Monday, April 22, 2013

Amboy, Ca. Route 66 Ghost Towns

The town of Amboy was established in 1883 as the first of a series of alphabetical railroad stations and towns that were to stretch across the gigantic Mojave Desert in Southern California.  After the construction of Route 66 through the town in 1926, Amboy's glory days commenced.  In 1938 Roy's Motel and Cafe opened. It did very well because there was nothing else for MANY miles in any direction. I don't think the population of Amboy ever came anywhere close to 100 people and there appears to be only a few in the area these days. In 1973 a new highway (Interstate 40) was constructed that bypassed the town and started it's demise.  The good news is that the place has been purchased and they are pumping gas again! I'm pretty sure the motel and cottages will never be opened again, but it's a start.
Public domain USGS Ariel Photo
All of the photos below were taken in the boxed area in the upper right corner of this photo. Route 66 is the barely seen road passing in front of the buildings. The Atlantic and Pacific RR tracks cut through the middle of this photo.  The new I-40 is several miles out of this photo.  As you can see, this is pure desert.

Bender's One Stop Super Service Station and Cottages

In 1938 Roy and Velma Crow bought the place and  installed the now famous "Roy's" sign. The also added one of the first "modern" style motels behind the cottages and the futuristic looking motel lobby.

 Another older photo of the gas station and cafe.

 A better photo of the derelict motel.

The original abandoned cottages
 Have you seen the movie Cars? This place
 was the inspiration for part of it.
 We noticed this old church across the highway
 It appeared to be in better shape from afar
Back across the street again, we noticed the Amboy School.  Apparently it was still being used as recently as 25 years ago. It is said to be VERY haunted. We really wanted to get in there...

 I got closer and stood on a piece of concrete to take this photo over the fence. When I turned to walk away away, I saw...

This! I have no idea how old it is, but it's clearly hand prints of former students. It makes me wonder what's become of these kids.

This was between the school and the motel. you know it was the old truck that caught my eye. Right? 

Amboy even had an airport! Judging by the windsock, it still does. 

These next few were taken inside of the old cottages.

I wonder how long this has been hanging there? 

There are several of these "shoe sculptures" in the SoCal deserts.  Some of them are miles away from anything. People drive by and hang a shoe and then others spot it and do the same.  This one is just outside of Amboy.



  1. These are the neatest old pictures. Thank you for sharing them so we could see this little old town.

  2. We published a book awhile back called "Ghost Towns of Route 66", and if I"m not mistaken, this place was featured in it.

    What a delightful way to wander the southwest.

  3. Oh, yes...I remember Amboy! We were always in such a hurry to get by it! HA~Interesting photos! I love the one of the kids' hands. Yes, you wonder where they are now...

  4. welcome back!

    i'll be back to comment on your post properly!

  5. Great article about this place, I hope they can do something there, somehow...or restore the cottages.
    I love the creative tree shoes sculpture! :)

  6. kind of haunting! love them all

  7. As soon as you started talking about this place and how the new highway killed it, I immediately thought of Cars. I love your pics of these old abandoned places.

  8. The place really isn't in that bad of shape. Too bad you couldn't get to the school.
    Good to hear from you, Pat!

  9. Whew, Welcome Back.
    Cool photos. Route 66, at its former finest.
    The last photo is haunting. Shoes of former residents or shoes found tossed out on the road??
    Can't wait for your next installation, Pat.

  10. Wow- amazing pictures! That handprint pic is just the kind I love to study and wonder~

  11. You might be upsetting the Amboy ghost children by being there. I missed your pics.

  12. Amazing! Like stepping back into a whole different world and time -- and I guess in a way it's just that. Terrific captures, Pat, as always!!

  13. I remember going through Amboy as a kid when my family used to travel old Route 66 to Oklahoma every summer. I remember always watching for the Amboy Crater.

  14. Rita - My pleasure! Thanks for the comment.

    The Geezers - I've seen that book and it was indeed in it! These little places were a life saver to the brave folks daring the desert in their old cars. There are hundreds of fantastic old things in the southwestern deserts.

    trav4adventures - Thanks! I love these places. My grandparents were desert rats and I was lucky enough to spend some time in many of these old places as a kid. At first glance, those hand prints gave me the chills.

    Betty - Thanks Betty! It's good to be back. Of course, in about another week, cabin fever will set in again...

    Cezar and leia - Thanks so much!The man who recently bought the town has some plans for it.

    baygirl32 - I agree about it being kind of haunting. Thanks!

    mshatch - Thanks! Exploring the desert is one of my most favorite things to do.

