Day 1

Day 1
Saturday, June 19

Santa Monica, CA – Barstow, CA

Our Route 66 Journey began on Saturday at 3:30 AM. We crawled out of bed, got ready, packed up the car and left our town for a two hour drive to the airport located in Houston, TX. There we would meet my parents and brother and sister-in-law for the flight to Los Angeles. Driving in Houston that early on a weekend is both exciting and eerie; there is very little traffic on the roads and for Houston that is extremely rare. 

We arrived at the airport and made it through security relatively quickly. Although my son had his bag flagged because he had brought a large bottle of shampoo and they had to keep that.

The three and a half hour flight was full but very quiet and relaxing. My kids liked it very much, and it turned out to have been the highlight of the entire trip for them. During the Route 66 road trip, they kept asking when we could fly again.

On the flight, we were all scattered around but I sat with my son. He sat next to the window, I had the middle seat and an unknown man sat in the aisle seat. When this man boarded, he had some sort of iced coffee drink from Starbucks with him. He sipped that drink for the entire three hour flight and my son couldn’t believe or understand how he could make that drink last the entire flight.

During the flight I did some editing on a kids book I’m writing. I also saw two guys passing back a page full of math equations, so I wasn’t the only one doing work on the flight.

At one point the plane banked sharply to the right and my son leaned into the turn. So I did too. He laughed and jokingly asked “What would happen if everyone on the plane leaned to the right as well?”

We arrived in Los Angeles around 8:30 AM, which was 10:30 AM back in Texas. We had traveled back in time! We went to wait for our luggage at the carousel and as we watched the suitcases come around, we noticed a brand new cardboard box with a picture of a suitcase on it. I guess in Houston someone had bought a suitcase that came in a box and checked it; I’ve never seen that before.

Outside the terminal, we hopped aboard the Hertz shuttle-bus that took us to the Hertz rental car office where we would get our rental cars. We decided on getting two cars, One for me, my wife and kids and the other for my parents and brother and his wife. We thought this would be better than one large van because with two vehicles we could have the option of splitting up, doing different things, or if one car wanted to linger at an attraction the other car could go on ahead and we’d meet up later. Although on this trip, we ended up staying together the entire time. But what made the trip more fun was changing seats. At different times we would switch people around so we were always riding with different people and not the same four for the entire trip.

There were a lot of people in line at Hertz but it went quickly. The Hertz representative tried to convince us to buy the incidental insurance and roadside assistance but we declined. The cost to rent the car for a week was already more than the plane tickets from Houston to LA, and I didn’t want to add any more daily charges. 

The conversation with our Rep went something like this:

“Are you sure you don’t want the insurance and roadside assistance?”
“No thanks.”
“Uh…you sure? You have the car for a whole week.”
“No thanks.”
“Huh. What about Sirius radio?”
“No thanks.”
“Where are you headed?”
“We’re driving back to texas.”
“Oh? That’s a lot of driving”
“We’re taking the old Route 66.”
“I see, and you don’t want the insurance or roadside assistance?”
“No, we’ll be fine. We’ll drive slow.”
At which point she gave up, and shrugged as if to say “You’ll be sorry.”

From there we got on the highway and made our way to the Santa Monica Pier. The Santa Monica Pier is the official start and end of Route 66; depending on which direction you are heading. We parked in a nearby parking garage, only a block or so away from the pier.

As soon as my kids opened the car doors they noticed the garage smelled like urine and they immediately let us know how bad it smelled.

“What’s that smell?!” exclaimed my daughter, while my son pretended to throw up.

“It’s the ocean!” I said joyfully.

They didn’t buy it.

We walked to the Santa Monica Pier, enjoying the cool, pleasant morning air. My wife overheard a woman saying rather despondently that “it was already warming up.” If we were at home, due to the extremely high humidity, we would have been pouring sweat by the time we made it to the pier, so for us it was very nice. 

