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Leaving Los Angeles Behind
Sebastian woke this morning with clear eyes and big smiles. He did not seem to be suffering any residual effects from the thick layers of sand that had coated his eyes last night. Oh, the healing power within a seven year old!
Today we would begin our “historic Route 66” journey. The highway is often called “the Mother Road,” and it extends from Chicago to Los Angeles. In 1926, federal funding was used to expand some of the existing trails and dirt roads that flowed westward, resulting in a route that connected various small towns and attractions along the way. It was finally paved in the late 1930’s. Large portions have now been swallowed up by modern super-highways, and all of the towns along the route have been bypassed, leading to the economic decline and abandonment of many.
The term “Route 66” still conjures up different images and emotions, mostly involving nostalgic concepts of freedom, independence and adventure. For me, I envision an open road, carefree laughter, hair blowing in the wind (I know that’s a stretch in the RV, but bear with me), unplanned discoveries, and eyes shining with anticipation over what we would see around the next corner or mountain top.
The Mother Road called to us, and we answered. We had two weeks to explore what was left of the old route, beginning in Los Angeles and driving as far as Gallup, New Mexico.
Route 66 ends in Los Angeles, which would be our starting point; so we would in essence be traveling the route “backwards.” The official end of the road was not too far from the Santa Monica pier, which has a carousel and other amusements that I thought would be fun for the kids. Because parking is limited near the pier, we decided to ride our bicycles there from the RV park.
In hindsight, I realize that the goal was ambitious. Even though the bike path was wide and smooth, we still had to pedal nine miles to get there (which would mean an 18-mile round trip for the kids). I don’t know what I was thinking.
In any event, we started out in high spirits.
There continued to be a steady stream of airplanes overhead, soaring over the beach as they lifted off from the nearby LAX.
The weather was perfect for a bicycle ride!
We shared the bike trail with joggers, walkers, skaters, other bicyclists, and a new-fangled type of 3-wheel scooter.
Genevieve, with a plane overhead:
Sebastian was pedaling slowly this morning—he probably had not yet replaced the huge store of energy used last night. We meandered leisurely down the trail.
As I looked at the ocean, the beach, the palm trees, and my beautiful family stretched out in front of me, I was saturated with gladness. It was a perfect moment.
We passed this stranded sailboat, which had some graffiti painted on the bottom and a small fence around it.
Ben and I were wondering about the boat’s history—i.e., how did it get here, and why hasn’t it been removed. I did some internet research when I got home to try and learn more, but I couldn’t find any information.
After several miles of cycling, Sebastian started asking, “How much longer ‘til we get there?” The question was not infused with excited anticipation. I realized that the pier was just too far away to arrive on bikes today—even if we could make it there, we would still have the long ride back. We turned around.
To our right was another long mound of sand as part of the beach replenishment program.
I couldn’t imagine that the owners of these homes were too keen on having their ocean view blocked by the tall dune.
We casually pedaled back to the RV park.
These two palms looked like they were providing comfort to one another.
While Ben and I prepared the RV for departure, the kids had fun digging in the sand.
Genevieve shows off the large hole that the kids dug this morning:
And Sebastian and Brandon eagerly start a new hole:
Genevieve and Sebastian were a bit sad to leave their new friends. Here they are together in a farewell shot: Sebastian, Brandon, Renee, and Genevieve.
We had a great time at Dockweiler RV park (well, except for the sand-in-the-eyeballs experience). I’m sure that we’ll be back here again.
There were conflicting reports about where the exact end of Route 66 was located. At one time, it ended in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, but then it was extended west into Santa Monica. We covered a small circuit of the places mentioned in various sources—Olympic and Lincoln Blvds., Santa Monica and Lincoln Blvds., Santa Monica and Ocean Blvds., and the Santa Monica pier.
We found two metered, parallel parking spots near the corner of Santa Monica and Lincoln Boulevards, a few blocks from the pier. We had heard that there was an “official plaque” marking the Route 66 end, but we weren’t sure of the exact location. We set off on our treasure hunt.
Here are Ben and the kids:
No plaque at the corner of Santa Monica and Lincoln:
Ben and I walked in separate directions, searching for the plaque.
