Route 66: Amboy and Roy’s Cafe

This entry is part 9 of 17 in the series GDB & Route 66

Though I’ve written about Route 66 in California before, I’ve decided to give Amboy and Roy’s their own post.


Roy's iconic sign over the decaying cabins

When I did this trip with my parents and sister in ’98, we came west through the Mojave Desert in a 113-degree day and stopped, as all do, at Roy’s Cafe.

Roy’s Motel and Cafe has an iconic sign and a desolate setting. When we entered, there were only the two employees and a middle-aged woman customer. We ordered drinks and burgers, and we discovered that the woman had been traveling with her husband and son, and they’d had car trouble in the desert. The two men had decided to go after a necessary car part, and they’d left her at Roy’s while they drove out for it. They were supposed to have returned two hours before.

Now, this story made little sense. If the car could make it to the next auto parts store, why not just go on to it? Why leave her somewhere which required hours of backtracking to collect her again?


But it soon became apparent why she’d been left: she could not shut up. The employees, a man in his forties and a young woman, were at the point of rolling their eyes and looking to us for help as she chattered on about absolutely nothing, ignoring all other attempts at conversation in the room.

We ordered drinks and burgers, appreciating the air conditioning. Because we’d been driving for miles and miles through the desert, we asked for the restroom key. We found the best-guarded restrooms in military or civilian history, surrounded by six-foot chain link topped with wire and set in poured concrete footing. The key fit a lock the size of my palm. Ain’t nobody getting in those restrooms without permission.

empty road disappearing into desert horizon
the desolate road from Amboy, CA

We were partway through our meal when a biker roared up under the canopy. He stepped off his bike, took off his helmet, and started through the door.

“Outside!” shouted the man, pointing. He must have had some altercation with bikers previously; there really is no other human civilization for as far as the eye can see, and it’s believable someone might have thought Roy’s an easy target.

The biker hesitated. “I just want to buy a drink,” he said. It was triple-digit hot, and he was on a motorcycle; he probably did.

“Vending machine, outside!” barked the man.

The biker backed out and went to look for the vending machine. The man reached under the counter and brought up a shotgun, running his hand along the barrel. Then he looked at us. “How are your burgers?”

You’d better believe, those were the best burgers ever.


faded stools at a counter
interior of Roy’s Cafe

When we walked in, I half-expected the yappy woman to still be there. Had they ever come back for her?

But I learned that Roy’s had actually closed shortly after our visit, and the town of Amboy had actually been listed on Ebay. (The town of Amboy presently consists of Roy’s Cafe and Motel, and a post office. Actually, I don’t know if the post office is functional.)

The town was purchased in 2005, and Roy’s reopened in 2008. At present it serves only packaged drinks and snacks, but that may change in the future. The restrooms are still partially fenced but are no longer tightly secured.

"Amboy School" sign over battered gate and weathered buildings
there was once a school

You might have seen Amboy at some point; it’s been in several movies and commercials, because of its great post-apocalyptic setting and run-down condition. The motel hasn’t been in used for years — decades? — and is baking slowly into the desert. There’s the remains of a school behind the motel, but I have no idea when last there were children in Amboy. I think the official population is four.

West of Amboy is an extinct volcano with a well-preserved crater. You can hike to it, but we didn’t have adequate gear for a desert hike, so we didn’t go out far. The ground is littered with lava, making the area malpaís, or “bad country,” because it is very difficult to travel and little or nothing can grow on the lava flow. Estimated ages for the crater and flows range from 6,000 to 75,000 years; clearly the erosion is very, very slow.

Next: East to Arizona!

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  1. It was so fun to read your comments about this place… it brought back so many memories. Roy’s still brings the “Twilight Zone” theme music to mind when I think of all the weird circumstances connected with visiting there years ago, and the actual sense of relief I felt when Larry started the car and we drove away! :) A bit surprising that the place no longer serves cooked meals, given that it’s on the desert and there’s NO competition, but maybe they’ll start up again someday. Fun to read about the place today, this many years since I saw it!

    • One item I read on Wikipedia, trying to look up some of the intervening history, suggested that there is no cooking on the premises because of a lack of water. It *is* in the middle of the desert, and if the well isn’t providing enough, that would do it.

  2. I really wonder if I’ve seen something with that town in it. It sounds frankly bizarre.

    The pictures of the crater are very neat. It’s a really unique landscape, even if it probably all looks the same after ten minutes.

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