Just a tiny black dot on my AAA road map, Amboy is known for an iconic art deco sign facing a lonely stretch of the original historic Route 66. Halfway between the towns of Barstow and Needles, California, and near the edge of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, this is the middle of the Mojave Desert. Amboy was originally settled in 1858. It did not become an official town until 1883 when the railroad tracks arrived. The opening of Route 66 brought tourists and traffic to Amboy. In 1938, Roy Crowl opened Roy’s Cafe and Motel with the only gas station and lodging in that part of the Mojave. Highway 40, a fast multi—lane superhighway a few miles to the north, displaced Route 66 in 1973 and Roy’s business never recovered. Due to lack of water, the kitchen has been closed. The cafe now sells gifts and Route 66 souvenirs. Thriller and low—budget horror films have been shot at Roy’s. The current owner is also the owner of the original McDonalds in San Bernardino, California, which is now a museum. A gallon of unleaded gas at Roy’s sells for twice what you’d pay elsewhere. A tall wire fence behind the gas station, cafe, and motel cabins keeps photographers away from all the interesting things beyond– the old school, an old hanger and an air strip (one of the first in California), and many weathered sheds and lodgings. Weathered by the desert sun behind the windows of the motel lobby is a piano and a wooden carousel horse. There are abstract patterns everywhere, including the sweeping, triangular roof over the motel’s lobby casting long shadows across the wide parking lot. For the best light on the fading colors of Roy’s sign, set up your camera facing west in morning light and facing east in the afternoon. Both angles work well. Look west to include the cafe and gas station beyond the Roy’s sign in the morning. In the afternoon, you’ll see a long line of white motel cabins beyond the Roy’s sign. That sign is a major icon on the list of historic roadside American signs.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.