Travelogue: Road Runner's Retreat cleanup

Work and the holidays have left me with little time to write for the site, but I did want to squeeze in one more post before the end of 2018.

On November 3, my cousin Todd and I headed down to the Road Runner's Retreat, a long-closed Route 66 diner and truck stop near Chambless, California, for a cleanup weekend. Ryan Anderson is the proprietor's grandson, and he goes there periodically to paint over graffiti, cover broken windows, pick up trash, etc. Ryan invited any and all to come out and join him and a friend for the weekend while they spruced up the place. Route 66 booster Beth Murray organized a GoFundMe to help pay for supplies, to help Ryan who usually pays for everything out of his own pocket. The GoFundMe is still active as of now, so feel free to contribute to support future cleanup trips!

Into an EV wilderness
Although the Road Runner's Retreat does have a limited source of power (more on that later), as a closed business there was of course no official EV charging available. The nearby almost-ghost town of Chambless also has no official EV support. In fact, although beautiful, the area between Needles and Barstow is perhaps the most services-limited stretch on all of Route 66, with scant options for very much of anything. This area of 66 was bypassed by I-40 in the 1970s, and after that most of the few businesses quickly died. For a typical EV this area could be considered near impossible to traverse without thorough planning.

Our trusty Tesla Model 3, The Blue Spirit, was going to have an easier time than most EVs, but we would still be in a bit of a bind if we didn't prepare. There are no Tesla Superchargers, or any EV charging at all, along I-40 or Route 66 between Barstow and Needles, and we were heading right into the middle of that area and back out again, so even in a Tesla some planning was required. I left home in Las Vegas with a completely full charge - over 300 miles of range.

First stop: Primm, Nevada
The SoCal-to-Vegas route along I-15 is very popular for road trips and was one of the earliest routes provisioned with superchargers by Tesla. We arrived at the Primm superchargers, which opened in 2014, and plugged in to charge the car while we strolled across the parking lot to a convenience store at the Chevron gas station for some snacks. We returned to the car and played retro Atari games on the Tesla while it continued charging. Despite the near emptiness of the supercharger station, charging speed decreased tremendously as charge approached 100%. This is by design, to protect battery health. Topping off a Tesla is not generally indicated for most trips, because superchargers are placed close enough together that along major corridors you don't really need a full charge to get from one supercharger to the next. By the time you reach 70% and the charging begins to slow, you have more than enough range to reach another supercharger. But we were about to leave major corridors behind, for two days. Eventually the charging speed was even slower than my home AC charging, and I decided to stop waiting and leave before reaching 100%, with about 296 miles of range. We drove southeast for a few miles on I-15 in California, and then exited the freeway at Nipton Road, heading east, then south, then southwest, on a series of two-lane roads into the heart of Mojave National Preserve. It's beautiful country and nearly deserted.

At Kelso lies the visitor center for Mojave National Preserve, the restored Kelso Depot. It's a great stop but we were running somewhat later than planned so we continued, turning south on Kelbaker Road towards I-40 and Route 66. After 20 minutes or so we crossed I-40, where there is an interchange but no services or indeed any structures at all. Another 10 minutes and we reached Route 66 just east of Amboy. We were now 85 miles from our fill-up at Primm and smack dab in the middle of an EV charging desert:

Twenynine Palms supercharger and nearest Plugshare-listed Level 2 charger: 56 miles.
Baker supercharger: 70 miles.
Needles supercharger: 75 miles.
Yermo supercharger: 80 miles.
Barstow supercharger: 90 miles.

As if to emphasize the 'middle of nowhere' nature of this trip, the road east from Kelbaker Road on Route 66 is barricaded. In 2014, flash flooding washed out a series of old bridges along 66 in this area, and the path east from Kelbaker Road is so lightly traveled and sparsely inhabited that it seems to be last on the list for repair. While some bridges have been fixed, more flash flooding in 2017 caused further damage, and Route 66 is still officially closed for over 30 miles, from Chambless east to I-40 at Mountain Springs. The barricades at Kelbaker Road are really just an advisory of the dead end ahead - they are easily driven around for access by locals and other appropriate parties. The 'for real' closure is 6 miles east, at Cadiz Road in Chambless. All bridges between us and Chambless have been repaired so it was an easy drive to the Road Runner's Retreat, 4 miles east beyond the advisory barricade.

To work
I apologize for the lack of photos to this point; I was pretty focused on getting there so we could start helping with the cleanup. Myself and cousin Todd May arrived around 10 a.m. and got to work, alongside Ryan Anderson, his friend Mark Rittenhouse, fellow Route 66 roadies Beth Murray and Jo Murray, and a couple of generous locals who popped in and out to chat and assist. There is far more to be done than could be accomplished in one weekend but good progress was made, covering sensitive portions of building, collecting old tires, painting over graffiti, and gathering trash. It was great to be making a contribution towards preservation of a vintage Route 66 stop, no matter how small. And the bonus: Ryan showed us around the property, even inside closed buildings, and shared many stories of the past when the property was open and inhabited. A cookout under the gas station canopy was equally fun.

