People driving from LA to Vegas regard the I-15 as a long and boring stretch of highway that stands between them and public intoxication, irresponsible gambling and regrettable sexual encounters. Movies like “The Hangover” and “Swingers” skip over this part of the road trip with a montage as if there was nothing to see besides cactus and the occasional road kill.
For the most, they’re right. But sometimes you have to stop.
Sometimes you just need a break from the monotonous and boring hum of the road (or your significant other). Sometimes you’re craving really unhealthy hood from establishments with questionable health records. And almost always, you need to drain the 8 cans of Monster Energy Drink that has swelled your kidney to the size of a cantaloupe. Even if you never drop below 90 mph on the four-hour drive straight to Vegas, you can impress your friends with cool facts about the places you refuse to pull off at.
Ostrich Omelets And Buffalo Burgers
The scariest and most hazardous part of the drive to Vegas is traversing the Cajon Pass, a steep mountain pass known for car accidents, snow storms, wild fires, deadly encounters with NASCAR fans, and earthquakes — the San Andreas Fault runs right through the Cajon Pass. Once you reach the summit, you can visit one of the few remaining historic U.S. Route 66 roadside diners left in California. Summit Inn still features many of its original signs, like a Standard Oil sign with Mickey Mouse, but they’re known for having some unusual food like ostrich omelets and buffalo burgers.
The McDonald’s Train Station
The last relatively large town you’ll see before you hit over 200 miles of desert landscape is Barstow. Right off the freeway there’s a place called Barstow Station. There you will find a McDonald’s where you can eat your dollar burgers inside one of three side-by-side rail-road cars. At one point, this was supposedly the largest McDonald’s in the world. But what I find even more fascinating is that Barstow Station claims to have “the cleanest restrooms in all of Barstow.”
Case Del Desierto
Head down Main Street in Barstow and cross over an old iron bridge that’s set to collapse any day now, and you will find Casa del Desierto. Today the building is home to the Route 66 Mother Road Museum, the Western America Rail Museum and the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce. But it was originally built as a Harvey House back in 1911. Here’s a little history and fun wrapped in one: Harvey House’s were a chain of eateries located at railroad stations, and they’re considered to be the first restaurant chain ever.
The Oldest Del Taco
If you’re a connoisseur of the 59 cent taco such as myself, you probably love Del Taco, which is far superior in every way to the hideous and overpriced Taco Bell (79 cent tacos!? What a rip!). I know it’s hard to imagine such deliciousness being even better, but at the oldest Del Taco franchise at 401 N. First Street in Barstow, they make fresh Mexican food that tastes like it came right out of an autentico pueblo. It’s like being in Mexico without the drug war or kids trying to sell you Chiclets.
The Barstow Murals
You’ve seen the Harvey House, you’ve crossed the rusty bridge, you’ve gorged on McDonald’s and Del Taco, and you’re about to leave Barstow when you notice an interesting mural. Then you see another one. And another. Murals depicting the history of the area in downtown Barstow are popping up all over town, and they’re becoming such a popular attraction that a group is now offering tours. Let us know if it’s interesting; we’ll wait in an air conditioned car.
The Original Del Taco
While you still have the goodness of Del Taco in your mouth, check out the building where the original Casa del Taco stood in 1964. Located at 38484 Yermo Rd. in Yermo, this little food shack is now an unreliable-sounding eatery called Tita’s Burger Den (which supposedly serves great shakes). It still brandishes the original Casa del Taco sign.
Calico Ghost Town
Fans of panning for gold and gunfight stunt shows will probably enjoy a visit to Calico Ghost Town just a few miles off the I-15. Called “The Official Silver Rush Ghost Town”, it’s a registered California historic monument, but it’ll cost you $10 to visit. Just remember how far that $10 can go in Vegas: 10 beers; or 3 steak dinners in the middle of the night; or 1 lap dance at a second-tier strip club.
Is That A Waterpark In The Middle Of The Desert?
Smack dab in the middle of no where, you’ll pass the Lake Dolores Waterpark, also called Rock-A-Hoola, but better known as The Oasis That Never Was. It’s no longer in business for obvious reasons — who would drive two hours into the hot dessert to go down a water slide? — but apparently the park was pretty popular in the 70′s and 80′s back when the more conveniently placed Raging Waters didn’t exist. Here’s another fun fact for ya: officially the world’s first water park debuted in 1977, but Lake Dolores is unofficially called the first water park because it added water slides in the 1950′s. That’s officially unofficial.
Zzyzx Isn’t Zazzy
About 8 miles before you hit the town of Baker, you’ll pass a street sign for an off-ramp that you’ll probably never get off at in fear that an encounter with the freaks from “The Hills Have Eyes” will lead to your zoothapsis (though perhaps I’m being zoilistic). The street is called Zzyzx, and what makes this street so special is that it’s the lexicographically greatest place name. What that confusing term means is that out of all the street and city names in the English language, Zzyzx is the very last one. At least it sounds cooler than the nearly unprounable last word in the English dictionary: zyzzyva (a South American weevil).
The World’s Tallest Thermometer
I wouldn’t be surprised if the term “highway robbery” was invented in Baker. The gas prices are insanely high, but chances are you’ve gotta fill up once on the way to Vegas. You can get a snack at Alien Fresh Jerky (avoid the anal probe special) or an awesome strawberry shake at The Mad Greek Diner. If for some ungodly reason you have a desire to sight-see, your one and only option is the World’s Tallest Thermometer. It’s 134 feet high to commemorate the hottest temperature ever recorded in the U.S.: 134 °F in Death Valley in 1913.
World’s Tallest Roller Coaster… In 1996
The Desperado roller coaster at Buffalo Bill’s in Primm, Nevada was listed as the tallest roller coaster in the world by the Guinness Book of Records in 1996. The record has been eclipsed since, but with a drop of 225 feet and top speeds around 80 mph, it’s still one of the biggest and badest roller coasters in the world. The problem is that it’s often closed due to high winds that threaten to blow the coaster car off the track.
See The Car Bonnie & Clyde Were Killed In
Bonnie & Clyde is the stuff legends are made of. Their incendiary run as outlaws ended violently on May 23rd, 1934 when cops fired 130 rounds at their car, hitting each of them 25 times. Their bullet-riddled Ford is now on display at Terrible’s Primm Valley Casino Resort. Nothing says party like a crime scene.
Al Capone’s Armored Car
So many rival gangsters tried to kill the infamous Al Capone in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s that he had his car retrofitted with lead-filled doors and glass one-inch thick. Adjacent to the Bonnie & Clyde Death Car, you can check out the equally shot-up bullet-proof Dutch Schultz that once saved Capone’s left. We wonder if Tupac’s car will be the next exhibit.
There’s nothing particularly enticing about Whiskey Pete’s Resort & Casino at the Nevada state line in Primm, but I just love the back-story. The hotel was named after Pete MacIntyre, a guy who illegally made whiskey in the mountain caves nearby. Legend has it that when Pete died in 1933, he wanted to be buried standing up with a bottle in his hands. His grave site remained unknown until workers constructing a monorail between the Primm hotels accidentally uncovered his body. His body was then moved to the cave where he used to make moonshine. It’s a heartwarming tale you can recount to your children before they go to bed.
The Nevada Landing Sign
32 miles outside of Vegas is a little town called Jean. It’s not a place you’d want to spend a lot of time in considering that if any criminals escape from the nearby prison, they’ll probably stop into the only casino in town, the Gold Strike. There used to be two casinos here, but in 2008 they demolished the Nevada Landing… except the sign.