Amboy: Signs of Life

On our long road back from Las Vegas, we stopped for a few minutes in Amboy, on the “shore” of Bristol Dry Lake. In past years, I jokingly referred to Amboy as California’s equivalent of Tolkien’s Mordor. This time, the café was actually open; gas was being sold; and beverages and snacks were available.

One has to consider that Amboy is no longer really on the road to anywhere. It is where Old Route 66, the “Mother Road,” meets the road to Twentynine Palms. You can take Route 66 east from Barstow, but the road is closed past Kelbaker Road, which goes north to Kelso and ends up in Baker. That’s the way Martine and I took, staying on 66 only as far as the turnoff to Twentynine Palms, where Martine used to work as a civilian employee at the Twentynine Palms Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command (MAGTFTC).

Although there was some human activity visible at Amboy, including a post office across the highway (?!), the desert heat is incredibly fierce. I can’t see anybody being comfortable there except for a few minutes around dawn or dusk. So I doubt you’ll see a McDonald’s or a Starbuck’s there any time soon.

Wretched Excess

Burger at Las Vegas’s Heart Attack Grill

I have mentioned the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas recently. Today, I called my friend Bill Korn, who was marveling at the menu of the place. Granted that Vegas is no stranger to wretched excess, but the Heart Attack Grill draws people to it who should—if they value their lives—be more careful about what they eat.

On Monday, Presidents’ Day, I was shocked to see the place full. Customers were chowing down on mountains of sugars and fats wearing hospital gowns and sitting in wheelchairs, being served by sexy waitresses in full nursing garb. It is a known fact that at least two customers have died at their tables from meals they should have avoided.

Standing outside on a cold and windy day, I shook my head and wondered what has happened to the American people.

Look, Guys, those nurse/waitresses are awfully cute, but they won’t accompany you to Valhalla or wherever it is that people who make bad decisions about their lives go.

There is something about Vegas that seems to cater to the worst side of the American id. Technically, sex for hire is against the law in Clark County (but not in nearby Pahrump and other rural towns in Nevada). But there’s nothing illegal about giving you obscene amounts of food.

Sometimes I think one gets more out of Vegas by observing than by participating. Come to think of it, we didn’t do any gambling, either.

For Chocoholics Only

The Ethel M Cactus Garden

During the whole two years of the pandemic, I had difficulty convincing Martine to take any road trips with me (except for one day trip to Santa Barbara last June). I was interested in going to Las Vegas as I had read a couple of books about the Mafia control of the casinos in the 1970s and the early 1980s. But there was one argument I had which changed her mind: We would visit the Ethel M Chocolate Factory in Henderson, NV, just off the highway to the Boulder Dam.

That did the trick. I have eaten some scrumptious chocolate in my time, but none better than the candies produced by Ethel M. The “M” stands for Mars, the company which also produces M&Ms and is allied with Wrigley. As I understand it, Ethel Mars was the mother of the founders of the Mars candy empire, and the Ethel M Company is a subsidiary dedicated to her memory.

Martine at Ethel M’s Wall of Chocolates

It is fun to visit to factory—not only for the world class chocolates and the free yummy samples—but also for the extensive cactus garden which is maintained by the company.

This was perhaps our third visit to the Ethel M factory, and hopefully not our last.


That’s a strange picture of me, sitting in the electric chair at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. You may recall I wrote about the museum a couple weeks back (click here). Martine and I visited it last Tuesday and spent all day walking its three floors of organized skulduggery.

Little did I know when I sat down on the electric chair that my head size (normally I wear a size 7½ hat) would shrink by half. Now, instead of a hat, I go around wearing a thimble on my head. There was also a gas chamber chair, but I resolved not to sit in it lest my head size would shrink even further.

I thought that the museum would concentrate on crime in Las Vegas, but it actually covered the whole spectrum, concentrating particularly on the Mafia, but also including such figures as John Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly.

We liked the museum so much that we think it is one of the best historical oriented museums we have ever visited. It ranks right up there with the three Presidential Libraries Martine and I have seen (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy).

America as Seen from the “Fremont Experience”

The Fremont Experience at Night

I fully expected that our trip to Las Vegas last week would make for some great people watching. That it did, in spades. We were in the downtown area at the Plaza Hotel, which is at the west end of Fremont Street and of the four-block Fremont Experience. Even though we were in town on a Monday through Thursday after a three-day weekend, the Fremont Experience was crowded. I attribute this partly to the cold temperatures and biting winds, which made the enclosed space a particularly desirable destination.

Here’s what I noticed about the tourists in downtown Vegas:

  1. Most of the tourists were obese. Those who were proud of their fat congregated in large numbers at the Heart Attack Café, where they sat in wheelchairs wearing hospital gowns and being waited upon by sexy “nurses.” By the way, the restaurants went in for quantity more than quality of food.
  2. Among the men, a large percentage had beards and frequently extensive tattoos—and not a Maori in sight!
  3. Many of the older tourists (and some of the younger ones) were in fancy motorized wheelchairs. Some of these disabled visitors (or did they just get tired of walking any more?) were grotesquely obese.
  4. It seemed to be de rigeur for most of the males and some of the women to be always clutching super-sized cocktails as they walked around. In fact, I was surprised how much drinking was going on at all times.
  5. Very few tourists were to be seen even one block north or south of the Fremont Experience. Martine, who did not like the Experience, was happy to walk around it to get to our destinations.
  6. There was loud pop music everywhere, mostly of the “Wall of Sound” variety, which gets on one’s nerves after a while.

