Route 66, also known as “The Mother Road” or “Main Street of America,” was one of the original highways in the US. It was first established in 1926 and connected Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. It was a pathway for immigration during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and a popular tourism route in the 1940s and ‘50s. This road sustained multiple small towns along the way, and after the birth of the US Interstate System, the lack of traffic led to the decline of multiple communities. Nowadays, this road provides a road trip into America’s past. As we are from the west, we’ll start our journey in California.
(Click on the map markers to see locations. Click to jump to that town in this post.)
Checkout our full write up on our visit to Amboy California.
Although not a complete ghost town, with a population of 23 in the year 2009, Goffs is a fascinating place to get a piece of desert history. Originally named Blake between 1893 and 1902 after Isaac Blake. Mr. Blake was the builder of the Nevada Southern Railway that began here.
The Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association took up shop in the original schoolhouse, built in 1914, and has preserved artifacts like mining equipment and vehicles. The original general store still stands, although abandoned. Goffs began its decline to ghost town status early, starting in 1931, when a more direct route was built for Route 66. For a ghost town from the 1930s, there is still plenty to see.
Canyon Diablo Arizona
This little town sprung up after construction of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad halted because of the giant canyon this town takes its name from. In 1882, nobody was quite sure how to build a bridge across the vast expanse, and instead a little town sprung up among the railroad workers who were sidelined. A lot of lawlessness and true “wild west” spirit emerged in this small desert town. The amount of crime is evidenced by the first town marshall, who was sworn in at 3 pm and was dead and buried by 8 pm the same day. After the bridge was finally figured out, this town dwindled… and then Route 66 was born. A gas station and roadhouse were built, but those too faded into history. Some buildings and foundations remain, and of course, the bridge that started it all.
If you do make it to Canyon Diablo, make sure to shoot over and check out the Meteor Crater!
Newkirk New Mexico
Boasting a population of 7 people in 2010, this ghost town offers everything you’re looking for if you’re driving Route 66. Right after the construction of the highway, this town sprung up in population but quickly began to dwindle. One of the bigger towns we’ll mention, at it’s peak, Newkirk had four gas stations, two restaurants, a general store, and a few places for travelers to sleep. Most of these places are still standing, although empty. Strangely, the nearby interstate provides easy access to this town, but the population disappeared anyway.
This little ghost town straddles the border between New Mexico and Texas. This is a highly tourist-based town that still has residents, and you might recognize it. The 1940 movie The Grapes of Wrath was filmed here. One of the businesses in the movie Cars is based off the now-defunct Little Juarez Restaurant, which bears a near-identical resemblance. Driving through town, you’ll take a route along the old Main Street, and you’ll see dozens of closed businesses- restaurants, garages, gas stations, and convenience stores. You can also stock up on gas and snacks at the nearby Glenrio Welcome Center off Interstate 40.
Jericho Gap Texas
Not really a town, but this area deserves mentioning. This stretch of “road” between Alanreed and Groom was quickly abandoned early in the dirt road days of Route 66 due to the amount of travelers who literally got “stuck in the mud” here. You won’t be able to drive straight through- parts of the road have washed out and parts are now private property. However, this is a great place to pull over and take a look. During its heyday, locals were rumored to benefit from the treacherous conditions, charging a pretty penny to tow vehicles out of the mud. Eventually a better road was built that avoided the mud, and the town quickly died. However, many of the old buildings still stand.