September 17, 2009

Alliance to promote Mother Road

Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES - In the novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck wrote, “(Route) 66 is the mother road, the road of flight,” when referring to the 1930s migration of Dust Bowl refugees who headed west hoping to find jobs in the fields of California. After describing the long journey from the central plains, Steinbeck continued,“There's California just over the river, and a pretty town to start it. Needles, on the river.”

A proposed Mother Road National Monument project may soon regain positive recognition for Needles.

The “driveable monument” concept is all about preserving a 70-mile section of historic Route 66 between Needles and Barstow in the Mojave Desert. It would pass through Goffs, Essex, Amboy, Ludlow and a few other small towns which became neglected after Interstate 40 was built. Needles is expected to be the eastern anchor for the monument road.

Collaboration by several entities including Sierra Club, Nevada Desert Committee, Wildlands Conservancy and Route 66 preservationists has produced an initial plan which is being presented to government officials. Several concerns are expected to be worked out through negotiations among all parties involved.

Designation of a national monument would attract tourism and provide historical preservation, but the purpose is also to protect open desert lands surrounding a number of wilderness areas. Construction of wind and solar plants in the area and expansion of the U.S. Marine base at Twentynine Palms is expected to be carefully considered.

Conservationists are asking that all existing uses be preserved, military expansion be well planned, renewable energy plant placement be prudent and the 189,000-acre Johnson Valley off-highway vehicle area be kept intact. The intent is to promote responsible development to avoid disturbing the area's natural beauty and wildlife.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has been approached about the proposed project. She is introducing legislation to protect former Catellus lands, some 600,000 donated and purchased acres which are sprinkled throughout public trust lands in the Mojave Desert; however, she has not actually endorsed the mother road concept or related plans as detailed.

The Needles Downtown Business Alliance has been energized by the national monument proposal and intends to elevate publicity for the portion of Route 66 which runs through town. The alliance meets on the first Thursday of each month until October, when twice-a-month meetings, on the first and third Thursday, resume.

Meetings begin at 11:30 a.m. in the Wagon Wheel restaurant along Needles Highway. The public is invited. The alliance is dedicated to the preservation and beautification of historic downtown Needles. Send e-mails to