Probably the tourists we saw were not representative of most Americans. If they were, I think I would feel even more isolated than I usually do.

Fortunately, Martine and I enjoyed ourselves even though we were not obese lushes tattooed liked escapees from a carnival.

The Long Way Back

Back in the mid-1990s, Martine worked as a civilian employee at the Twentynine Palms Marine Air Ground Combat Center in the Yucca Valley. I remember when I picked her up there shortly after the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing and went with her through back roads in the Mohave Desert to Las Vegas.

On Monday as we were driving to Vegas on Interstate 15, Martine wondered how far we were from Twentynine Palms and expressed interest in seeing it again. So on the way back, I took the same route through the Mohave. Going southwest from Vegas, we took the I-15 south, got off on the Nipton exit and after several miles, turned right onto what was posted as Cima Road. From there, we turned onto the Morningstar Mine Road and took it until it ended at Kelso. There, we turned left onto Kelbaker Road headed south to Amboy. That ended on the old Route 66, the so-called National Trails Highway. Turning right, we drove several miles to Amboy, site of the Bristol Dry Lake, which is mined by National Chloride. After Bristol, we crossed the railroad tracks and turned left on Amboy Road, which took us into Twentynine Palms.

Road Map of the Mohave National Preserve

This route was picturesque, especially with the Joshua Trees along Morningstar Mine Road and the huge Kelso Dunes, but it added over a hundred miles to our trip back, and had me driving to L.A. on Interstate 10 during evening rush hour.

It was worth it, however. Martine got a chance to see how Twentynine Palms had changed over the years. In short, it was more populous, but still looked pretty much the same.

Martine Reminiscing with USMC Flag

I realize I haven’t said anything about Las Vegas yet. So I’m going backward. Stay tuned for more details about our trip, which will appear in the usual helter skelter order.

Africa, Australia, and North America

Giraffe at Palm Desert’s The Living Desert

When visiting my brother in the desert, I enjoy going with him to one of my favorite zoos, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert. I remember going there with Martine when she lived and work in Twentynine Palms for the naval hospital there at the Marine Combat Center. Now that Martine has come to hate the desert after having lived in it for two years, now i go with my brother and his family.

Over the years, there have been numerous improvements, including an Australian sub-zoo and now a rhinoceros exhibit. Unfortunately, the rhino was not into being stared at, so he was in hiding when we were there on Sunday. Originally, there were only two parts to the zoo, North America and Africa.

Me at the Living Desert

My brother took the above picture of me sitting in a rocking chair. He deliberately cut off my feet as part of a family joke. My father used to say that if you didn’t show the subject’s feet in a picture, people would think he or she didn’t have any. So you can guess whether or not I have any feet. (Hint: I do.)

Probably the most spectacular creatures this visit were the giraffes. They are in a particularly large and photogenic location, so I managed to get a lot of pictures of them.

Desert Critters

Bighorn Sheep at the Living Desert

It’s always a bit frustrating to look at zoo animals. They seem to be hyper-aware of the human gaze and prefer to avoid it. It reminds me of a former trip to Nova Scotia, where Martine was determined to find a moose. So we went to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park north of Halifax to see their moose. Well, the moose was there, but didn’t want to be seen; so he hid behind some plants. When we tried to circle around to see him, we found the route closed. Not only closed but guarded by a determined naturalist. So much for that!

I have seen bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) only two or three times in my life: once at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, and the rest of the time at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert, CA. And not all the time, either. This particular day, they seemed to congregate in full view of park visitors.

Another Bighorn Sheep Right by the Fence

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I wasn’t particularly upset at the animals that were in hiding. I had visited three or four times before, and I was more interested in just taking it easy in the shade during a typically hot desert day. Still, it was nice to see the bighorns come crowding down from the hill.

A Botanical Garden Plus …

The big tourist attraction in the city of Palm Desert is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. On my last day in the desert, while the male members of my family hiked Andreas Canyon, I decided to re-visit the Living Desert. Instead of frantically trying to see all the animals—many of whom, typically, were in hiding—I concentrated on the gardens, which are restful and lovely.

So I spent some time in the shade of a palm tree reading Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun, with a bag of popcorn and a bottle of water at my side.

There have been changes since my last visit. For one thing, there is a whole Australian section; and, in future, there will be a major rhinoceros exhibit in the African section.

Shown above is a Boojum Tree or Cirio from Baja California’s central desert. The scientific name is Fouquieria columaris, but the English name is taken from Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark”:

“But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
⁠In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away—
⁠And the notion I cannot endure!” 

Tomorrow, I will describe some of the animals I saw at the Living Desert.

Two Generations

Me with My Niece’s Oldest Son, Ollie

While many of my family members cavorted in the pool at a rental house in Indio, I sat reading James Boswell’s Boswell in Holland, 1763-1764. I had had a vicious siege of blepharitis that lasted for the better part of a year, so I was not about to subject my eyes to pool chemicals.

As I was eating my sister-in-law’s excellent orzo salad with olives, orange bell peppers, and feta cheese, my niece Hilary’s son Oliver came and sat down next to me. He had matured considerably since the time when, while rough-housing, he kicked me in the head. (Fortunately he was barefoot at the time.) Since that time, I have resolved never to rough-house with children. I could get hurt. Or worse, I can turn into my father and deliver an angry swat.

When my brother proposed I look after three children while their parents went elsewhere, I answered “No effing way!” Some people are not meant to be parents: I am one of that number. But then he knew, and he was only jesting with me.