Route 66 News

A dream in the desert

The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., posted quite an article about Gus Lizalde, who purchased the Route 66 hamlet of Chambless, Calif., years ago and hopes to eventually businesses in that spot.

He described his vision for a multimillion-dollar makeover.

“It’s going to be a full-blown restoration to the way it was built,” Lizalde said. “I want to bring back that nostalgia.”

The renewed Chambless would feature “totem” gasoline pumps with meters that look like clock faces. Lizalde said he wants to track down original pump bodies and retrofit them with modern gas-delivery and metering systems.

The main building would have a 1950s-style diner, a tavern and a souvenir/convenience store. He intends to fix up the nine concrete cottages behind the main building and build a swimming pool in the shield shape of the Route 66 road sign.

For the trailer park area, Lizalde envisions hauling in about 50 vintage Airstream trailers, refurbishing them and renting them out.

Why Airstreams? “They are so cool,” he answered.

Lizalde remains optimistic because the federal Bureau of Land Management is considering dozens of solar-power applications in the Mojave Desert, including three close to his property. But that development may be threatened by legislation.

Lizalde’s excitement about the solar projects explains why he is worried about a move to create what backers have called a Mother Road National Monument. It would honor Route 66 and its colorful past as a conduit for dust-bowl refugees flooding into California and later as an east-west ribbon of freedom for vacationing Americans.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is drafting federal legislation that would create the monument on public land in eastern San Bernardino County, from the Mojave National Preserve on the north to Joshua Tree National Park on the south. It is expected to prohibit energy development in some areas.

Monument supporters fear development of too many wind and solar projects in territory used by the desert tortoise, a threatened species, and other wildlife.

But Lizalde pointed out railroad tracks and a limestone pit sit near his property, and that the area “is not pristine” environmentally.

I agree the proposed monument may be too much of a good thing, and that the Route 66 Alliance, which supports the monument, needs to advocate a compromise that helps meet America’s future energy needs and supports start-up businesses such as Lizalde’s.

Lizalde has a sporadically updated blog about Chambless here.

UPDATE: Jim Hinckley at Route 66 Chronicles, upon reading the story about Chambless and the issues involved, wrote this thoughtful piece.

14 thoughts on “A dream in the desert

  1. James M Conkle

    Ron, We do support folks like Gus, where ever they are located on the road. Without tourists and travelers there is NO economy on the road, we all know that and it is a fact we deal with daily. How do we preserve the road yet open it up for more folks to have sustainable business’s? This one question has no easy answers. In areas such as the Mojave Desert of the southwest there are issues that out weight preservation that deal with History, Conservation, Endangered Species, Native Americans and a list too long to quote here. We must bring the past, present and the future together at the same table.
    Senator Feinstein in fact is introducing a bill that is both to protect yet open up the desert. Her bill address’s the need for alternative sources of energy yet protect the environment. Will the bill make everyone happy? We hope so for a lot of work has gone into this legislature from a number of resources. The county of San Bernardino where this area is located is very much involved and the property owners have been one of their main concerns. They too want to see some, not a lot, of the old icons brought back to life. Chambless and Amboy are two at the top of the list. We will be holding meetings with all stake holders over the next few months.

    1. Ron

      Jim, I concur there are no easy answers to the problem. I think, however, that some of the folks who claim that the Route 66 portion of the Mojave is “pristine” environmentally might be guilty of a wee bit of hyperbole.

    2. Scott Piotrowski

      In the past, I have taken the political high-road, and made my best effort to not alienate or call out those that do so much for the road. With an ailing support for 66 in Los Angeles, I have realized that I no longer need to be politically correct. And now I’m going to call out Jim Conkle for his comments, publicly.

      Jim, what exactly does anything that you posted above actually mean. You make a great number of comments above, but say nothing to the reality of the situation. Perhaps the Santa Monica Daily Press op-ed piece trashing the “official”-ness of the designation of the Pier got it right when he called you a modern-day PT Barnum.

      Let’s talk specifics of the bill. Tell us exactly how it is going to protect Amboy, Chambless, Cadiz, Bagdad, and countless other ghost towns in the Mojave. Tell us what it is going to do to benefit 66 today and in future generations. Don’t talk in hyperbole and political mumble-jumble, Jim. Don’t provide great one-liner quotes. Let’s start talking facts. Especially because most of us – myself included – have not seen any previous information on this so-called “Mother Road National Monument.” (And by the way, why are you not just pushing for National Register and Scenic Byway status for California’s 66? Why a new designation?)

      1. Ron

        Scott, there’s been plenty of information and posts on this site about the proposed Mother Road National Monument, going back months. Just because you missed it is not Jim’s fault.

        And, frankly, you were not just politically incorrect during your last comment. You were flat-out rude with the “kiss my a**” comment.

        I would advise that you stay on the high road on this site with your comments, and pronto, or risk being banned.

