Barstow, California, isn’t everyone’s idea of a destination for a few-days getaway, but, hey, it was cheaper than Laguna—our first choice. Besides, my friend, Theresa Baer, whom I was traveling with, wanted to get away from the LA area and to the wide-open spaces of the desert. And that we did. Even the weather cooperated––mostly sunny with only one windy day.
Theresa picked me up in Bakersfield, where I was spending the Christmas holiday with family. Then we headed out Hwy 58, 130 miles to Barstow. When we were getting close, we followed Theresa’s directions to the visitor center—surrounded by outlet stores a few miles outside of town.
We were asked where we were from and where we were headed. When we said that we were headed to Barstow, there was a pause, since that was not the expected response. But they were cool, and provided us with town maps, places to visit info, and directions to get to the actual town without using the I-15 freeway. This was the day after Christmas, and the I-15 was a parking lot—nothing was moving.
After looking at the state map, I jokingly said that all roads lead to Barstow—I-15, Hwy 58, and Hwy 40. And the junction with Hwys 58 and 395 is nearby. So Barstow today is a stopping point for travelers, mainly between the LA area and Las Vegas. This town of only 23,000 has absolutely zillions of motels and fast-food venues along its main thoroughfare. In the past, its claim to fame was Route 66, as its main street through town. And nearly every business still has the Route 66 road sign.
After finding our motel, tucked in among many others, and settling in, we walked to a nearby restaurant and had a terrific meal. It was Jenny’s Grill that specialized in Mexican food. Theresa had shrimp tacos and I had fish tacos with the requisite refried beans and rice. Everything was delicious.
After the motel’s comp breakfast, we headed northeast to the ghost town of Calico. It has quite a history, and the hillsides are pockmarked with silver mines and their tailings. The “sheriff” greeted us, and spent some time recalling his life story to Theresa. (She has that effect on people.)
Many of the buildings were original and some restored. There were gift shops, replica old-time businesses, a museum, and eateries. We also took a ride on a narrow-gauge train around the area. The history was fascinating and the weather perfect. We enjoyed it all.
Before leaving the area and closer to the highway, we stopped to eat at Peggy Sue’s Diner. Although it has expanded and become commercialized, we ate in the original diner area and were charmed. The waitresses were older, personable, and gave great service. We both ordered burgers, mine with curly fries and Theresa’s with onion rings. I also had a chocolate shake, which was served with the classic glass full and the extra in the metal container. We loved it all—even the 1950’s music! Nearing the end of the meal, the waitress informed us that an anonymous someone had paid for our meal!!!! Can’t remember when that last happened!
Closer to town we stopped at the historic Harvey House train station. At one time there were about 100 of these elegant stations, which were much more than a train station.
There were fabulous restaurants with hotel rooms, as well as the station portion, all within an architectural wonder of a building. Back in 1946, there was even a movie called The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland. Today there are only about 30 Harvey Houses remaining, and the one in Barstow is the largest. And it is not a historic relic but a vibrant part of the community. It houses 14 businesses, including three museums––the Space Museum (NASA Goldstone Visitor Center), Barstow Route 66 Museum, and the Railroad Museum.
The only one open on Day 2 of our trip was the Space Museum, so we checked it out. It covered the many milestones of the past space programs, what is happening today, and future plans. Barstow’s connection to space is the nearby Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex with its numerous antennas that communicate with manned and unmanned spacecraft. NASA needed a remote location free from radio signal interference, and the Mojave Desert fit the bill. The first antenna was built in 1958, and every few years, more were added. The complex is one of three on earth that are part of the Deep Space Communications Network. The others are located near Madrid, Spain, and Canberra, Australia. We were impressed! Who knew such important space related work was going on near Barstow.
Instead of the comp breakfast at the motel, we headed across the highway to a small shopping center and Lola’s Kitchen. It turned out to be another Mexican restaurant. I ordered scrambled eggs with all kinds of great stuff mixed in with the eggs, but requested that the optional jalapenos be left out. It was the first time for me to have rice and refried beans with breakfast and to be asked if I preferred corn or flour tortillas. When the waitperson noted my hesitation, he asked if I would prefer an English muffin. I quickly said, “Yes!” Theresa had a breakfast burrito with chorizo. Everything was yummy.
