We were looking for a romantic getaway for Valentine’s Day last week, but we didn’t want to travel too far. Blue is currently ‘bed-less’ as David has begun a new upfitting project and removed our bed, so van camping wasn’t an option. We weren’t interested in an ‘in-town’ hotel. We’d just been to Mesquite for the balloon fest and St. George, Utah is just too cold. Where to go? Needles, California is just over 100 miles from home. Why not?
The ride to Needles is through desert land punctuated with mesquite, Joshua trees and dry scrub. As we neared the town, the ‘Needles’ came into view, the sharp peaks of the Mohave Mountains for which the town was named.
We’d reserved a room at a local hotel and it was too early to check in so we decided to explore a bit. According to town information, Needles is an old railroad town and owes its existence to the Atlantic & Pacific, the South Pacific and the Santa Fe railroads which created the 35th Parallel Transcontinental Railroad Line. The tracks, lots of them, are still heavily used by the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe). Trains were coming and going all the while we watched. We’re told this is still a crew change location and line hub. The train depot built in 1908 and once one of the famous Harvey House hotels is still in existence, too, though it’s no longer been used as the fancy El Garces since 1948.
We stopped at the old welcome wagon for a photo opp and learned it was called a borax wagon for transporting,,, wait for it… borax. It was actually used in the 1940s in the film ‘20 Mule Team’. We dutifully followed all posted signs and did NOT climb on it. We are rarely scoff-laws… especially when it comes to climbing on borax wagons.
The Mother Road, historic Route 66, runs through town and a few local businesses used it to their advantage, but it’s not a big draw to the town. At another ‘Needles’ sign, we noticed a sign for the Needles Regional Museum and gravitated towards it. The sign out front announced not only the museum, but the attached thrift shop. It doesn’t get much better than that in my book. We later learned that the first J.C. Penney’s in California was built right here in Needles in 1914 and the museum/thrift shop now occupied that very building. Historical building, museum and thrifting… wow!
The museum is small, but interesting with lots of railroad memorabilia. The volunteer docent, Cathy, was knowledgeable and extremely proud of her hometown. She offered lots of insight and local knowledge about the town’s history and we appreciated her enthusiasm.
Once vibrant as a railroad hub town, Needles is now quite tired and dowdy, but its got potential. Efforts to spruce it up are slow, but continuing.
It’s certainly not your usual romantic destination town, but that said, we had a fine respite and celebrated a lovely, low key Valentine’s eve together with an in-room picnic and a movie. It served to prove once again that it’s the company and not necessarily the venue that makes a holiday enjoyable and memorable.
And the bonus…as if I needed one? Quite by accident on our way out of town, we discovered that Snoopy’s brother, Spike, used to live in the desert just outside of Needles and his statue was on display at the local Subway. Honestly, it was the frosting on the cake! And yes, I’m easy to amuse.