  2. Scott Piotrowski

    I’ll risk the ban … historical accuracy is more important to me, Ron, than is personal opinion. In that regard:

    1) with my post regarding the Pier, I wholeheartedly supported maintaining the historical accuracy of 66’s western termini while acknowledging a “spiritual ending” of 66 on or near the Pier. I will continue to adamantly oppose any “official” designation of a new terminus. Fortunately for all historians and preservationists out there, the Route 66 Alliance and the City of Santa Monica have no authority over assigning a terminus to a decertified United States Highway.

    2) of all the posts previously regarding this particular topic (I count three in doing a search on your site), none list any DETAILS of the proposed legislation. It is those details that I specifically asked for above. As for Jim’s comments, what he says above contains nothing but rhetoric and grandstanding, with little substance and no factual information.

    Now, ban away, Ron, and show the world just how the black sheep along 66 was pushed to the side. Ban away, Ron, and disavow the historical accuracy along the road. Ban away, Ron, and prevent legitimate discussion and debate with factual commentary. Ban away, Ron, and raise your hands toward the Route 66 Gods that everyone MUST worship if they are true believers in the Mother Road.

    1. Ron

      1) I have no qualms about assigning a mythical ending to Route 66, a decertified highway. The “official” ending of Route 66 has been and will be duly reported, but will still be greeted with a collective yawn once people actually drive there. Linking Santa Monica Pier to Route 66 is no different than linking the Grand Canyon or Totem Pole Park to the road. They are all indisputably part of the Route 66 experience, and I have no problem with that. If that makes me insufficiently purist, so be it.

      2) There are no details on the Mother Road National Monument because the legislation hasn’t been introduced. It’s still in the process of being drafted, and I can’t provide details that I don’t have. I suspect we won’t hear any announcement of the proposed legislation until after New Year’s.

      You’re safe for now, Scott. Just behave yourself, OK?

      1. Scott Piotrowski

        Regarding number 1, the bigger issue in my mind is when the people who know better ignore the facts and declare an “official” terminus that never existed. That has been and will always be a very sore point for me. Your comments regarding Grand Canyon, Totem Pole Park (and Meramac Caverns, Palo Duro Canyon, and Area 51, for that matter!) are duly noted and something that I completely, wholeheartedly concur with.

        Regarding number 2, I have emailed my contact with Senator Feinstein’s office regarding the legislation and will provide whatever response I get from her when it becomes available. If any text of the legislation exists at this point (which at least a draft MUST exist for it to be discussed at this detail), I will hopefully be able to get it.

        As for the psuedo-number 3, well, I’ll continue to be myself. Vocal and annoying, but at least speaking to the honest content in front of me.

  3. Sal Paradise

    I still have problems with that official ‘end of route 66′ deal and the Santa Monica Pier. But, as I find out when bringing up some issues like this’ it’s not a popular POV. Scott makes some good points, so does Jim. Personally, I’m for whatever they can do open things up along rural 66 everywhere. That said I wonder how Amboy, Chambliss or the other desert California Route 66 places can make a go of it without customers. And the bill Sen. Feinstein is pushing is already getting slammed here in DC for creating yet another advantage for her friends in high places. Being a good 66 backer, that alone raises questions. Should it crash and burn it can only hurt long-term national efforts to help Route 66. Sooner or late, I hate to say, Route 66 advocates are going to have to create some sort of coherant political agenda and maybe consider becoming more politically involved. I hate that because, as in all things political, sides get picked and people break into interest groups.

  4. Scott Piotrowski

    Sal, as you can see above and if you listen to me regularly, sides are already getting picked and people are already breaking into interest groups.

    I decided years ago to concentrate on the one portion of 66 that I could affect positively. I could not act on a national level because I do not have the time or resources. I attempted for a long while to be involved and active when needed. However, when my calls for support went out on a national level for Los Angeles area issues, there were few, if any, responses.

    Regarding political activism, that is a part of the problem with my time. I am politically active in this and other arenas. In recent months I have had meetings with transportation deputies for LA City Council representatives, have attended Caltrans meetings, and have sat in offices with deputies at both Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Boxer’s offices.

    Like you, I agree that we need a coherent political agenda. Until, however, any political agenda is sent to us for support from those active on the National level, I have moved forward with the political agenda that I can on a local level. I only hope that when someone comes calling with a national political agenda for 66, that two things happen:
    1) we have an opportunity to provide input on that agenda, and
    2) all portions of 66 are equally represented, whether rural or metropolitan, or Illinois or California or anywhere in between.

    Unfortunately, as somone who has been active in historic roads preservation for over ten years now, I have not been asked to become involved on any national agenda, so I have to question anyone who claims one exists or has adequately been supported.

    1. Ron

      Well, Scott, you have to admit that asking someone to “kiss my a**” is no way to ingratiate yourself into any national agenda. That may be the reason you’re on the sidelines.

