Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Photo Essay: The Living Ghost of Yermo
Up in the high desert, near Barstow (not my favorite town), there's a famous ghost town called Calico, up in the Calico Mountains. Although I've driven back and forth past it many times, I've never gone, because the former silver mining town has been converted into not only a tourist attraction (like Bodie), but a veritable theme park, thanks to being rebuilt by Walter Knotts himself of Knott's Berry Farm fame.
I was never very into historical reenactments. But Calico does host mine tours and have a historic railroad, so I should probably go. One day.
On my way back from Vegas this week, I discovered another ghost town outside of Barstow: Yermo. Technically, Calico is in Yermo, but Calico is Calico, and I discovered that Yermo is most certainly Yermo.
Yermo, whose name is derived from the Spanish word meaning "wilderness," is an exit off of the 15 freeway on your way to or from Vegas, but instead of bringing traffic to the town, the construction of the freeway allowed travelers to pass right by it. Once a thriving town of places to get gas, something to eat and drink, and to stay the night, many of the businesses closed, leaving a few residents, a Marine base storage unit, the Burger Barn, and Peggy Sue's 50's Diner.
Peggy Sue's is not short on advertising. But most Vegas travelers bypass it in favor of Baker (home of the World's Largest Thermometer), Barstow itself, or not stopping at all and just getting to their destination more quickly.
A classic and original 50's diner, Peggy Sue's was built in 1954 out of railroad ties and mortar from the nearby Union Pacific rail yard. Appropriately enough for its Calico-adjacent location, it was purchased by a former Knott's Berry Farm employee and reopened in 1987.
In the mid-1990s, he and his wife had dreams of expanding the diner into another local theme park attraction...
...replete with a soda fountain, pizza parlor, five and dime store...
...and a dinosaur park.
But instead of being a popular destination, an oasis in the desert - as was the plan for the Rock-a-Hoola water park in nearby Newberry Springs - it remained merely an oddity, an eccentric roadside attraction that, although worth the detour, gets overlooked way too frequently.
Perhaps people only stop in Calico and don't have enough time to cross the freeway. Perhaps there just aren't enough other attractions way out there, in the middle of the desert.
But Peggy Sue's is just so emblematic of the desert dream: to provide something where there is nothing, shelter for those who are lost, food and drink for those hungry and thirsty, whimsy and entertainment amidst desolation and drought.
It's a little slice of comfort pie.
And it delights.
Water Park, Thrice Abandoned
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