In the 1939 book The Grapes of Wrath, American author John Steinbeck described Route 66 as the main migrant road that travels, “Over the red lands and the grey lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert, and across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.”
During the 1930s, people from the Great Plains region that suffered a great drought and high bowling winds fled west to seek work in the rich California land. Steinbeck wrote that, “From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.”
Today, people still set out on this Mother Road from many cities across the United States and of the world. Their flight may be to escape the current world and to relive part of the past and historical American culture. And just as looking at old photographs can give us a clue into what life was like in the past, the many roadside attractions along Route 66 provide us with a peep of its historical life; the decayed buildings along Route 66 only bringing a hint of what was once there.
Whether traveling Route 66 from the east or from the west, the Mother Road crosses into what Steinbeck calls the “bright and terrible desert.” In California, the Mojave Desert sits between the town of Needles to the south facing San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains that divides the land from the green basin of the Los Angeles/San Bernardino region. Although Steinbeck may have referred to the desert in California as terrible, many people today enjoy the clear blue sky and its open land.
Despite this, the Mojave Desert is a foreign land to many, an unfamiliar landscape of dry brown mountains, short lifeless vegetation on the desert floor, and home to the Joshua Trees with branches that resemble arms being held upward to the heavens. During its heydays, Route 66 was the main road through the desert with towns and business that catered to those making their journey to the California coast. Yet, that part of American history faded away with the coming of the giant multi-lane superhighway known as the Interstate system. Both Interstate 40 and Interstate 15 cut through the Mojave Desert and bypassed many towns that once lined Route 66.
Towns such as Needles, Barstow, and Victorville were able to keep from becoming ghost towns partly because of the Interstate system connection. They are but a few along Route 66 that still remain while others are just a memory for few to remember.
However, in the town of Victorville there is still a place in which the old days of Route 66 within California and of others states has been preserved. It is a snapshot of time in the desert held within a historical building that sits on Route 66 that once housed the Red Rooster Cafe. This old building is now home to the California Route 66 Museum. The museum’s goal is to promote, preserve, and educate the public throughout the world on the culture and history of Route 66.
Many people from around the world visit the California Route 66 Museum. It has become a connection to those who travel that migrant road, a resting place to view items from years gone by, and a chance to make new memories. The museum is widely supported and visited by those who have a love for The Mother Road as well as those who seek to understand its history.
As part of the museum’s mission, a blog section has been added to our website. We hope that you will follow us along the way as we explore Route 66 in its history, culture, and of present day events.