    Alex - Hey Alex! The break was nice, but I have to admit, I don't like not having a phone signal or internet access. This place does look better than most. I think it's because of the building materials.

    Brenda - Thanks Brenda! The "Mother Road" is barely hanging on. The shoes are hung there by folks who drive by. There are a few of these things around the SoCal deserts.

    Shelly - Thanks so much! I agree with you on the hand prints. That thing fills my head with questions.

  15. I remember the Car scene from your photos! It's too sad that it's not in use as it still look good to me.

    Glad to see you have your internet again, and posting..

  16. I remember the Car scene from your photos! It's too sad that it's not in use as it still look good to me.

    Glad to see you have your internet again, and posting..

  17. It would be so cool for that place to bounce back! Did you run into any Amboy Dukes out there?

  18. PTM - Thanks for saying that! I appreciate it a lot. I had no idea that it was "haunted" but when I saw that old sign over the gate, I have to admit that I did get the willies.

    Sylvia K - Thanks Sylvia! You are so right, a different world. In some ways, a much better world...

    Kay - Me too! I can remember it as clearly as if it happened a month ago.

    Icy BC - This is probably the best looking of the small places. The gas station is open sometimes and they sell snacks in the cafe. I'm not sure what the owners plans are.

    Brian - I agree! That would be nice, but there is barely any traffic at all that passes it. Everyone is in a hurry, so they use the interstate instead. There are folks out there trying to keep the route 66 dream alive. Ha! No Amboy Dukes around...

  19. I really enjoyed this post. The motel looks like it was a very cool place in its time. I love that you found the hand prints. You see a lot of American history in your travels.

  20. The haunted school and the hand prints is kind of creepy. Naturally I'd love to visit there.

  21. Ah---kinda sad... You see so many old towns (which used to be vibrant and aren't any longer) along Route 66.... Bet that little place was 'the' place back when the railroad and Route 66 came through there....

    It's nice to have I-40---but it certainly caused alot of towns to die, after it was built...

    Sorry you couldn't get into the old school.


  22. It would be nice to do a human interest story on some of these places.
    ~~Cheryl Ann~~

  23. This is the coolest post! I wish I had been with you to explore this place. Who on earth would live there year round and keep their sanity? The handprints make me wonder about the students too. and the truck certainly caught my eye

  24. This one gave me the creeps....spooky! Wouldn't want to hang around there in the dark. Wherever do you find these places, Pat?????

  25. I always find it a little sad to see things like this. However, I'll never understand why people waste perfectly good shoes!

  26. Fine pictures--the abandoned human settlement and above it a glorious sky and its eternal movement. As for the shoe trees, I picture wanderers trailing away barefoot...maybe more than a little crazy!

  27. I've seen the sign route 66 - but never gone on there!
    Interesting to see abandoned Amboy - it always makes me a little sad to see a ghost town - and this one seemed to be in pretty good shape. Thanks for visiting me earlier!

  28. Wow, Pat... another fascinating yet eerie place! Thanks for the comprehensive tour :-)

  29. You know how much I love this. You guys got inside those old houses. We drove all around and walked some , but didn't go the next step like you did. Love seeing what you found. Thanks,

  30. Really neat. Funny you mention 'Cars.' We're watching it in class this week and it paints a sad story

  31. You're living my dream Mr Tillett ! Yup, got chills from the hand prints too and how the heck did you get inside the old creepily cool !

  32. Belle - Thanks Belle! There is a lot of history to be found in our deserts. Lot's of it VERY odd...

    Tim - I also thought it was kind of creepy. Even more so now that I found out that it's allegedly haunted.

    Betsy - I agree Betsy. It's kind of interesting that a few of those old towns still have a RR presence there, but that's about it. I agree about I-40, but progress always seems to hurt some while it helps others.

    trav4adventures - I totally agree Cheryl, every day that passes some of the history dies or disappears.

    Seriously Though - Thanks so much! People are either forced to live in the desert or the want to because it's isolated.

    Rosemary - Me too! Still loved the place though. It's so isolated that there is NOTHING to be visible from there as far as the eye can see. I hunt them down Rosemary!

    Ms. A - They make me a bit sad also, sad and full of questions. I've seen a couple of places in the desert with 10 times this many shoes.

    Margaret - Thanks Margaret! Even abandoned, these places last for generations in the arid deserts. There is no shortage of slightly crazy desert dwellers out there.

    Jesh - Thanks and you are most welcome! Most people stick also stick to the newer Interstates and never experience Route 66 and how things used to be. The drive has barely changed at all for decades. You are right about Amboy being in better shape than most. I've visited some that are now nothing more than a sign put up by the RR tracks so the engineers will know where they are.