This was a very windy day, but it was okay, since we would be indoors. We had four museums to visit on our schedule and two were in town. So we headed to those first. The Mojave River Valley Museum was heavy on geology of the area with lots of rocks on display and many books. Theresa bought some of the geology books. It was a great small museum, and the volunteer on duty gave us each a cookbook put together by the folks that volunteered there.
The next museum was nearby and had a fabulous building and landscaping that was exactly what you would expect in the desert. But it was closed because of the federal government shutdown. Dang!
Next we headed to Harvey House where the other two museums were located and only open Friday through Sunday. The Railroad Museum was closed because no volunteers were available during the holidays, but the Barstow Route 66 Museum was open. There was a 1964 ½ red Mustang and many displays of what life was like in the 1960s. Of course, we remembered the TV program “Route 66” (1960-64) with two young men in a Corvette having adventures all along the way. It starred Martin Milner and George Maharis. We also remembered the popular theme song for the TV program “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” originally recorded by Nat King Cole and then others such as Ray Charles. For both Theresa and me, the whole museum was a step back in time and great fun! We each bought Route 66 T-shirts.
Then we were off to Rainbow Basin. Again, the wind wouldn’t be a problem because we would be staying in the truck. After taking a highway out of town, we turned on a wash-boarded, two-lane dirt road for several miles before turning into a narrower, one-way loop also dirt that was as wide as a narrow driveway. It was hard to go faster than 5-10 mph, but you didn’t want to. There was so much to see. We loved it! We saw only a few other vehicles, and they also stopped every couple of minutes to gawk or take photos.
Some formations looked like ruins in Egypt. Others looked like small versions of Bryce Canyon. There was what looked like mudstone along the sides of the road, and the topsoil looked like dried mud and was flaking. This was the desert and everything was as dry as could be. But everywhere were signs of where water had been.
The colors weren’t as vivid as Oregon’s Painted Hills, but there were pastel variations of red, green, beige, and more. As we got closer, we were surrounded by rocky formations. I kept saying, “Oh, look!” and Theresa, “Now what do you suppose caused that?” We saw examples of uplift, fracturing, and erosion, which exposed many layers of soil, rock, and colors. It worked out well for us to have seen the museum explaining the geology of the area and then seeing many examples at Rainbow Basin. It was fascinating!
Back in town, we had a late lunch at Habibi’s that had Mediterranean food. I had lentil soup with hummus and pita bread. Theresa had a chicken and rice dish. Both of us were happy with what we ordered.
Then we headed out to the outlet stores for a little shopping. Outlets have reduced prices anyway, and they are reduced even more after Christmas. So why not! I found great deals on some pajamas at Calvin Klein and a fleece vest at Columbia sports wear.
It was dark before we got back to our motel. It had been a very full day.
We returned to Lola’s Kitchen for more Mexican breakfasts. We both had variations on the scrambled egg breakfast, and both were yummy!
Then we hit the road about 10 a.m., heading back to Bakersfield. The weather was good and the traffic in our direction was not bad. Not so in the other direction. That was a different story. It was the Saturday morning of New Year’s weekend and many folks were heading to Vegas.
We arrived in Bakersfield about 12:30 p.m., which gave Theresa time to continue on to the LA area and arrive well before dark.
On our drives to and from Barstow, we saw many trains since the tracks paralleled the highway. The trains had multiple engines, several double-decker cars, and were very long.
On this trip, we started with Theresa’s list of places to visit in Barstow and the surrounding area, but had no idea how they would measure up. As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised over and over. We had plenty of worthwhile places to visit to fill our time, and plenty of good eateries that were not fast food. So in spite of everyone’s raised eyebrows when we said where we were going, visiting Barstow turned out to be a delightful trip. We thoroughly enjoyed it.