      Plus, working to a political compromise is no place for purists. Just sayin’.

      1. Scott Piotrowski

        Or perhaps saying “kiss my a**” is a result of not being asked to be involved in any national agenda.

        You are correct, though, that purists typically get pushed to the sidelines when it comes to political compromise. Usually, though, it’s the sidelines, and not at home watching the game on TV (if anyone tells us the game is being played).

  5. Darleen

    I would like to get back to the subject and present a few facts.

    “Lizalde pointed out railroad tracks and a limestone pit sit near his property, and that the area “is not pristine” environmentally”.

    Environmentally pristine implies clean, pure, and uncontaminated.

    Limestone is a natural resource. With few exceptions, limestone is mined near the land surface. The Limestone pit near Chambless is a surface mine. The major component of the mining process is breaking up the rock. Minimal pollution…if any at all. I’d like to remind those who think this is contamination, broken rock is a natural process. This is just kinda…speeding up the process. Mining it…or crushing it to be processed some where else is not pollution.

    The railroad was there…before the road was paved. Why is there no mention of the road as marring the landscape?? The railroad is what brought supplies to the towns like Amboy, Bagdad and even Chambless.

    To date, there are 7 active applications for a total of 98,680 acres of land for solar and solar thermal projects in and around a section of Route 66 that stretches between Ludlow and Essex.

    The front runner of these solar companies appears to be PG&E… If they are successful with their application, their 9 square mile solar “park” will be the largest of its kind in the world. This is the one proposed solar park closest to Chambless.

    The equipment needed for this proposed project :
    1.2 million mirrors
    317 miles of vacuum tubing.
    This will have to be transported over roads that are not capable of handling that much heavy truck traffic. The burden of repairing roads will be on the county.

    Water, which is not readily available in the area, will have to be pumped in. The existing water is from fossil forms, which means once the water is used up, there is not enough rain to refill the wells. The water will have to be piped in from some where else. Some of that water will need to be used to keep the mirrors clean so they can operate well.

    Believe it or not, the sun does not shine 24/7 in California…even in the desert. The solar plants will need to generate power 24/7 as a part of their agreement. About 23 % of the energy will have to come from natural gas. Well…natural gas is not available in the area so it will have to be piped in.

    Once all this is in place…that electricity has to go somewhere. So, add a few hundred miles of high power lines. That ought to make the area look real pretty :)

    Did I mention the oil that is piped through that 317 miles of tubing. Occasionally there is a leak…which produces hazardous waste.

    This is just ONE project. Talk about hyperbole…we call this “Green Energy”.

    More on hyperbole…(maybe you can ban the word if you don’t ban Scott)..one limestone pit and a rail line that has been in the area before the road was paved versus high power lines, miles of tubing, mirrors, gas, water, hazardous waste…and the cost!!

    Although progress has been made in the solar park “arena” in improving the cost effectiveness of collecting the “free” sunshine and converting it into electricity to the neighboring cities (some 50 miles away), it still is not cheaper than what we currently have to power our houses in California.

    1. Ron

      I’m well aware of the issues you’ve stated. However, solar power is going to be much better for the environment than any coal-powered plant you can name (as is natural gas). And, regardless of the source, we’re going to have to have electric power from some source eventually. It might as well be a cleaner source.

      As to power lines marring the landscape, the Mojave Desert is vast. I don’t think a few high-power transmission lines is going to make much of a difference in its overall beauty.

  6. Scott Piotrowski

    I know that this is really late in coming, but I’ve finally had a chance to read the (relevant portions as far as 66 is concerned) text of S.2921, the “California Desert Protection Act of 2010.” A few comments ….

    1. I’m not sure WHAT this will do to “preserve the road yet open it up for more folks to have sustainable business’s” as Mr. Conkle states above. Quoting the bill, “The purposes of the Monument are (1) to preserve the nationally significant biological, cultural, recreational, geological, educational, historic, scenic, and scientific values … (B) along historic Route 66…” There is no direct mention of how to do that, and no directive to the Bureau of Land Management on what exactly that means. Furthermore, I’d suggest that BLM’s Needles Office has already been quite involved in preservation and promotion of 66 in the Mojave, and this Act will do nothing to alter that course.

    2. I’d be concerned about 1302(c)(2)(A)(ii) as well, which by my reading allows for the EXPANSION of the 29 Palms Marine Corps base, which already abuts 66.

    3. In 1303(a)(1)(C), I need to research where the existing utility right of ways actually are, but it would seem to me that this could create a PROLIFERATION of utitlities within the shared ROW of historic Route 66.

    4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is 1304(e)(3)(A), which appears to grant an exemption to, among others, PG&E. See Darleen’s comment above regarding the projects which would directly affect Chambless, and then note who the SUPPORTERS of this bill include.

    I’ll leave the rest of the conclusions and reading of the text to everyone else.

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