Route 66: Needles, CA

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on December 9, 2007 0 Comments

Needles is a very interesting, fun, and historically important town on the Route 66.  Located on the western banks of the Colorado River, Needles was the first taste of California many traveler’s experienced.

 

One of my favorite scenes in the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” staring Henry Fonda is when the Joad family from Oklahoma finally makes it to the promised land of California and they are somewhat taken back with the desert town of Needles.  They were expecting orange trees, vineyards, and palm trees like the post cards advertise.  Instead, the land was sandy, windy, and full of cactus.

You need to look a little closer to appreciate the raw beauty that the town of Needles offers.  The name Needles comes from the sharp mountain peaks on the Arizona side of the Colorado River.  I had always believed the town was named after the many cacti that inhabit this desert land.

The Colorado River is absolutely beautiful and you should definitely allow a good hour to get out of the car and explore by foot.  On the Arizona-side of the Colorado River, just a mile from Needles, there is Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and that is a wonderful place to stop and relax a bit.  This photo was taken from there and you can see a little of Needles, California across the river.

Needles was founded in 1883 when the railroad was built through it.  The town is a major Mojave gathering place with a population of 5,225 people today.  It is also the home of Snoopy’s brother, Spike.  Peanut’s cartoonist, Charles Schultz, lived in Needles as a child.

  

Route 66 runs through downtown Needles.  Route 66 is often called “Main Street” highway because you drive through the middle of town instead of circling on the outside as is the case with modern interstate freeways.  Needles downtown is absolutely full of old motels, restaurants, and gas stations that have served travelers over the years.

It’s not expensive to vacation in Needles and the Colorado River is a very fun place for recreation.

 

Some of these older motels look pretty beat up on the exteriors, while the interiors can be very clean and with wonderful motel staff making a stay in them quite enjoyable.  I have not personally slept overnight in Needles but I have read reviews of some of these motels and the writers were very satisfied with their experience.

 

The Wagon Wheel Restaurant has been serving delicious, hearty meals to travelers since 1978. 

 

 The Hungry Bear Restaurant is also right on Route 66:

 

 This gas station is closed now but it used provide full-service to cars for years.

 

I liked this little trailer that sells local honey.  And after I noticed this one, I saw so many more like it selling various local specialities all throughout the Arizona desert.

I was not really expecting to see a wine celler in Needles, but I did, and the outside is so colorfully painted.

We got a little turned around in Needles.  It’s important to watch for road signs and the Route 66 will need to merge into Interstate 40 in order to cross over the bridge of the Colorado River.

In order to fully appreciate the history of Route 66, it is a good idea to read John Steinback’s “Grapes of Wrath” and see the 1940s movie.  I have a totally different view of the California Agricultural Checkpoints, now that I learned they used to be used to turn away migrant farmworkers from dustbowl states such as Oklahoma.

 

This is a view from Interstate 40 of the famous bridge that the Joads’ family crosses in the movie “Grapes of Wrath”.

When you see the bridge upclose, it is hard to believe that it was wide enough to accommodate cars.  Today it houses utility wires over the Colorado River.

Now on to Arizona and the wonderful Black Mountains with the charming town of Oatman. 

 

References:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needles,_California

2. http://www.theroadwanderer.net/RT66needles.htm

 

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