Prayin’ in the Needles



I wanted to get the truck checked out before heading out for home. Sitting on the side of Interstate 40 in 110 degree heat waiting for a tow truck doesn’t sound fun. Fortunately there is a auto repair shop behind the hotel that is open on Sunday. Given how small this town is, I counted my small miracle. I stroll down there and the mechanic is not in yet. The attendant doesn’t know when he will be in. He doesn’t want to take my phone number so I just stroll by once an hour on the hour until he shows up at 9 am. Score!

Since I was stuck in town and had a free breakfast due to some guests walking in on me in my room I got a free breakfast.

Juicy’s River Cafe (C is average. No grade inflation here):

SeatingAThe hostess was right at the entrance and took me directly to a table.
AtmosphereBHas a lot of interesting Route 66 and felt much more current than the Wagon Wheel
Wait StaffBMy waitress was good. She stayed on top of a number of tables as things were busy that morning.
FoodBGood solid breakfast. Biscuits were very good. I’d have given it an A if they included cheese in the free breakfast.
ValueN/AI didn’t see a menu so I have no idea how much it cost.
OverallBMuch better bet than the Wagon Wheel.

Upon initial diagnosis it appears that the serpentine belt is starting to go. Rick the mechanic let me know he’ll take an estimate and let me know. Now the waiting game begins. Can he do a full fix? Can he patch it so I can get to Barstow? Or am I stuck here until parts get FedExd in from Los Angeles? A luck would have it we are good for parts as they can be sourced locally. Turns out the truck had the wrong size belt on it and the tensioner was going bad. it’s frustrating because I’m not sure why the last mechanic put the wrong parts in the truck. I paid good money for that fix and it’s frustrating I got low quality workmanship. The new parts are in and while the first noise is fixed, we have a new noise to the back of the engine. Rick told me if the truck makes it 10 miles, it will make it back to home. Pulling out of the service I hear the new noise. It was a little unsettling but touching the accelerator made the sound go away.

I wanted to go see the actual Needles. Apparently they are a small set of sharp mountains to the east of town. I’ve asked three people in town where they are but I haven’t gotten a definitive answer. I read online before coming here that they are east of town in Arizona on the other side of the Colorado River. The freeway from Needles out in Arizona is on the border really awful. The pavement is rough and there are a number of potholes. Once in Arizona everything changes. I take a quick photo of the welcome sign:


The next exit was for Needles Mountain Road! After I took the exit the road quickly turned to dirt. A little further in a part of the road had collapsed. While the best picture might be from here, since I was alone with and ailing truck I figured I shouldn’t push my luck. I made quick u-turn back towards the border. I found a little rise felt like I got some good photos of the needles given the poor noon light:


Now that it’s 1:30 I need to start making good time. Upon arriving in California it’s a little disappointing. The welcome sign it’s not full-color, the pavement sucks, and the speed limit drops 20 miles an hour. To add insult to injury my fruit has to get a visa to come in. Yes, all fruit coming into California needs to go through immigration.


At first I thought it was a joke when I first drive here many years ago, but every border I’ve been through has agricultural inspection the Oregon border. I don’t remember seeing is on US-101 and US-97. They are basically looking for insects that will hurt the agricultural crop. It makes sense at some level as agriculture so central to the economy here in California.

I head back to the town of Needles to take a picture of the welcome sign. It was late last night and my truck was making noises so I figured I would do it today.


It was great to pick up a bit more Route 66 color as well.



With that done it was now time to start rolling toward San Jose.

Once on Interstate 40 my mind quickly transitioned to the the story Scott loves to tell. I think I’ve heard the story four or five times but it’s one of those stories that has a good ending so you don’t mind hearing it again. Basically he was moving from Wisconsin out to California after college and driving on I-40 through several states. He describes it very much as the desert wasteland. I’d agree. It is very barren land out here.


