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The Loneliest Places Along Route 66

Route 66 often conjures up images of friendly small towns, hospitable diners, and famous landmarks. But what about the quiet places in between? During the Mother Road's heyday, there was almost a limitless amount of towns and roadside stops popping up to serve the traveling public. However, when Route 66 died out, decommissioned and supplanted by interstates, many of these small towns died with it. These hollow shells of past prosperity provide a haunting melancholic vibe and are tangible remnants of the boom and bust history of the great American road. While venturing along Route 66, take some time out to appreciate these long lost and forgotten communities and experience their ghostly aura.

Depew, Oklahoma

This picturesque small hamlet is not technically a ghost town: Depew still supports approximately 550 residents. But the historic architecture and abandoned businesses that line the town's Main Street attest to its prosperous past.

The railroad was built through the area in 1898 and a small community called Hall developed near the tracks. The town proper was established when W.F. Malley, a Bristow citizen, heard of prime land available in the area perfect for commercial use: Malley proceeded to buy the property for $10 an acre. A post office was established and the community named "Depew" after Chauncy M. Depew, a U.S. Senator from New York. Oil was found near Depew in 1911, and the town’s population increased rapidly. However, it was the alignment of Route 66 through the center of town in 1927 (the town's first paved road) that brought an unprecedented number of travelers to the area.

The dwindling of the oil reserves coupled with the effects of the Great Depression caused the town to suffer, and by 1940 only 876 residents remained. Today, the town is an authentic reflection of its thriving past, with historic buildings and original Route 66 concrete running down its Main Street. The few inhabitants that remain are friendly and proud of their town's history, and old buildings such as the Coppedge Drug Store and the Gimmel Gas Station are wonderful historic structures.

Texola, Oklahoma

Straddling the border of Texas and Oklahoma lies the Brangelina of Route 66: Texola. In early days the town name varied from Texokla to Texoma, and finally, the name of Texola was decided on in 1901. The area was surveyed numerous times because of its location near the 100th meridian, and subsequently, many early residents lived in both Texas and Oklahoma without ever moving as the state line shifted. The town's economy was originally supported by agriculture, but the alignment of Route 66 through the town in 1926 brought travelers and tourist dollars. Many of the dispossessed farmers of the Dust Bowl passed this way in the 1930s, also supplementing the local economy.

As with numerous ghost towns along Route 66, the town's prosperity declined with the lessening popularity of the Mother Road, and new Interstate I-40 bypassing the town in the early 1970s was the final nail in the coffin.

The population stands at just 36 souls as of the 2010 census, but the numerous derelict and abandoned old buildings make for a moody atmosphere and excellent photo opportunities. Sights to see are the old Magnolia Service Station (built in 1930) which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the 1910 historic stone jail, and an intriguing old diner on the edge of town that proudly states on the side of its building, "No place like Texola."

Alanreed, Texas

This virtual ghost town (population of 52 as of 2001 and only one operating business) was once the bright spot on Route 66 across the Texas panhandle, offering travelers a last safe stop before the dreaded Jericho Gap: an unpaved 18-mile swath of Route 66 comprised of muddy black soil that often trapped cars. The town-site was laid out in 1900 by surveyors of the contracting firm, Alan and Reed, but the town really came into its own in the late 1920s with the Panhandle Oil Boom and the paving of the Mother Road through town.

Alanreed's glory days are still seen in the historic buildings in the area, and the town boasts the oldest church (founded in 1904) and the oldest cemetery along Route 66 in Texas. The town is also home to an excellent historic gas station, the Super 66 Restored Service Station, originally built in 1930 and maintained today by the Texas Historic Route 66 Association. The glory days of Alanreed were short-lived, and as early as the 1950s the town started to decline, with the completion of the I-40 one mile east of the town in 1982 sealing its fate. Today, the numerous abandoned and derelict buildings are a testament to this once bright jewel of the Texas panhandle.

Jericho Gap, Texas

Jericho Gap is more of a crossing than a town, and the area was first inhabited when a stage shop was established in the late 1880s along a stage coach route. Jericho peaked with the crossing of Route 66 through the area, and the danger of Jericho's Gap provided lucrative business for many locals. When cars would get stuck in the mud of this unpaved section of Mother Road, local farmers and residents would pull them out, for a price. This became so profitable that there were rumors that some residents watered down the road to increase the plight of Route 66 travelers.

Eventually, Route 66 was rerouted to higher ground in the 1930s and the area dwindled into a ghost town. There are vacant farms and ruins of the old tourist court left, and you can see the endings of both the Jericho-Alanreed and Groom-Jericho sections of the Jericho Gap. This desolate and remote local is definitely worth a look.

Glenrio, Texas/New Mexico

Another ghost town that straddles borders, Glenrio lies on the divide between Texas and New Mexico - thankfully it is not called Texico or Mexas. Its name, however, is actually still a combination of places: the word "Glen" of Scottish origin and the Spanish word "Rio", meaning "narrow river valley."

