The sad old motels of Barstow, California



I’m feeling a bit roadsick, seeing these. That’s like homesick, but for the road. You still find clusters of places like this in “highway towns.” I’ve stayed in some. Along the California coast (say, Crescent City), scruffier places along the Oregon coast, or in the Olympic Peninsula.

Las Vegas still had motels like this, right on the Strip, up to around the time that I stopped doing trade shows in 1995.

Some were right opposite fancy places like Caesar’s Palace . . . like the “Tam O’Shanter.” One former co-worker stayed at a rusty-water fleabag called the “Money Marie.”

One place I used to pass had a wonderful neon sign, the “Desert Rose.” It was near the end of the world, the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.


I just visited Barstow within the last year: A roadtrip with my Mom in her new Prius from SF to Prescott Arizona. I ‘liked’ Barstow, for the same reasons the above pictures were taken…it’s an old picture postcard from two or three generations ago that still exists. I remember driving over a bridge (or should I say trestle?) over a ratking-like assemblage of railroad tracks, from the motel-ish area to the residental-ish area, going to get a good steak. I made a left…when I should have made a right.

Eventually my realization that ‘uh…no…every quarter mile is becoming more desolate’ became evident. But we found the (big, good, friendly, local) steak-house soon enough…the next time I want to escape and/or ride the rails…Barstow is on my list.


Neat collection of images. The signs were all way more interesting than the hotels themselves. The Motel 6 sign with it’s digital room rate display looked about as functional as the giant thermometer in Baker.

What is this place, please? :slight_smile:

'We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold"


Favorite motel sign accessory: “COLOR TV by RCA”.


I really think that these old motels can make you feel any number of things. One of my favorite motels was the Mayberry Motel, near Mt. Pilot, NC. I think motels like this have a “such-ness” that well-appointed, contemporary motels try to mask.

That and ROUND BEDS. Always what I’m looking for in a cheap motel.


There was an episode of “California’s Gold” with Huell Howser in which he visits Barstow; he goes to the El Rancho motel, the site of the first “Del Taco”, and of course Calico phoney ghost town.

Back in 2002 when my wife was moving to Texas, I flew out to travel with her. The first night on our trip, we stopped in Barstow and stayed at that America’s Best Value Inn.

That’s the last time we’ve ever stayed at an America’s Best Value Inn.


Looks like Tom’s Welding.

I Googled “Toms Barstow CA”, then “Toms Barstow CA -burgers” to filter out the top results, and this place showed up.


Includes a panorama of Tom’s, which isn’t working for me, sadly.

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A road trip from southeast Georgia to Cocoa Beach in the early 80s (watched the third shuttle launch from the beach) was instructive. The town we were living in had been bypassed by the Interstate a few years before we came. Previous to that, it had been thick with cars driving to Florida from the Northeast every summer, and when we got there, it was a study in deterioration.

For a while, we followed the old highway, and there were old motels being repurposed in any way an owner could think of. Studios, flea markets, farmers’ markets… most of these, I may add, were wishful thinking. Most of them had hopeful signs stating that they were available, or else they were on their way to demolition.

When we switched to the newer interstate, we left all those behind, and that emphasized how interesting all those motels were to look at. The new road was a gash through groves of orange trees and nothing else. Billboards were perishingly rare, and anything with writing on it was a target for me to peer intently at until it was lost to sight. Even water tanks.

We finally got into more interesting territory with the pink kitsch of tourist traps. It was like driving up to Estes Park (CO), except that where the mountains had western kitsch, Florida had seashell kitsch.

Barstow looks interesting. It’s like they’re still trying. They must get some business from Route 66 fans, but that demographic is probably fading out. I hope they can hang on. As airline travel gets less tolerable, maybe they can pick up more cross-country drivers.

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bleah. these places all look like asphalt-coated hellholes. Someone’s been huffing too much paint with Bill Griffith. next time just go take 20 pictures of somewhere in the woods, it’ll be nicer than this.

I wrote a book called Barstow a few years ago. There were some great reviews on authonomy:

A producer who, at the time, worked for New Line called me to have coffee to discuss the screenplay. I told her over a very nice coffee in Santa Monica that there was no screenplay but she was still interested…

It’s available as an ebook here: for those who might like a read.

Along the way in my research I learned that the TV show Cheers was originally slated to be set in Barstow but moved to Chicago so Ted Danson’s character could be a former baseball player not a retired football player.

I always liked stopping in Baker on trips to Vegas (or to relatives in Utah). It’s tiny and cheesy. For the sake of the kids we’d usually have to stop in Barstow for the Chuck E Cheese, though.

The idea of a ghost town as a tourist attraction is always kind of baffling to me. It can’t be a GHOST town when it’s full of people!

That, and you’re basically paying admission to wander through gift shops full of shiny rocks and fake Native jewelry.

On an evolutionary scale, these habitats are just becoming interesting.

Better idea. You go take them, come back and share, and we will be nicer than that.