January 05, 2019

Photo Essay: Amboy, A Quintessential Ghost Town Along Route 66 (Updated for 2023)

[Last updated 2/2/23 11:17 PM PT—Amboy owner Albert Okura sadly passed away on 1/27/23.]
[Updated 2/29/20 10:03 PM PT—info about restored neon sign added.]

If your dream is to buy a ghost town, let Amboy give you hope that dreams really do come true.

Originally established because of its proximity to the chloride mine on Bristol Dry Lake in 1858, the entire town has been owned by Albert Okura—founder of the Juan Pollo fast food chain and the unofficial McDonald's museum in San Bernardino—since 2005. [Ed: [That is, until Okura dided on 1/27/23. No new ownership details have been released.]

And while the town has had its ups and downs under his stewardship—including being closed for pretty much anything but filming and fashion shoots—its landmark Roy's (named after its founder, Roy Crowl, circa 1938) is once again pumping gas and selling souvenirs and snacks.

Maybe one day, we'll be able to actually enter the Mid-Century Modern motel lobby (circa late 1940s), instead of just peering into its picture windows under the deeply pitched roof.

Maybe one day, we'll be able to stay in one of the cabins, instead of just passing through Amboy along the old alignment of Route 66 (still designated as National Trails Highway).

The first time I stopped in Amboy was in 2009, and I was there to climb the nearby volcanic crater in 100-degree weather.

But of course I was drawn to the Googie-style neon sign (circa 1959). [Update: I've yet to see it lit up at night since being relit in November 2019.]

Ten years later, I knew there was more I hadn't seen in Amboy—so, I welcomed the opportunity to return and take a gander at what I might've missed.

Everything in Amboy is kept so incredibly stark white out there in the Mojave desert, it's sure to stand out against the blue-hued sky above and earthen-brown landscape underfoot.

Amboy has got everything you'd look for in a good desert ghost town...

...from a vintage survey marker (circa 1934)... rusted and peeling signs...

...including one most notably marking the entrance to the ghostly shell of a school.

The school finally closed for good in 1999 (though it's still part of Needles Unified School District)—but the town of Amboy found itself on death row decades before that, when the 40 Freeway bypassed Amboy in 1972, and so many other Route 66 towns like it throughout the middle of the 20th century.

Traveling east from Barstow, no one wanted to take the slow road where Route 66 splits off the 40 at Ludlow. Amboy would be a 28-mile detour from there. And it's another 45 miles east of Amboy until National Trails Highway meets back up with the 40 (a.k.a. Needles Freeway) in Fenner, south of Goffs.

So, Amboy's still got a tiny airfield that dates back to at least 1925 and is reportedly still functional...

...and the abandoned St. Raymond Church, dedicated 1951 after a one-year iteration as St. Bridget's (both Catholic).

The church—which seats 100, about 1/7 of Amboy's one-time peak population—closed for good in 1970. But as it's included part and parcel with the ownership of Amboy itself, Okura performs performed regular maintenance on it.


If you head south out of Amboy along Old Amboy Road, the crater will bid you adieu—but if you head east, you'll be under the watchful eyes of a pair of Chinese garden lions.


Also known as "foo dogs" (or "fu dogs"), there's one female and one male guardian lion made of marble—though it's not clear whether they're protecting the desert or visitors to the desert.

Either way, they'll scare away any evil spirits lingering around the ghost town.

They'd normally be found guarding the entrance to a temple or, say, an imperial palace—but in the Mojave, they seem to be guarding both nothing and everything.

Traveling east, the male appears first (as is the correct order in feng shui) and then the female about 1/4 mile down the way, off the road in the middle of a deserted, open space.

It's undetermined whether they come with the town of Amboy or not. But for now, Amboy isn't for sale.

Others, however, are.

Related Posts:
Alone in A Crowd, Naturally.
Photo Essay: The Ghost Town That Won't Die, And the Animals That Keep It Alive
In Search of the Mother Lode Along the Mother Road
Photo Essay: A Decaying Rest Stop For Thirsty Adventurers

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