Earlier this year I had the opportunity to trek across the Mojave desert with some Toyota-types. In order to cross the desert, though, we first had to get there, and some recent storms wiped out our intended route, forcing a last-second detour.
As it turns out, that detour took us past some of the most beautiful Americana scenery I'd never heard of, and we traveled through a tiny ghost town called "Amboy." Aside from the obvious beauty—both natural and manmade—it serves as a tangible link to a huge part of the story of America in the 20th century.
Every now and then there are these unpaved side roads that seem to stretch on forever without really going anywhere. Amazingly, people actually live here.
As the dwellings of varying degrees of permanence scroll across the screen that is my window, I get the distinct impression that the people who live here must've inspired the characters from Tremors.
We cross right through a salt bed and within a few seconds of noticing a formation that looks far too orderly to be natural, I spot a sign marking this portion of the salt bed as property of the National Chloride Company. It's an intimidating company name until you think about it: NaCl. Table salt. The entire population out here traces its roots to salt mining in the pre-railroad days.
Further into the middle of the vast and desolate expanse there's a train stopped at an exceedingly tiny depot, and I can only assume the train served as a vital supply link many decades ago.
The tiny depot on the other side of the train? That's Amboy, and it was settled by those salt miners in the mid-1800s before getting first a railroad, then Route 66 running right through the center of town. At its peak, it had 65 residents. Now it's at four, and the whole town is owned by the same guy that owns the first McDonald's. Really.
The funny thing is that l almost missed this rich piece of American history so intricately woven into the fabric of our motoring infrastructure, because my thoughts and my eyes were transfixed on the road ahead and the desert. Weeks later, I wonder if General Patton's men did the same.