Southwest trip day 1: Davis to Needles, CA

We left Davis at 7:30am, and the first photo I took is of this sign on Interstate 80 in Sacramento. I love freeway signs that give the mileage to some far-flung place on the other side of the country. It always makes me want to step on the gas and just drive.



As always, the drive south through the Central Valley on Highway 99 is a slog. Listening to an audiobook helped pass the time, and at 11:30 am we had made it to Bakersfield. From there we headed east on Highway 58 and in less than an hour we were in the Mojave desert.

I’ve never been to California City and have no idea what’s there, but is there a more quintessential place name in the Golden State?



Highway 58 cuts through vast stretches of nothingness. Some people would call it bleak, but I love the wide open expanses, dominated by the big California sky.



And when you get tired, there’s always a place that leaves the light on for you. Imagine, you could spend the night at the Relax Inn and get your tires rotated at the same time!



I would have loved to stop at this two-acre gift shop paradise, especially after seeing that they also sell “cactus and succulent plants,” but unfortunately it wasn’t on our way.



Neither was the next establishment. So many choices: Victorian! Kitchen décor! Bears & dolls! And a “year round Christmas room” in the desert, who knew!



If you’re like me, you’re always grateful for a clean restroom. This rest area near Boron, California not only had very clean restrooms, it also had the most interesting architecture of any rest area I’ve ever stopped at in California. It reminded both me and my wife of 1950s shade structures.





Temperature at the Boron rest area at 2:20pm: 99°F (37°C).

Right after Barstow we hooked up with Interstate 40, and much to my delight I spotted another long-distance mileage sign.



I’m a huge fan of the 1988 movie Bagdad Café which was filmed in Newberry Springs along Interstate 40.



After 20+ years I finally got the opportunity to see the “real” Bagdad Café.





Not much appears to have changed since the movie was filmed. For all I know, the Airstream trailers, mere shells now, are left over from the set.





Unfortunately, the Henning Motel, located next to the café, is in shambles.



I wasn’t able to find out what happened, but the inside is a complete mess





Temperature in Newberry Springs at 3:45pm: 104°F (40°C).

Back on Interstate 40, we spotted yet another onion truck. I believe they’re hauling onions from the huge fields near Bakersfield.



10 hours after we left Davis—and after 563 miles on the road—we arrived in Needles, a small town on the western bank of the Colorado River and our home for the night.



After checking into our motel—the Rio del Sol Inn, which I would recommend—we proceeded to have dinner at the Cook’s Cuisine. As I always do, I’d gone to for recommendations, and Cook’s Cuisine received rave reviews. The restaurant is located in a small strip mall and it will never win any awards for interior décor.



But we came for the food, and it was outstanding. My wife and I had the yellow curry, substituting tofu for chicken, and I inhaled mine. I’ve paid twice as much for Thai food half as good! The restaurant is run by only two people—I assume they’re a married couple—and the chef was so thrilled when we told her how good her food was. If you’re ever in Needles, or simply passing through on Interstate 40, do stop at the Cook’s Cuisine. It’s located at 1400 Needles Highway, right on the main drag before it crosses the Colorado River.



After dinner, we drove down to the Colorado River and spent a leisurely hour walking in the water and collecting rocks and shells.



The temperature was still 110°F (44°C) at 7:30pm but the humidity was so low that it actually didn’t seem quite that hot.



At the edge of the parking lot, I came across this beautiful trio: pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), Baja fairy duster (Calliandra californica) and red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora).



A dragon fly was fluttering around the few remaining flowers on the Baja fairy duster, and I was lucky to get a decent shot.



It was a long day, but we had a reasonably relaxing drive and dinner was fantastic. That would have been enough for me, but nature was gracious enough to also give us a beautiful sunset. Life is good.



Temperature in Needles at 10pm: 103°F (39°C).





  1. Replies
    1. You would have loved it, matey! How about flying down to the desert next summer??? LOL.

    2. YES. YES. YES. A 3 day trip. Bill

  2. Yikes that's a long day! (I'm having flashbacks to my SF road trip last spring). Yay for A/C!

    Thanks for the Bagdad Cafe reminder, I'm serious considering adding it to the Netflix queue as it's been so many years. The shots of the interior of the hotel would be super creepy if not for being so bright and colorful.

    1. Without A/C I would die. I went for a walk in Needles this morning and at 6:30am it was 91°F already.

      I started to watch Bagdad Cafe on Netflix last night but realized that a small laptop screen just doesn't do it justice.

  3. Wow, quite a start to your holiday and road trip, the horizon beyon and all that space and blue skies! The motel looks haunting now that it's in ruins.

    1. I've been thinking about that motel all night (I don't sleep that well in motel rooms). It's sad how so many small motels are disappearing because they just can't compete with the large chain motels along the Interstates.

  4. I can relate to this post in so many ways:

    - weird gift shops promising fun and "antique malls" are plentiful in Missouri (along I-70)
    - the temperature
    - the desire to just keep driving someday

    I also think that there are many small motels that deserve to disappear, but I know what you mean.

  5. So how is the rental car? Show us a picture of your desert horse.

  6. I need another fix of the southwest please Gerhard.

  7. Cal city is... not as great as advertised. It was suppposed to be a model city, but didn't grow anywhere near planned. The broken roads (laid out like a city) in the undeveloped areas are kind of cool to see. Your pictures of the desert are beautiful!


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