The list of those who either frequented the area (or were just passing through) reads as if we’re talking about a famous skate spot–and in a way, we are. Pat Duffy, Jeremy Wray, Jonas Wray, Neal Mims, Danny Montoya, Rob Gonzalez, Fabrizio Santos, Pat Channita, Chany Jeanguinin, Chris Lambert, Mike Manzoori, Kyle Leeper, and Richard Angelides, among other people just passed by without even seeing Amboy Road.
It’s a 50-mile stretch of California’s Mojave Desert that links the town of Twentynine Palms with the all-but-forgotten-about ghost town of Amboy. Amboy used to be something. It was a famous pit stop on the way into California if you were headed west on what used to be America’s main street–Route 66. A 1950s-style diner was the town’s centerpiece, and it was the real thing–the kind of place where entrepreneurs spent large sums of money on architecture. Amboy was the main stop on the way to Las Vegas, Nevada in its early glory days of Sinatra and gangsters.
Today, there might be a handful of residents, but the only gas station for miles can go days without a customer–according to the attendant. The residents remain proud of the heritage of their town, even though they have their details wrong some of the time. Locals believe that Charles Manson came from Amboy, California, when in fact he was actually from Amboy, New Jersey. The only Hollywood connection these days is the occasional movie crew or rock-video shoot at the town’s historic motel or maybe at the still-preserved diner.
So what does this have to do with skateboarding? In itself, nothing, but the road that meets Highway 66 in this town has had a recurring history with skating. Several years ago, Jonas and Jeremy Wray and I were taking back roads on our way to Arizona, and it was here on Amboy Road where we found what brought us back so many times–the Bristol Lake salt flats.
Bristol Lake used to be a fairly large body of salt water, which slowly evaporated over time. The remaining salt got wet after heavy rains, and as it dried out in the desert sun, the wind shaped it into waves. What you’re left with is miles of salt as hard as concrete (if it hasn’t rained in a while, that is) with jump ramps, wedges, and gaps–all made out of salt. This unusual spot made the cover of TransWorld and has also appeared in various articles and videos. The salt beds were at the far end of the 50-mile stretch, so we ended up stopping off along the way quite frequently. The salt has all been harvested by a chloride chemical company, so don’t look for it ’cause it’s not there anymore.
Anyway, to get back to the road itself, between the army base in Twentynine Palms, the chloride plant, and the town of Amboy, the road saw quite a boom in housing traffic at one point. This is gone now, too, as the people who used to make a go of it in the open desert have retreated back to the towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree. What’s left is the remnants of houses, cars, trailers, and machinery–a playground for skaters about as far away from modern skateboarding as you can get in America.
On this particular trip, we were looking for a pile of discarded machinery of some kind, and we found it just off to the side of the road about a half mile in. This certain pile of junk contained some very skateable elements. Fortunately, we were equipped with a van full of wood and tools, so there definitely wasn’t a shortage of things to skate. We’d seen it not four months earlier, and now it’s gone. If it weren’t for the brutal heat of the Mojave, we would’ve stayed even longer, but a full day of physical exertion in the desert sun takes a quick toll on all your energy.