Just as I was starting to get into the groove of Palm Springs, it was time to leave. We had foolishly given ourselves three days to get to Phoenix, Arizona and there was a heap of stuff we really wanted to see along the way. Our first stop was Joshua Tree National Park, best known for being the location of Gram Parson’s ‘cremation’ – oh sorry, I mean Gram Parson’s post-mortem car-park BBQ. I can’t be bothered re-telling that tale for you now, so if you don’t know what i’m talking about read it here.
To truly soak up the char-grilled country-rockin vibe, Danny and I changed into our newly purchased vintage clothes and posed among the cacti at Cap Rock. Here I am, paying homage to Emmylou Harris… shortly before breaking out in a sweat (Note to self: the desert is not the place for synthetic fabrics).
Every bend of the highway revealed a completely different view- one minute there were Ocotillos for as far as the eye could see, then giant boulders which proved to be the perfect place for a picnic lunch, and finally, my favourite – the Jumping Cholla Cacti garden. As the name suggests, the Jumping Cholla are known for shooting their prickles deep into the skin of anyone who ventures too close. The extraction of said prickle takes three hours with a sharp scalpel. Ouch. Here are some photos of these nasty beasts:
The sun had began to set by the time we exited the park. Our aim was to join up with Route 66 and check out the ghost-town of Amboy before dark, so we sped off like demons through the Mojave Desert. Amboy is down in a valley, next to some really ugly salt flats, crooked power poles and a trainline which runs next to the road. We arrived at the best light in the day.
The population of Amboy is 1: the guy that runs the Petrol Station. He was a pretty weird cat – which isn’t surprising, since he spends every day in the middle of nowhere with nobody to talk to apart from the occasional tourist who pops in to buy a soda and asks the same dumb questions about Route 66. He had the standard ‘66 merchandise for sale along with pornographic photos of women. Danny joked about buying a couple of the photos. I giggled. Petrol Station Guy looked unimpressed. Since it was getting dark, and we had no idea where we were staying that night, we asked for his advice on nearby Motels. He recommended Needles, which was about 80 miles on, adding that he goes to Needles for a holiday when he gets sick of being in Amboy. I thought to myself “hey this Needles place sounds great!”. I don’t know why I thought that. I really wish I hadn’t.
We got to Needles at around 9pm and headed for the first motel we saw – The Best Motel – which had the added convenience of a cocktail bar and diner. It was only $22 a night, too! Bewdy! We parked the car and walked into Reception. It was then that the true grottiness of the joint hit me. You cant hide anything under the glow of a bright fluorescent bulb. There were dusty piles of newspapers and manilla folders covering the front desk. There were broken chairs and typewriters tossed in the corner and a couple of dead pot plants. The official reception computer was one of those early 90s models with a ludicrously large monitor. The office-chair looked like it had been ravaged by a dog. In summary: eww. But despite the squalid conditions, the Motel receptionist was exuberant. He grabbed a key off the hook and ushered us to our room. At the top of the staircase there were two sketchy guys leaning against the balcony. The older one was wearing a ten gallon hat, dirty jeans and a stained singlet. He said hello. The other guy just stared at us. He wasn’t the only one – we could see people peaking out between their drapes at us. I felt a bit nervous.
The receptionist wiggled the key in the lock and pushed the door open to reveal our room. The first thing that hit me was the SMELL – a combination of mould, dust and stale cigarette smoke. It was clear that people had been choofing on in there for 50 years or more. We tried to open the window but were impeded by a plastic coat-hanger shoved in the sill. There was silver duct tape holding the curtains together. Matter of fact, silver duct tape seemed to be the solution to all problems in the room: about 5 rolls of it had been stuck around the edge of the air-conditioner to keep it from falling out of the wall. Then there were the towels which were thin, dusty and grey from years of laundering without Napisan. The bed linen was about the same: so threadbare that I could see the stains on the mattress base. It was truly awful, but funny at the same time.
As long as nobody stole our car while we were asleep, everything would be OK.
The receptionist chortled “you guys are gonna have a great time here, I know it!” adding that the Cocktail Bar was hosting a Disco party. We were intrigued by this. There was nobody around. The highway was deserted. But, according to him, all the single ladies would be arriving in droves at 10pm. He offered to walk us down to the bar and buy us a jello shot. We accepted. Inside Cocktail Bar Sixty Six the disco lights were flashing and the DJ was cranking out his best party tunes. The only problem was that there wasn’t anyone there. We had our jello shot and danced with a few of the native American Indians who dropped in from the nearby Reservation. They had some great moves! Eventually we trundled back to our room and went to sleep.
The Motel Room looked even grimier in the morning light. Danny discovered dead cockroaches under the curtains and mouldy french fries in the bed-side table drawers. On the up-side, our car was still in the parking lot, so we lugged our cases down the staircase and set sail to Arizona.