We found the Santa Monica Route 66 End of the Trails sign, marking the start of our journey and took some photos. Afterwards we started to explore the other attractions on the pier. There were cafes, shops, an arcade and even a small amusement park. If you’ve seen the cartoon Bob’s Burgers, the Santa Monica Pier reminds me of Wonder Wharf.
My wife and son rode the roller coaster and we walked through the arcade but didn’t have enough time to play any games. 

We munched down a couple churros and then began to make our way back to our cars to begin our Route 66 journey. At the entrance to the pier is a small route 66 gift shop and I bought a Route 66 passport there. You take the passport with you on your trip and various attractions and stops will stamp the passport for you. It turned out the store was my very first stamp. From this point on, any place that we stopped at that was in the passport I would get their stamp. However, not every stop we made was in the passport and unfortunately most of the stops were closed by the time we got there so I only managed to maybe get half of the stamps.

We took I-10 to HWY 110 up to Pasadena and made our next stop at the Gamble House. The Gamble House, built in 1908 is a stunning display of architecture and design, sitting nestled among some lovely pine trees. It is well worth a visit just for its own beauty, but even more importantly to me, it was used as Doc Brown’s house in Back to the Future

We left the Gamble House, traveling East down the very scenic Orange Grove Blvd until it met Foothill Blvd, trying to follow the old Route 66. But with lots of traffic and stop lights at almost every single block it was tiring, time consuming and frustrating.

Finally, more than an hour later, after we passed San Dimas, around La Verne; we got back on the much quicker I-210 and headed East. We exited on Pepper Ave in San Bernardino to visit the famous Wigwam Motel.

The Motel was built in 1946 and is one of three remaining Wigwam Villages in the country. We saw another one later on the trip.

After a quick stop there we got back on I-210 and then I-215 until it merged with I-15 North, heading to Barstow. There was a lot of traffic heading to Barstow but the traffic heading the opposite way, back to Los Angeles was even worse, with bumper to bumper traffic for miles.

At Victorville we left I-15 and got back on the old Route 66. There were very few vehicles on this stretch through the desert and it was a nice drive. We stopped at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch at Oro Grande. It was very hot and dry but well worth a stop. The property is filled with hundreds of iron stands that have short iron pieces sticking out, like trees. Then the short iron pieces are covered in all kinds of bottles and powerline insulators. The area resembles an iron and glass bottle forest. It was very neat and hard to believe that one guy made all this, way out in the desert. The wind was blowing while we were there and it rattled some of the bottles and other antique items around the ranch, creating a very soothing wind chime sound.

From there we continued through the desert North East to Barstow where we checked in at the Route 66 Motel. The website said they’ve been there since 1922 and that they have round beds. However, none of our rooms had a round bed.

There is a noteworthy McDonalds in Barstow, located in what is called the Barstow Station. Inside the station is a convenience store, souvenir shop, Panda Express, Pretzel shop and a McDonalds. Both the Panda Express and McDonalds have actual train cars connected to their restaurants that you can sit in and eat. How cool is that? Where else can you eat in a train car?

After a stop to see the McDonalds we went to the local Walmart to buy water and snacks for the trip ahead. It’s the only Walmart I’ve been to that had the medicine and baby formula locked up.

Barstow seems to have seen better days and the town looked pretty run down and haggard. 

We returned to our hotel around 9 PM to retire for the night. We heard sirens several times and fireworks which my kids were convinced were gunshots.

I was too tired to get excited about it, “If they’re gun shots, they’re far away, we’re fine.”

My kids were less than pleased at my response. But I soon fell asleep while they stayed up and Googled Barstow and discovered just how dangerous and crime ridden the town actually is.

It had been quite a long day, and sometimes a trying day, but overall a good start to our Route 66 journey.


If I had to change anything on this day, I think I would have just got on the highway after the Gamble House instead of trying to drive straight through LA along the old Route 66, there just wasn’t enough Route 66 stuff to see to make it worth it. I think it best to drive down I-210 and perhaps we could have picked one or two well known sights and drove straight to them instead of trying to drive all the way through town. LA is a lot bigger than it looks and takes a long time to drive across.

An alternative would have been to stay in the LA area, see the sights there and then start the drive to Barstow early the next morning.

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