Todd showcases the glamorous work of picking up trash at an abandoned truck stop.

The service station is in pretty good shape.

Closed, but still iconic.

... Drinks.

Ryan, Beth and Jo in the cafe.

The road runner on the side of the cafe is still mostly ok.

1968 AMC Ambassador for sale. Needs some work.

"Ran when parked" (in July 1973).

The service station canopy was a great place for the cookout.

Vintage potential, never to be realized.

It's not loitering if you're taking photos.

No gas available, no gas needed!

Ryan and Beth had a good time, as did we all!

Official Electric Route 66 Garage.
Before the day was out, Delvin Harbour from the California Historic Route 66 Association was able to stop by and take a look at the goings on. Ryan showed him around, and I offered up the Tesla for him to take his first electric spin on Route 66. It was of course a hit! As the light faded, Delvin needed to head home, while Ryan and Mark stayed at the Road Runner's Retreat. Both myself & Todd, and Beth & Jo, headed west to the nearest motel, nearly 40 miles away in Ludlow.
Delvin tries out the Tesla. "Punch it!"  Photo courtesy Delvin Harbour

The end of day one.
Overnight and day two
Although Ludlow is a very small settlement, it lies along I-40 so it does at least have some functioning businesses: two gas stations, a Dairy Queen, the Ludlow Cafe, and the Ludlow Motel. As of now there are no public charging stations for electric cars, but it wasn't a big deal for the Tesla as I still had plenty of range left. After paying for our room at the gas station across the street (did I mention that Ludlow is very small?), Todd and I hung out for awhile with Beth and Jo who were in the motel room next door. The Ludlow Motel is a decent place to stay; not fancy but I certainly didn't regret the decision to stay there.

In the morning once we were sufficiently ready for breakfast, the four of us walked over to the Ludlow Cafe, which is a great Route 66 restaurant and definitely recommended whenever you are in the area. It serves classic American fare, prepared well and reasonably priced. I brought up the possibility of EV charging at the Cafe, but unfortunately the management was not in at the time so contact with them will have to wait for another day. In my opinion, Ludlow would make a good stop for Level 2 and even Level 3 charging. Ludlow is the western end of a split where I-40 and Route 66 take different routes through the Mojave Desert, and a charging stop here could be used by travelers on both roads. It's a little close to Barstow for a Tesla Supercharger, but there is no more suitable stop further east on I-40, and the distance between Ludlow and Needles is one of the largest distances on Route 66 without a supercharger station.
The Ludlow Cafe, a good place to fill up yourself, if not your EV (yet!).

With breakfast down the hatch, we headed back towards the Road Runner's Retreat for a half day of more cleanup before everyone would need to head back home. On the way, Todd and I stopped at Amboy, world famous among Route 66 enthusiasts for its enormous Googie style sign advertising Roy's Cafe. Though the cafe is not operating as a restaurant, it is open as a gift shop and sells snacks and gasoline. Again the property manager was not in (this was Sunday after all), but a couple weeks later I was able to get in touch with Albert Okura, owner of Amboy. He was interested in the details of EV travel, and I am happy to report that he will be investigating the possibility of installing a plug or EV charger in Amboy! Costs are high out there, funds are scarce and things move slowly, but hopefully some progress may be made on that front in 2019.
First Tesla Model 3 in Amboy? Maybe not, but this photo op was not to be passed up.
After our arrival back at Road Runner's Retreat, I had a better idea of how many miles of range would be left on the car for our return trip. We had not charged at all since the previous morning in Primm. The car had a little over 100 miles remaining which seemed sufficient, but as a precaution I asked Ryan if he had any power available to charge the car while we worked. I was able to plug in to a regular 120 volt outlet. A few hours later, as we finished up and got ready to leave, the car had added about 12 miles of range. It wasn't a lot, but it increased our buffer - the charge that the car estimated would remain upon our arrival back in Primm - and that is a definite plus for the nerves.
One last pic from the Road Runner's Retreat before we head home.
The ride home was uneventful, with a bathroom break outside the Kelso Depot visitor center, and a look at the exhibits inside the Depot itself. We arrived in Primm with 26 miles of charge. Those 12 miles we added at the Road Runner's Retreat were nearly half of our remaining range! Because of those miles, we were able to drive to Primm normally, without getting any warnings from the car to slow down for increased range. Thanks, Ryan! We didn't need snacks or a bathroom break in Primm, so we contented ourselves for roughly 20 minutes playing the in-car classic Atari games, which are available only while the car is parked. With more than enough range added, The Blue Spirit then whisked us swiftly home to Las Vegas.

So ended the first overnight trip in The Blue Spirit. We will be sure to return for the next cleanup!


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