Creepy movies always seem to have a scene or two at one of those nearly abandoned outposts on a lonely highway.

A real one still stands on what was once US 66 in Amboy, Calif., and you probably know of this place if you know anything about Route 66.

It’s Roy’s, once a cafe, gas station and motel that still stands and is open, sort of. Bypassed by Interstate 40 in the early 1970s, it’s now 28 miles to one exit, at Ludlow, and 46 miles to the other, at Mountain Springs Summit. Oh, and if you want to go south, it’s just under 50 miles to Twentynine Palms, which is the route I took a couple of days ago. It’s along the majority of what remains of old Route 66 through the Mojave desert.

The story about Roy’s has been well documented… started in 1938 with a guy named Roy Crowl, who opened a cafe in Amboy. The business expanded and the iconic sign rose in 1959. Things crash in 1972 when Interstate 40 opens; traffic disappears from the old highway.

Today, it’s a popular spot for nostalgia seekers. When I visited, I had to slam on the brakes approaching Roy’s because a couple of dozen tourists were standing in the middle of the road taking pictures. There’s a Route 66 symbol painted on the highway’s pavement, one of many. Still, nobody seemed to be paying attention to me or the two cars behind me, all going at least the 65 mph speed limit.

Roy’s had a gentleman inside the old restaurant, selling souvenirs, soft drinks and water, as well as few snacks. The cafe is closed. I’d read that there were plans to reopen the motel and cafe; the motel units look like they’ve been partially restored.

“There’s been a lot of plans here,” he shrugged.

Even though this was spring, he said this wasn’t the busy time of year; it was just starting. Most of the traffic comes during the summer, when the Route 66 tourists, classic car and bucket-list-fillers come through.

The thing is, the road, National Trails Highway (named for a pre-Route 66 designation), isn’t the most pleasant drive. The 72 miles from Ludlow to Mountain Spring Summit on I-40 are being repaved, but what’s not repaved is bumpy and cracked.

And driving in a ’57 Chevy or a hot road — probably without air conditioning and with a stiff or antique suspension — is the very definition of noise, vibration and harshness. Doing the run on a motorcycle in 100-plus-degree temperatures isn’t a run to the ice cream store, either.

It was lots of fun to visit Roy’s, an iconic American landmark. Movies, TV shows and commercials have shown its iconic sign. I’ve said this before… experiencing an old highway is much more enjoyable on old US 80 in San Diego County.

Check out my video and pick up a copy of Joyrides Around San Diego for the Towering Old Highway chapter. Like driving on 66, you’ll experience an old road out in the sticks, see abandoned businesses and enough desert on the east end to satisfy that itch.

Old US 80 isn’t as remote and makes a perfect San Diego day trip. Amboy is 192 miles from downtown Los Angeles and 140 miles from Las Vegas.  The good stretch of Old Highway 80 starts just 40 miles from San Diego.

But if you’re a real road junkie, a trip to Roy’s is probably worth it.

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Explore San Diego County's backroads, beaches, mountains and deserts with Joyride Guru® and award-winning author Jack Brandais. Make them your San Diego day trip.
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