He comes across this woman whose car had an electrical breakdown. Fortunately he has all the right parts in the car he was towing to get her back on the road again. The freeway looks exactly as Scott describes, desert all the way and has only been changing in elevation slightly.

I am rolling toward Barstow at a pretty good clip where a couple cars ahead I see a giant plume of smoke! A tire on a Ford Expedition exploded. On the highway I see a number of gators. Here is one large tire that had exploded and left on the side of the road.


The reason they’re called gators by motorcyclists is that when a motorcycle hits the center of the rubber strip the two ends fling out and try to close in on the bike. They’re very dangerous for motorcycles. Just a bit down the road I hit a strip of the tire and loud noise I think the truck will be ok.

I didn’t use air-conditioning for the entire stretch between Needles and Barstow. I didn’t want to put any more stress on the motor than I needed to. Plus that section would prove if the fix was good or not. About halfway in I stopped at rest area to soak my shirt. I figured it was time for some evaporative cooling. I was surprised how fast my shirt dried. It only took 45 minutes! Also, I’ve been drinking quarts and quarts of water and very little water has come out of me. It amazes me how dry it really is here. With the Interstate 40 leg behind me, I felt like I was making progress. The next section on California 58 was a mix of two lane and four lane roads. Unlike on the way out, the slow cars clogged up the two lane sections and refused to move over in the four lane sections. I get the air conditioning on as I was boarding highway 58. After about 60 miles on the road thing seemed to be rolling along just fine. At this point I was feeling pretty good that I was going to make it home.

I reminded once again climbing up the mountains how pretty Tehachapi was. Looking at it from the highway it appears to have a lot of the same features of Boulder. Nestled amongst the mountains, reasonable climate, and for lack of any other better term it just feels nice there. What I’m not sure, is what roads go in and out. I’d really like to do a motorcycle trip around here, but I need to find a fun way in and out of town. Selling the group on a long slog on the slab isn’t exactly going to get very far. What amazes me about this part of California is how quickly mountains turn into the valley.

Deep Mountains


The flat valley off in the distance


The last hill before flatness


Once I got into Bakersfield I didn’t want to lose momentum. Highway 58 soon turned into Highway 99 and I quickly remembered all the reasons I hate Highway 99. The pavement is always horrific, it seems to be under never-ending construction, and the traffic never flows freely. For this stretch all those conditions applied. Fortunately it was just 25 miles and Highway 46 appeared at Famoso. Famoso struck me as an interesting name. It made me smile. Highway 46 goes through a lot of farm land and small town known as Wesco.


I’m not sure if it’s the same place that’s known for the Wesco boots, but because the boots are a good product I stopped there for dinner. I wanted to make good time so was just fast food. The Taco Bell was good however!

I saw the same flowers again on Interstate 5 that it did on the way down. I tried to take more careful notice to see which kinds of flowers they were but at 70 miles an hour that was a little hard to do. This time I did stop for some photos:


The sunset tonight was really cool. You could see deep oranges to the west and deep purples to the east. In between all across the horizon you could see a perfect blend of color due to the sunset as well as a touch of pollution the scatter the light. The miles seemed to roll by and the exit for San Jose at 152 appeared very quickly. The gas station at Gonzaga road was way overpriced but it seems like a better deal than driving the extra 10 miles to save $0.40 a gallon. At this point it was totally dark and there is very little traffic heading over Pacheco Pass. Upon climbing the pass the full moon casts a very beautiful glow over San Luis Reservoir.


All in all this was quite a journey. 1100 miles over 36 hours was pretty intense. I got to see a fair amount of the state about half of which was new to me. I really do hope to get back down to Needles in the wintertime to get a better sense for the area when the conditions are much more temperate.



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2 responses to “Prayin’ in the Needles”

  1. Peter Avatar

    Wesco is short for West Coast Shoe Company — the name of the company in Oregon that makes them. So I don’t think it has anything to do with that part of California.

  2. mom Avatar

    ….The pictures are great….so maybe it as worth it?????

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