The adrenaline rush from exploring Amboy had ended, and I was ready to grab a bite to eat and then hit the hay. Since Roy's Cafe no longer had a functioning kitchen, I hadn't eaten since Twentynine Palms.
I stopped at Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Needles, which had good reviews on Yelp. At 9 pm I was the only guest, but I didn't mind the quiet. The place had a charming, comfortable atmosphere with walls covered in humorous signage and Route 66 memorabilia. The waitress was a sweet older blonde woman with a twang in her voice. She called me "darlin'", which I found endearing.
After a delicious meal I considered getting a room, since I'd spent every night in the car. A lot of the motels had flashing signs advertising rates as low as $38.95 per night, but the reviews on Yelp were all fairly negative. I drove past a few that had closed and now sat abandoned, so I made a mental note to explore them in the morning. I ended up parking at a truck stop for the night.
In the light of morning I got a better look at the city of Needles, and was astonished by the number of abandoned buildings.
Named for the nearby pointed mountain peaks, Needles was founded in 1883 to support the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The city's location along the Western bank of the Colorado River, which serves as the California/Arizona border, was once its major draw. As in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, it was an important stopping point for travelers entering California in search of opportunity during the Dust Bowl era. Like the Joad family, thousands stopped in Needles for gas and supplies before crossing the Mojave Desert.
Its proximity to Arizona has since become a major factor behind the town's downfall. With corporate taxes and building regulations being significantly higher in California, many large businesses such as Walmart, Kmart, and Home Depot have chosen to open stores in Bullhead City, AZ, only a 20-minute drive from Needles. And for savvy travelers who know that gas is often a dollar per gallon cheaper east of the Colorado River, the decision to stop for fuel and lunch in Bullhead City instead of being gouged in Needles in a no-brainer.
Other factors contributing to the decline of Needles include extremely high poverty (nearly 29% of the population lives below the poverty line), crime rates well above the national average (including violent crime), higher than average unemployment rates, and a lack of clothing and grocery stores. Also during summer months, Needles is often the hottest city in the United States, and sometimes the hottest on Earth.
I spent hours walking around Needles, spotting abandoned homes,
an abandoned burger joint,
a theater that still had promotional signs for a movie that came out more than 4 years prior to my visit,
And quite a few abandoned motels.
One of the motels was not fenced off, so I decided to have a peek inside.
Needles has a small historic district,
Including a museum that, peculiarly, also serves as a thrift store. Maybe they sell the old exhibits?
I finally got back on the road and headed into Arizona, where I spent a crazy week exploring old mines, trading posts, ghost towns, and many other very interesting abandonments. I even had a few run-ins with local law enforcement.
I can't wait to tell you all about it!
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