Genevieve and I asked a gas station attendant if he knew where the Route 66 plaque or ending sign was. He didn’t, but he gave us big smiles, accompanied by a map of Santa Monica and some wishes of good luck on our adventure.
Ben and Sebastian asked a bus driver if she knew about the plaque. She pointed east, away from the ocean, and said that it was “a few blocks” back. Still no plaque.
Our quarter supply was depleted, and we had used up the short time on our meters, so we gave up on finding the plaque and continued on our way. Circling back toward the Santa Monica pier:
The corner of Ocean and Santa Monica Boulevards:
We could see the ferris wheel and roller coaster on the pier.
For a number of reasons (lack of RV parking, getting a late start, many miles to cover today, other sights more interesting than an amusement park), we decided not to stop at the pier. We would be back to enjoy the rides here on another journey perhaps.
The pier sign:
We headed east on Santa Monica Boulevard (aka Hwy. 2), which follows the old Route 66.
Los Angeles sprawls over a vast area, and we threaded our way through Los Angles traffic past block after block of businesses and stop lights.
In the distance, we could see snow covered mountains:
Crossing over Westwood Boulevard, we saw the beautiful façade of the Mormon Temple (the Los Angeles California Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
The temple was completed in the mid-1950’s. The exterior is covered with a mixture of crushed quartz and white Portland cement from Utah and Nevada. On top is a 15½-foot figure of the angel Moroni, facing east.
At Moreno Drive, a large sign told us that we were entering Beverly Hills. Ooh-la-la!
We took a peek down Rodeo Drive:
The Beverly Hills City Hall had a tall tower with a golden dome:
The tall, skinny trunks of the palm trees grew at various angles.
When I was in art school, there was an old joke floating around that went something like this: “If your sculpture isn’t ‘good,’ make it really big; if that doesn’t help, paint it red.” Hmmmm . . . .
This apartment building was appealing:
A slight fender-bender at an intersection brought traffic to a halt.
After a long wait, we could see movement ahead. However, the police officer who was waving cars through the intersection had a plan that involved just ignoring our branch of vehicles. While waiting, we were entertained by the stealth maneuvering (and audacity) of drivers who needed more lessons in “waiting their turn.”
Finally, we were freed from the snarl, but were forced to make a detour on side streets to get around the accident. The back of this business had been painted with a beautiful scene:
We eventually relaxed in our seats, thinking that we were back on track; however, a street sign, and a quick look at our map, indicated that we were way off course and heading in the wrong direction. Oops!
While “lost,” we rolled by this building that had tall fins along the front:
To me, it seemed to have an “outer space” look to it. However, I later learned that it was the Petersen Automotive Museum, which has 300,000 square feet of exhibits devoted to the impact that the automobile has made on American culture. The museum has over 150 rare vehicles, including cars, trucks and motorcycles.
The building with the rounded gold corner was once May Department Store, but now houses art collections from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Across the street (above) was Johnie’s Coffee Shop Restaurant, with its blue and white striped roof. Though now closed, Johnie’s was built in 1955; the roof slopes down in the back (which you can’t see in the photo), and is supposed to reflect movement. The building is a famous example of Space Age or “Googie” architecture.
On our right was a large parking lot packed with tour buses and cars. The crowds were visiting Farmers Market, which was established in 1934 when 18 farmers paid 50 cents each to park their trucks here (on what used to be a dairy farm) and sell produce out of the back. The idea became wildly successful.
The market has gone through a lot of changes over the years, and at various times has had a car race track, circus acts, a sports arena, and a petting zoo. It now has over 85 shops and restaurants, plus a movie theater. The market’s website proclaims that it is “the must-see attraction in Southern California” and “one of the most delightful, and amazingly popular, shopping and entertainment venues in the nation.” We generally do not like to shop (unless we are looking for a specific thing or things), so we kept driving.
We reconnected with Route 66 at this corner, which had a Starbucks coffee shop below a Russian restaurant and dance club called “Crystal.”
