Escaping from the Los Angeles Basin to the Eastern Sierras (or heading into LA) means choosing between Highway 14 or Route 395. Both are considered necessary evils. However, experienced travelers know where the interesting stops are to eat or stretch their legs.
This section comprises Highways 14 and 395 from their sources to where they merge near Pearsonville. The area is a mecca for off-roaders. Hundreds of miles of trails and dirt roads are spread throughout the surrounding desert. The desert community of Mojave plays host to an airline graveyard as well as the Mojave Air and Spaceport; home to experimental aircraft and the Voyager Restaurant. Further north you'll drive through the vermillion colored cliffs and rock formations of Red Rock Canyon State Park.
A short detour off Highway 395 gets you to Emma Jean's; a classic greasy spoon featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. This place is Guy Fieri's choice for one of the best diners in America. An hour up the road is the living ghost town of Randsburg.
Just north of Interstate 15 in Hesperia is the Outpost Café. Its exterior is a hodgepodge of additions tacked onto the original coffee shop, built eons ago. There is a covered patio if you enjoy dining
al fresco. Indoors the mixed bag continues; part western steakhouse, part '50s greasy spoon and part mountain lodge complete with a fireplace.
We stopped by for breakfast while on a weekend trip to Laughlin. After being seated and scanning the menu our work began. Decisions, decisions, decisions; there were a lot of choices! The Outpost offers no less than 10 different omelets as well as the usual breakfast items and a list of daily specials. If that isn't enough most breakfasts come with your choice of side dishes (there are a dozen to select from).
Debbie ordered Frank's Gunslinger Hash with poached eggs and a bowl of cottage cheese. The Gunslinger is Outpost Café's rendition of corned beef hash. As per the menu the dish is "fresh ground corned beef grilled with onions and home fried taters saddled with two eggs". One of our gauges of a noteworthy restaurant is the quality of its poached eggs. These aced the test. The corned beef had a nice crust and the velvety yolks spread over the hash when pierced.
I went for the Divorced Eggs, a twist on huevos rancheros. A pair of corn tortillas are fried crisp then spread with refried beans. A fried egg is placed on each tortilla. One gets draped in a chili verde salsa and the other in a red Mexican sauce. Finally they are topped with Mexican queso. You can use a knife and fork on the tortillas but I chose to devour them like a tostada. A cup of fresh fruit and iced tea put the finishing touch on my breakfast.
On our way home Debbie and I got a hankering for a hamburger and figured we would give the Outpost Café another shot. They didn't let us down. The burgers start with a half pound patty, your choice of sirloin or Kobe beef. From there the menu boasts almost twenty different ways to build your burger! Bleu cheese and onion rings, marinated mushrooms with garlic butter, applewood smoked bacon and pastrami are just a few of the toppings. There's even a Wide-load Burger with two patties and four slices of cheese for those of you who could care less about calories or cholesterol. My lunch came with a mountain of homemade potato chips on the side. These salty slices of dietary disaster arrived piping hot straight from the fryer.
The Outpost Café is located close to Highway 395's southern terminal where it meets Interstate 15 in the Pilot Truck Stop's parking lot.
8685 Hwy 395 Hesperia CA 92344 (760) 949-0808
The best advice we can give travelers preparing to exit I-15 and head north on Hwy 395 is, "Don't do it!" Instead continue east about 8 miles and exit at D Street on the outskirts of Victorville. You will find yourself on the original Route 66, America's Mother Road. Head north. There are a couple opportunities to hook up with Hwy 395 while avoiding the endless traffic signals in Adelanto, and it's an enjoyable drive.
We can only imagine what it was like 70 years ago when the now abandoned gas stations and boarded up businesses were bustling with activity. Luckily this sunbaked strip of asphalt is still alive with points of interest ranging from the off-beat to the bizarre.
A mile or so outside of Victorville you come across a greasy spoon featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that has remained virtually unchanged for over 60 years. A scene from the movie Kill Bill was filmed here. A little further north you can turn left on Air Expressway Blvd. and backtrack to the 395. Along the way you will pass by a federal penitentiary and an abandoned military base, or you can continue poking around Rte 66.
A few miles up the road an old feed store has been transformed into an antique mall. You may easily lose half a day digging through all kinds of rusty funk here. Next you'll come across a local landmark, the Iron Hog Restaurant and Saloon. If it looks familiar, it should; Julia Roberts met a disgruntled PG&E employee here in Erin Brockovich. The Iron Hog is home of the "72 Ounce Steak Challenge". That's four and a half pounds of steer meat, cowboy! You get one hour to wolf down the steak and all the trimmings.
Further on is an honest-to-goodness ostrich farm. Hours vary, but you can see most of the operation from the road. Yes, they do sell eggs. An omelet made with a single ostrich egg will feed about a dozen people! Finally you will happen upon the epitome of American folk art, a two acre bottle forest.
To get back to Highway 395 turn left onto Vista Road. Skirt the community of Silver Lake by turning left at Helendale Road and right onto Shadow Mountain Road.
Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe
We discovered this place four years ago after seeing it featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. If we are in the area and they're open, we're stopping! Why eat at one of those wannabe 50's diners when the real McCoy is right here on the outskirts of Victorville? It's on Route 66, it's a diner serving American food and it hasn't changed much since opening over 60 years ago.
