways going into Arizona or Nevada. Road trips to see many of these small towns, whether they are ghost towns, or just small old towns is one of my favorite activities.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to Amboy, and any and all comments are welcomed!

Have you ever heard of the town of Amboy? Leave your comment here

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Ghost towns fascinate me no end. They speak to me of lives in the past now forgotten but still a landmark to development.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 5 years ago from California

      @KimGiancaterino: Kim, you might have depending on which way you took. If you went on the 10 you missed it, but it's worth a drive one day :) Thank you for visiting....

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      I probably drove right past this area on my way to Sedona. Will have to check it out next time.

    • yayas profile image

      yayas 6 years ago

      Too bad the new owner hasn't kept the Route 66 theme going in the town of Amboy. I think it would still attract a lot of tourists if the theme were promoted.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      Gosh, I feel like I went on a journey this morning and oh-boy it was Amboy!

    • profile image

      WritingAdventurist 8 years ago

      This lens is a breath of fresh air - such as in abundant in your pictures. Small towns are often overlooked, which is a shame considering the history and beauty often found within. I'm glad you found some towns to highlight with your lenses.

      All the best!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Yes the film cars was loodesly based on Amboy

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 8 years ago from Central Florida

      This is new territory for me.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 8 years ago from California

      @Ramkitten2000: Ahh I have been Flagstaff on Route 66 ;) I love the Flagstaff area :)

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Thanks for the tour! I'm on Route 66, too ... or just a few hundreds yards from it here in Flagstaff. But I'd not heard of Amboy until now. Great lens!

    • Louis Wery profile image

      Louis Wery 8 years ago from Sarasota, Florida USA

      I enjoyed this virtual visit to Amboy on Route 66, especially your fine photographs. Thank you for this informative tour.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 8 years ago from California

      @paperfacets: Hi, and yes you may...thank you for coming by.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 8 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I have a Group Lens called Live, Work and Travel on Route 66. Please may I add your Amboy lens to it? If so, just leave me a message in the comment section. So far I have only two towns represented. This is good info and nice pictures, it is perfect for the goals I have for the Group.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 8 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Nishant- I haven't been past New Mexico...and love some of the spots I have been to. Hope you took pictures to share with your family and friends that aren't familiar with Route 66 as it is a true American icon :) Thanks for coming by and sharing your trip. Let me know when you make it to Santa Monica..

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I travelled Route 66 from Chicago to Barstow in Dec-09-Jan-10. It was real fun and am looking forward to travel to Santa Monica from Barstow. Would definitely visit Amboy. Great Pics. Being from India, I don't think a lot of my folks know about the Route 66

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 8 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I DID enjoy this visit to Amboy. I've traveled I-10 from Riverside to Blythe, CA, but never Highway 62, so missed Amboy. An interesting piece of history. Wonderful photos too.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 8 years ago

      For an European like me, Route66 is a legend :) It's the kind of lens I like because I learned a lot about something that is less known and that what's makes your lenses great!


    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 8 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Another place I'd like to visit now I've read your lens about it... blessed by an Angel.