A bit of art deco flair:
I liked the detailed design at the top of this building:
When Ben and I first met, he was racing motorcycles on a team called Arclight Racing. The term “Arclight” is rarely heard, and we were surprised to see it on this cinema-plex on Vine Street:
We ventured off of Route 66 into the Hollywood area. Here is the corner of “Hollywood and Vine.”
This intersection is well-known for being a former hub of activity for movie and radio businesses. The Hollywood Walk of Fame, with its collection of stars, is located on sidewalk here. Some of the stars can be seen on the close-up shot below:
While most of the production facilities have moved to other locations, the round tower of Capitol Records still remains near the corner:
We wanted to get a good look at the famous “Hollywood” sign that sits on the hillside. The sign originally read “Hollywoodland” and was erected in 1923 as a giant ad for a suburban housing development with that name. Each of the original 13 letters was 30 feet wide and 50 feet tall, constructed of 3x9’ metal squares rigged together by an intricate frame of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles. The sign underwent many changes over the years, losing the “land” suffix in the 1940’s, decaying, and being changed by vandals to “Hollyweed” and “Holywood.” It was completely replaced in 1978, and an elaborate security system was installed in 2000 to prevent public access to the sign. Eight decades after it was installed, the sign stands as a symbol to many of hope, possibility, and a bit of magic.
Turning onto Beachwood Drive gave us a clear view of the sign, with a few electrical lines running through it.
“We were there!”
We headed further up into the hills, but the road became more narrow and twisty. We turned our big RV around before we got ourselves in a pickle.
One last shot of the sign, along with a lot of other tourists doing the same thing:
The houses in this neighborhood seemed very well-maintained, with a variety of personalities.
I liked the distinctive stripes on this home:
Back on Route 66, we passed the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center.
Along Sunset Boulevard, the store “Uncle Jer’s” had an intriguing face over the door:
A Smart Car makes sense if you spend a lot of time driving in the city—you save money on gas, and you don’t have to look for a big parking spot (and you don’t have helmet hair when you arrive at your destination!).
The Santa Maria Family Medical Clinic had some colorful murals:
Route 66 gets absorbed by the L.A. Freeway system near the Los Angeles Chinatown. We noticed that the street signs were labeled in English and Chinese.
The First Chinese Baptist Church had modern architecture:
We entered the freeway, called the Historic Arroyo Seco Parkway, and also known as “the 110”.
This section of highway was built in 1940 to connect Los Angeles with Pasadena. The Parkway has three tunnels with decorative designs, as shown in the photo below. (It’s hard to get to get a clear focus when you’re hanging out the window.)
Here is a detailed shot of the designs on the first tunnel:
On the other side, a welcome sign let us know that we were on the right road:
The road wound through some green hills, next to a cemented waterway and a bike path:
Downtown Pasadena was full of older buildings with beautiful detailed designs. Here is the Chamber of Commerce, which had triangular stone shapes embedded in the brickwork:
The annual Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena was just a few days away, and main street was backed up due to pre-parade preparations.
As we inched our way down the street, sometimes not moving at all while the light turned from red to green to red several times, we admired all of the lovely architecture.
Leaving the downtown area, we passed the bleachers all set up for parade spectators.
The 1913 Colorado Street Bridge, known for its Beaux Arts arches and fancy lamp posts, was part of Route 66 until the Arroyo Seco Parkway opened in 1940.
The bridge is sometimes referred to as “Suicide Bridge” after the many people who have jumped to their death since 1919. Some people believe that the bridge is haunted, and many claim to have heard strange sounds or seen ghostly shapes wandering in the Arroyo Seco below.
The bridge deteriorated over the years and fell into disrepair. It was completely restored in the early 1990’s, reopening in 1993 with a tall “suicide prevention rail.”
The bridge is now considered a Civil Engineering Landmark and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After crossing the bridge, we pulled over by the side of the road for a picnic lunch. The time was already past 2:00 p.m. It had taken us a lot longer to leave Los Angeles than anticipated. We still had a number of small towns to zig zag our way through. However, we decided to bypass a number of those towns in order to reach a place called “The Bottle Tree Ranch” before sunset.
We hopped on the highway.