Glenrio was first settled in 1905 with the first train station built in 1906. With the Mother Road came prosperity, and the town boomed with shops and service stations. The 1940 film Grapes of Wrath was even filmed in the town for three weeks. Route 66 moving out of town in 1954 and the train depot closing in 1955 sealed the town's fate.

There are numerous historic gems to visit in the ghost town today. Little Juarez Diner is a 1950s Art Moderne style building and is the inspiration for one of the businesses in the Disney-Pixar movie Cars. The old Longhorn Motel, cafe, and gas station is also a must-see. It was known as the "First/Last" motel with its isolated location 41 miles east of Tucumcari, NM, and 73 miles west of Amarillo, TX. In its heyday, it sported a sign reading "Motel, Last in Texas" greeting those arriving from Amarillo and another, facing west, "Motel, First in Texas" luring in weary travelers coming from New Mexico.

Endee, New Mexico

Endee is barely a spot on the map today, but during the Wild West it was a hotspot for cowboys looking to blow off some steam. The town was founded in 1882 and named after the old ND Ranch brand. The settlement provided supplies for area ranches and offered entertainment for ranch hands. Rumor has it that the town was so rough that a trench was dug on Saturdays to bury the gunfight losers on Sundays.

Due to its remote location, Endee retained its Wild West inclinations well into the 20th Century, with a major arrest of wild cattle-rustlers in 1906 and a grand shoot-out at the town's saloon in 1909. The town is completely abandoned today, but you can still see several abandoned homes and structures hinting to this Wild West town's turbulent past.

Two Guns, Arizona

The town of Two Guns, and its nearby sister city near Diablo Canyon, has a wild and dark history. The area that would become Two Guns first became noteworthy as the site of a mass murder of Apaches by their Navajo enemies in 1878. A group of Apaches hid in a cave at Two Guns but were discovered and killed by Navajos: the site is now called the Apache Death Cave.

Two Guns was recognized as an ideal place to cross Canyon Diablo by wagon and car, while 3 miles north the railway was attempting to build a crossing over the canyon. Construction was delayed and the unemployed work crews created a settlement, and with the closest law enforcement 100 miles away, the area descended into wildness and lawlessness. When a peace officer was finally appointed, he was sworn in at 3pm and dead by 8pm. When the railway was completed the town died, becoming a ghost town before Two Guns was even established.

Two Guns became prosperous when Route 66 passed through town and expanded with gas stations and motels to cater to passing tourists, and even a "zoo" was added in later years with panthers and mountain lions. The town died quickly with the development of the I-40 that bypassed Two Guns, but this lonely and abandoned place still retains vestiges of its illustrious past. Check out historic remains of the old zoo, a burned out service station, ruins of the old trading post, and other hauntingly empty buildings.

Goffs, California

The introduction of Highway I-40 in California spelled the doom of numerous communities along a 100 mile stretch of Route 66 from Needles to Ludlow. This virtually abandoned stretch of Mother Road, a ghost town row, offers a plethora of old relics and dusty dereliction.

Goffs began with a railway station built in 1893 and was originally named Blake after Isaac Blake, who built the "Nevada Southern Railway." The station was renamed Goffs in 1902, and the small village was boosted by mining exploits and the paving of Route 66. However, the route was realigned farther south in 1931, sounding the death knell for the town.

Today, Goffs is an evocative example of a desert ghost town. You can see dry bones of an abandoned early 20th Century general store and old mining relics dot the town, while rows of rusted mailboxes pay tribute to their long-gone owners. However, the town is not completely deserted with a population of 23 as of 2009. The old schoolhouse, built in 1914, has been refurbished by the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association and now functions as a local museum. Interestingly, Goffs is also the desert tortoise capital of the world - watch out for these local inhabitants, more numerous than the human residents.

Amboy, California

Another casualty of the Route 66 realignment in 1931 is the ghost town of Amboy. First settled in 1858 and officially established in 1883, Amboy was created as the first of a series of alphabetical railroad stations that were to be constructed across the Mojave Desert by Lewis Kingman, a locating engineer for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.

Amboy became a boom town in 1926 when Route 66 passed through, and its relatively isolated location led to lots of business as a necessary stop along the California portion of the route. Most famous of the local businesses is Roy's Motel and Cafe; Roy Crowl opened a service station in 1938 and eventually expanded to include a motel and cafe. Roy's became well known for its "retro-future" architecture and its famous sign added in 1959. There is even a nearby small airstrip that Harrison Ford supposedly used to fly into town to grab lunch at Roy's.

As with other charming Route 66 towns, the opening of the I-40 in 1973 diverted tourists from the site and the town rapidly declined. However, the town was purchased in 2005 by Albert Okura (owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain), and he is breathing new life into this forgotten town. Okura is slowly renovating and reviving the town to its former glory: Roy's is now open as a gift shop and there are numerous restoration plans for the future. Amboy is not looking so lonely anymore.

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