    Nat - Yes it is! My pleasure Nat Plenty more of the similar places coming up.

    Sallie - I know you do! Next time I'm going to go very early in the morning or late and get into that motel and school. Thanks Sallie!

    Al - Thanks Al! Yep, progress can be a bad thing to many.

    Vickie - Vickie! I'm so happy to see you here! Yes, being retired sure makes getting around easier. How the heck are you doing? I'm on my way to your blog (hoping!)

  33. This is the most fun post I've seen in a long time. I watched Cars several times, so I loved seeing the Roy's sign. You find the most interesting sites, Pat. Thanks for the tour.

    Be and stay well.

  34. Exquisite photos of this famous road! Yes, its influence is very evident in Cars.

  35. You tell a great story in photos! I'm lucky to find an occasional building our house, you find an entire town!!

  36. remarkable looking place.

    it would be both strange and wonderful to take pictures there.

    Thanks for the multiple comments.

    Stewart M - Melbourne

  37. Robyn - Wow! Thanks Robyn! So nice of you to say those things.

    Leovi - Thanks! Yes, It is pretty cool to see it in person.

    Wayne - Thanks Wayne! I also so found several others.

    Stewart - Strange and wonderful is a good description of the place. The comments were my pleasure!

  38. Great photos as always. I love seeing your country through your eyes.
    We in Aus have our own version of the shoe tree. On a recent trip I saw a tree with thongs (flip flops?) nailed to it.

  39. ooh, i'd love to visit there!
    like ms a. said, i always find it a little sad to see things like this.
    but the place is just fascinating. you always find the most interesting places, pat.

    thank you for your outstanding shots you show.

  40. You're my favorite tour guide, you really are. And nothing compares to a big desert sky. I have an old book called Ghost Towns of the West (I think it's from the early 1970's, but the font appears typewritten, so I'll bet it's self-published). Amboy isn't there, so I guess if it was temporarily ghosted, that happened post-70's.

  41. What an amazing old place, and you've captured it superbly.

  42. Mynx - Thanks so much! I haven't seen a flip-flop tree here yet. Where I grew up we called flip-flops Zorries. I have no idea why though.

    Betty M - Thanks Betty! I agree that's a little sad. It also excites me because its a real-life and in-person history lesson.

    altadenahiker - Wow! Thanks so much Karin! I REALLY do appreciate what you said. Do you know who the author of that book is? I'd like to see if I could find a copy. Thanks again!

    Al - Thanks Al! I wish I would have had some photos of it when I was there as a kid.

  43. Wow! Thanks Pat - these are amazing! I'd love to get in there too!
    Roy's looks like it's in good nick - the paint job looks fresh. What a shame - hopefully some rich bastard will buy it and resurrect it instead of building another Jacuzzi.

    Great post - very informative and interesting - especially by backing it up with old photographs.
    Love the shoe branches too.

  44. I am going to steer clear of the haunted school. I can just imagine being picked on and teased by ghosts. That's what happens to me at school. Thanks for all those comments Patrick!

  45. I love that place! And how lucky you were to get those gorgeous clouds in the sky; not to mention those handprints! I was there 2 years ago and it seems as if that church "steeple" is tipped at a much greater angle. Better get back before it cracks off. I do remember hearing somebody bought Roys with the idea of resurrecting it, but doesn't look like it's come to pass. Meanwhile, I kind of love it the way it is...

  46. The shoe sculptures are interesting. Ghost towns around here... nothing remains of most of them. Nothing at all.

  47. Anthony - You are welcome and thanks to you! A guy bought the town a while back and he's already got the gas station open during the daytime. I just don't know if there is enough traffic on the old road to warrant anything else. We'll see...

    Sharon- The comments were my pleasure Sharon. I can't get on as much these days, so I have to catch up sometimes. I hate all bullies, the living and dead kind.

    Stickup Artist - Me too! We'd gone days without a cloud in the sky and I was so happy that morning. The guy who bought it (Albert Okura) owns the Juan Pollo restaurants. He said he's going to restore it. It's pretty cool that he's selling some gas keeping restrooms open for people passing by. I wish him well.

    M Pax - They do tend to disappear! I'm aware of some up there and hope to see them in the not too distant future.

  48. The author is Lambert Florin (Florin is the last name); it's a good-sized book, about 900 pages. Just to toss out a few of the Calif towns -- Chinese Camp, Fiddletown, Whiskeytown, Shingle Springs...

  49. We did not find the shoe tree, but we went to Amboy Crater. I wanted to go to Bristol Lake but my friends decided not to go.