The distant mountains:
I appreciated the curvy and textural designs incorporated into the freeway side walls.
We passed over the Cajon Summit, with an elevation of over 4000 feet. Route 66 was no longer drivable through this section. We caught an occasional glimpse of a stretch of asphalt in bits and pieces above and below the freeway.
In the town of Victorville, we picked up Route 66 again; this portion of the road is also called the National Trails Highway.
A Cemex processing facility:
Here was a 1930 Modified Baltimore Truss Bridge that crossed over the Mojave River.
Instead of physical road signs on posts, the “Route 66” marker was painted directly onto the road.
Another cement plant:
Our guidebook said that a 1925 train bridge would provide a “tight squeeze.” Since the book was written for people driving cars, not RV’s, I was a bit apprehensive regarding whether we would fit.
The height limit was 13 feet, 11 inches—no problem for us!
There was a mixture of old and new homes along the road.
Before the town of Helendale, we found the Bottle Tree Ranch--just as the sun was beginning to set.
I had read that an artist named Elmer Long had made an astounding display of bottle tree sculptures, and he welcomed visitors to his sculpture garden, free of charge.
What a visual treat!
I was like a little kid in a candy store!
Genevieve and I were wandering together, commenting on all of the special details that we found on each sculpture. I caught sight of movement in the back of the yard, near a building. I saw it was a man. I called out, “Are you Elmer?”
“Yes!” came the reply.
He was all smiles as I shook his hand and introduced Genevieve. (I’m pretty sure that I was gushing like a schoolgirl, but what can I say . . . .)
Elmer was an exceptionally gracious host. He was very patient with both Genevieve and Sebastian, answering all of our questions.
He also shared stories about some of the special items on the bottle trees.
For example, the fishing pole on this bottle tree was the very first pole that his Dad ever bought him:
This sculpture is made with a real gun and live ammunition:
He showed me some special coins that were welded onto the back of the “sink” bottle tree.
Elmer has been making bottle trees for about 10 years. His first tree was a small one tucked away in the front corner of the yard.
Elmer said that within 20 minutes of installing that first bottle tree, someone had stopped to take a photo. He kept creating the trees, and people kept stopping to see them.
Elmer said that he gets visitors from all over the world who stop by to see his bottle trees. Many visitors write him afterwards and send photos from their visit. In fact, he had just received a photo from Spain today, with a photo of him posing with a group of Spanish tourists. He admitted that he is a “hermit” by nature and said that he’s lucky to be able to meet people through his bottle trees.
Anyone looking at the exuberance within his sculptures can see that his work brings him joy!
As I was talking with Elmer, a man came up and stopped in front of us. Two boys were with him—a teenager and a younger boy. They were each clutching a black camera with a large lens on the front. The man introduced himself to Elmer and asked if he could take a picture.
Elmer replied with a drawn out, “Sure!” Then he started asking, “Would you like one with your boy here?”, motioning toward the younger child. Right in the middle of his question, however, all three (father and sons) raised their cameras in unison and started clicking away like crazy. Elmer looked a little surprised, but he took their aggressive, paparazzi-style conduct in stride. I was pretty stunned, and backed away slowly, out of the scene.
Elmer must have the patience of a saint to open up his small world here to perfect strangers every day—all of us asking the same questions and wanting to take photos. He is not seeking monetary compensation (he doesn’t sell anything here, not even postcards or refreshments). He must do it simply because he loves the experience.
Some more photos of Elmer’s sculpture garden:
Sebastian had fun exploring the vehicles:
One last photo of me and Elmer:
Ben caught the light filling the bottles as the sun was sinking:
We left Elmer’s place with our hearts full.
Darkness was falling as we continued through the desert to Barstow.
Our destination tonight was the campground at Calico Ghost Town, about 12 miles east of Barstow. It was dark when we pulled in. We had only driven about 160 miles today, but it felt like we had covered a lot of territory—with a healthy Sebastian (yippee!), a bit of history, the heavy traffic of L.A., and heart-felt connections. We’re off to a good start!
<< Day 1: On the Road Again, to Santa Monica | Day 3: Ghost Towns and Wide Open Spaces >>
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