Brian Gentry and his wife Shawna took over the restaurant from his parents, who bought the place in 1979 from the original owners. They are doing their best to keep things just the way they were. For instance, the Formica counter looks original, its layers slowly being worn away by years of service. This is a real family business. Brian does the cooking with recipes handed down from his mother, while Shawna handles the waitressing. Any of you who remember Flo from the TV comedy "Alice", that's Shawna! A few friends help out where they can.
The food is simple, down home cooking done Brian's way. The portions are big enough to keep your tummy from growling for half a day. On our last visit we went with two of the top sellers, a Brian Burger and the Trucker's Special. These are no wimpy sandwiches. The Brian Burger starts with a half pound patty of fresh ground beef grilled until a nice crust develops. The "bun" is French bread spread with butter and parmesan cheese, toasted just right. Add a green chile and molten American Swiss cheese; you've got gooey goodness dripping down your arm.
The Trucker's Special is one of the best roast beef sandwiches I have eaten. Brian slow cooks and slices the tri tip for it daily. Next he adds an Ortega chile, a handful of bacon and a slice of cheese. The sandwich is then grilled for a minute or two on each side. What's not to like? A side of homemade potato or macaroni salad rounds out a stick to your ribs lunch.
For breakfast try the Cowboy Breakfast Burrito. It has all the normal breakfast burrito fixins' but Emma Jean's gilds the lily by smothering it with their signature sausage gravy. You definitely won't go away hungry!
Trip Tip! Holland Burger Cafe only accepts cash. They are open for breakfast and lunch only, and closed on Sundays.
17143 North D St. Victorville, CA 92394 (760) 243-9938
Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch
Elmer Long fondly recalls weekends spent camping with his father. As a child, he and his dad would traverse the Mojave Desert sifting through the remains of abandoned mines, ghost towns and old garbage dumps in search of buried relics. Together they learned to appreciate the well-worn adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure". It was in this barren land that the elder Long developed a penchant for cast aside bottles.
Elmer grew up and moved out but continued scrap collecting. When his father passed on Elmer inherited a wealth of ancient bottles and antiques. After merging the two stockpiles, Elmer began wondering what to do with them. One day Elmer fashioned a "tree" out of a wooden post and hung some of his father's bottles from it. The next morning inspiration struck! He was captivated by the way light shone through the bottles and started building more of them. Metal rods welded together formed the trunks and branches; bottles were added to replicate leaves. Each one was topped with an artifact taken from his scrap heap.
The Bottle Tree Ranch covers over two acres of land on the west side of historic Route 66. Elmer has "planted" over 200 sculptures in his "forest". The tallest is 18 feet tall. Each tree holds up to 150 bottles. Though he likes them all, the blue bottles are Elmer's favorites. When the wind blows the forest whistles a mellow tune. All of the trees are capped by antique oddities. Like a star on a Christmas tree, an old rusty rifle tops one tree. Next to it a dilapidated wagon wheel with bottles radiating from its spokes graces another. Tricycles, typewriters and sewing machines are all employed as tree toppers. Two of the truly odd examples are the carousel horse and the torpedo which serves as the trunk of a tree. This is American folk art at its finest!
More of Elmer's memorabilia can be found scattered throughout his ranch; a rusted out jeep, leaky motorboat and antique gas pump are just a few of his keepsakes. Old coke signs and other memories from a simpler time beckon you to prolong your visit.
Elmer likes to meet and greet his visitors. A thin man with a Santa Claus beard and infectious smile, he is easy to recognize. He can tell you the story behind every one of his creations. While we were there Elmer was contemplating the best use of a World War II era machine gun he had just acquired.
The Bottle Tree Ranch is open from sunup to sundown and is free to enter.
24266 National Trails Highway Oro Grande, CA 92368
Near the northwest corner of Kramer Junction stands Astro Burger, sticking out like an alligator in a dog show. Its architecture harkens you back to the era of the Space Race , '65 T-Birds and car hops. On closer inspection the memories quickly fade away. The patio jutting out from the main building now covers picnic tables, not teenaged waitresses on roller skates. The menu board at the walk up window has been replaced by a sign directing you to the dining room on the left.
Inside the tables and booths look straight out of Mel's Diner, if they were painted sky blue. Don't wait for a hostess to greet you, grab a menu and find a place to sit. Scan the menu and you'll discover you have stepped into a vanishing breed, the mom and pop burger stand! Its pages are filled with American favorite fast food choices, most of which aren't good for you but sure are tasty. Astro Burger also offers Mexican food; after all, this is California. Breakfast items round out the bill of fare. In case you still can't decide what to eat pictures of all their dishes adorn two of the dining room's walls.
We stopped by Astro Burger on a hot Mojave afternoon. Being in a burger joint it was only fitting to order some burgers and fries. The french fries arrived first, giving us something to munch on while we waited for lunch. They were piping hot, slightly crispy on the outside and creamy as a baked potato inside. Next, fresh from the grill, our Supreme and Pastrami Burgers showed up. No heat lamps here. The patties filled the bun and had a nice char around the edges. A word of advice: get a burger with double meat, the patties are a little thin.
Astro Burger knows how to put the fun in funky. It looks like the owners combed every yard sale and thrift store looking for the proper dinnerware. The fries were served in a soup bowl. Our glasses didn't match, which was fine because nobody else's did either. The hamburgers came on a couple of cheap crystal salad plates with an engraved leaf design, like the kind your grandma would present her molded Jello salad on. Can't wait to come back and see what their pancakes are served on.
40654 Hwy 395 Boron, CA 93516