    I like that tilted cross across from Roy's Cafe.

    I had asked so many questions from the people tendingthe store, but they hardly know anything.

  50. I have never seen shoe trees, but now I have a feeling that I'm going to be looking for one any time I travel so I can contribute.

    I love all of the old towns you find. They're so cool!!

  51. altadenahiker - I found it on There are some used copies and I may try to get one. Thanks!

    Ebie - I haven't been to Amboy Crater for about 25 years. I want to go again soon. I also found that the two guys in the store didn't really know the history of the place. I did find the wild flowers around Santa Barbara you told me about.

    Amanda - Hey, you could start one if you have a few pairs of old shoes.

    Sheryl - Yep! I hope they stabilize it before it falls off.

  52. I have never heard of a shoe sculpture, but I surely have a bunch here I would love to donate. I think they look so neat The part of this post that really pulls at the old heartstrings is the concrete with the chidrens' handprints in it. Being a teacher I, too, wonder where they all are now. genie

  53. Last time I was here I was wearing a cast and miserable. Didn't explore much but believe the cottages were being rented then

  54. Genie - So does my wife! We've seen several of them around the desert lately. Oh yeah! Those hand prints gave me chicken-skin!

    Pasadena Adjacent - Wow! That must have been quite a while ago. A cast would sure get in the way of exploring! Thanks for the multiple comments! I really do appreciate them.

  55. I found your blog by searching for some other stuff related to Route 66 in the area. Definitely enjoying your blog as a huge Route 66 fan.

    I'm curious: Were you in Amboy around the same time you posted this? When my husband and I visited at the end of May the steeple on the church had fallen down. We were trying to pinpoint roughly when it had fallen.

    Feel free to click the link to my blog and send me a message if you'd like to answer.

    Have a great weekend!

    - Kim

  56. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  57. you have some great images of route 66. the shoe tree in your photo used to be a standing-up tree. but the weight of the shoes brought it down. shoe trees look cool, heck i even photographed that one back a few years, but the shoes are really bad for the tree.

    have you seen the chinese lion statues east of amboy yet?

  58. Lara - Thanks for commenting! The last time I saw that tree, there weren't any shoes on it. I've seen a couple of shoe trees that were set on fire by someone.
    Not only haven't I seen the Chinese lion statures, I've never heard of them until now. I just left your flickr page. You are an amazing photographer. I couldn't stop looking until I'd seen them all. Speaking of Route 66, I noticed that you had a photo of Ed's Camp. Ed was a friend of my grandparents and I used to play there when I was a kid. My granny knew people all over the Mojave and I spent so much of my childhood out there. I'll have to keep my eyes open next time I'm out there. That should be soon...

  59. I honestly hope this town is purchased one day by a serious investor . I just read an article about how Millinials are desperate to reconnect to the past (1950's etc). I don't blame them! Butmy goodness this town could provide that glimpse into what made America good! I wish someone would restore it exactly as it was... but add those amenities that we are used to today... there are so many cool attractions in this area- crater, mining town... trails, etc... anyway. Excellent photos & article

  60. Anonymous - Thanks so much for the nice words, and taking the time to read and comment on my post.

    I totally agree with you about Amboy being a perfect place to showcase the 1950's. It would be awesome for that to happen. I'd imagine that investing a bunch of money in the cottages and motel, would be VERY expensive, and maybe VERY risky.

    The guy that bought it several years ago (Albert Okura) said he had plans to do quite a bit with the town. Other than than the gas station and snack bar, not much has happened. I heard that he was having problems with zoning and/or permits to do what he wanted. Like you, I hope he gets it done. Thanks again!

  61. I heard from a Marine stationed at 29 Palms in the early 50’s that Amboy was the place where the prostitutes worked. Must have been in those cottages

  62. Grunt - I've never heard that before, but I don't doubt it. Where there is a need, and money is involved, somebody will provide the product...

  63. That's quite a little town! Takes me straight back to the '50's!!!

    1. It is a great little place. I did several other posts on Rt. 66 "ghost towns."

  64. My parents, my sister and I spent the night in one of those cottages while driving back to California from Oklahoma in the summer of 1962. My dad woke me up very early and we went outside to watch the sun rise. I will never forget that short stay. P.S. I'm looking for a vintage Amboy postcard. Anyone have one for sale?

  65. Unknown - Thanks for taking the time to read the post leave a post. I never stayed in one of them, but I sure remember driving by, and sometimes stopping there to eat, or to gas up. You can find the vintage postcards on Ebay pretty regularly. Of


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