Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

Ludlow: a mover and a shaker

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Ludlow is a mover and a shaker in southern California – but Ludlow is not a person.  Ludlow is a tiny town on Route 66.

the now-empty Ludlow Cafe (trucks on I-40 can be seen in the background)

the now-empty Ludlow Cafe (transport trucks on nearby I-40 can be seen in the background)

What do you do when the main street running through your town is diverted?  Well, you move your town!  That’s what Ludlow did, anyway.  Twice.

unmarked crosses at the Ludlow cemetery

unmarked crosses at the cemetery

Back in the 1880s, Ludlow was born as a water stop for the railroad.  Soon ore was discovered in the nearby hills, and Ludlow was established as a mining community.  Mining continued there until the 1940s, and ruins of the original town, as well as an old cemetery, can still be seen near the railroad tracks.

When Route 66 came through this area, it ran just north of the original mining town – so Ludlow moved a block north to meet it.  Route 66 brought new business, and the town became an important gas-food-lodging stop for tourists traveling through the hot, otherwise empty desert.  The now-abandoned Ludlow Café, adjacent gas station and old Ludlow Garage on the east of town stand as relics from Route 66’s heyday.

When the interstate bypassed Route 66, Ludlow wasn’t completely left behind like some of the other towns along this CA desert stretch.  Once again, the new road was built just north of the business area.  So, Ludlow effectively moved a block north, again.  Today, a couple of gas stations and a Dairy Queen at the I-40 Ludlow exit serve the tourists crossing the Mojave Desert – and there is actually an old motel and coffee shop still in business along the Route 66 stretch, just south of the interstate.

Ludlow Motel is the only lodging around for folks passing through this area, or for those wanting to explore this part of Route 66.  My friend Sherrie and I stayed there last January while on a long weekend Route 66 photo trip.  The place was a little worn around the edges and its quiet isolation at night a tad creepy, but like most old motels, the nostalgic quality was sort of charming.  The coffee shop next door looks like it hasn’t changed much since it was run as “Friend’s Coffee Shop” on Route 66, and is a great example of Googie architecture.  A vintage postcard from Ludlow back in the day can be seen here.

the only motel for miles, in these parts - check in at the Chevron across the street

We arrived in Ludlow well after dark around 8:30pm, hoping there was a room for us.  A sign informed us that motel check-in was done at the Chevron across the street.  The gas station attendant gave us the key, we paid our $55, and then tried to find food.   The coffee shop next door was closed, so we settled in for the night with Chevron snacks, cheap beer, and bad TV.

The next morning, I awoke to what sounded like thunder.  Odd, as it wasn’t supposed to rain…  I rolled over and tried to focus on the window.  Around the edges of the standard issue rubber-backed motel curtains, I was sure I could see the glow of a bright sunny morning.  Yet there was that rumbling again – and the windows shook.  I listened for rain; nothing.  More rumbling, more shaking.  I staggered over to the window and, peering around the curtains, my eyes were blasted with a typical desert morning: extreme, unrelenting sunshine, not a cloud in the sky.

Rumble.  Shake.

piles of rusted cans in Ludlow

piles of rusted cans in Ludlow

None of this made much sense to us, but the noise stopped and we soon forgot about it – until we were exploring the old cemetery a couple of hours later.

You always see old rusted cans and the like out in the desert – but I had never seen this before.  Piles of old rusted cans literally carpeted the desert floor, just west of the cemetery.  They all seemed to be of the same size, and not much other garbage was around; just, cans.  Why would someone dump loads of cans out here?  This also didn’t make much sense.

I shrugged and started shooting a bunch of abandoned cars that were mysteriously arranged in a neat row nearby, while Sherrie kicked around the rubble.  A few moments later I heard Sherrie yell, “I get it!!”  She stood up, holding an empty cardboard box, showing illustrations of a man and woman in camouflage, eating happily.  “Military rations,” she explained.  “We used to eat these on training maneuvers when I was in the military.”  Aha!  The low rumbling, the shaking windows, the mounds of empty rations cans… I knew that the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center was nearby, but I didn’t realize just how close it was to Ludlow (map).  Confirmation came later from the local gas station employees: the noises that morning were from military training exercises, and were apparently pretty typical.

Seems more than just photographs were being shot in the desert that day.

someone lined these old cars up in the middle of nowhere; the Marines' training grounds are somewhere off to the right

someone lined these old cars up in the middle of nowhere; the Marines' training grounds are somewhere off to the right

writings in the dust of an old truck parked next to the Ludlow Motel

writings in the dust of an old truck parked next to the Ludlow Motel


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