It’s Urban Season!

The time between the holiday season and wildflower season can be hard on landscape photographers. So my friends and I have been TRAVELING AROUND TOWN — taking photos of street art, old signs, architecture — anything that doesn’t bloom. This one is from a trip up Highway 99 through the central valley of California…

Photo by Stephanie Roberts,


Photography opens doors.  Armed with just a camera, I’ve entered closed buildings, scary alleys, abandoned barns, and trespassed on fenced property…and usually with an enthusiastic guide I’d just met.  I think it’s because, just by taking a picture, I’ve indicated interest in something they’re interested in, too.  A recent trip through the California Central Valley, via Highway 99, proved several times — it’s all about the people you meet.


I found out about the Five and Dime Antique Center on Google+.  It’s a 3-story antique mall in the old Woolworth Building in downtown Bakersfield.  The original luncheonette is still open and still in operation.  My friend April (she’s a professional photographer, but just as obsessive as me — ) and I were standing outside the luncheonette taking photos of the store windows when a woman emerged from the building.  She asked if we’d been here before and then told us that when she was young her mother used to take her shopping downtown to JC Penneys, and then they would come over to Woolworth’s for an ice cream treat.  She said she loved sitting on the stools at the counter, and she felt very “big” sitting there.  I asked if they had served real cherry Cokes — the kind with cherry syrup poured into a glass of Coke — and yes, they did.  That’s the same memory  I have of a similar soda fountain in Lowe’s Drug Store in Blue Springs, Missouri, where I grew up.


In an alley in Bakersfield we stumbled across one of the best neon signs ever…Guthrie’s Alley Cat.  While we were photographing every inch of it, a guy walking his dog came along and asked if we had noticed the wooden beam poking out of the building across the street.  He said that there had originally been 4 of them, and they were used to attach a winch and haul goods and furniture up to the top floors. He also pointed out a restaurant down the alley, which he said had originally been a stable, and the center arch is where they washed the horses.  It was later “gentrified” and became a club called The Horse’s Tail; now it’s a restaurant called Muertos Kitchen and Lounge. Great stories!


This sign was located at the front of the building in a mostly-abandoned main street area in Tulare.  But when we drove through the back alley (we do that a lot), we noticed a rusty beauty above the back entrance.  While we were photographing, a young man in his 20’s walked through the alley toward us.  He said he had lived there all his life, and he remembered his father taking him to this store as a youngster, for a new suit.  What a nice memory.


Steve, from a local radio station, was working a Sunday afternoon all by himself when he noticed us photographing (and peeking in the windows) outside this gorgeous old building in the Fulton area of downtown Fresno, which has seen recent revitalization with new lofts, farmers markets, art shows, and a new Mural District with beautiful artwork on buildings.  He came out, unlocked the door, and generously invited us in to look around the meticulously-restored building with a student art exhibition in the lobby.  He then opened the back door to an alley we had not noticed that was covered in beautiful street art, including a 2-story portrait of Frank Sinatra in his prime.  He said he didn’t often get to share the artwork that his boss had accumulated, so when he saw someone who was interested, he liked to share.  It’s the kind of offer that makes traveling so unexpectedly rewarding.


As we were photographing an adorable sign on the Lamp Post Bar (now the Lamp Post Bar and Art Gallery, a woman came out of the building and noticed us.  She pointed to an American Eagle sign on the building just down the street and said we need to shoot that, too (of course, we already had!).  She said that “back in the day — the seventies…we used to come out of the Rainbow Ballroom when it closed and then come over here to the Eagle Cafe for coffee.”  Looks like the Rainbow is still rockin’…



This section of Fresno is known as Motel Drive, and has seen better days.  Most of the motels are closed, abandoned, or occupied by people with no place else to go.  On a Sunday morning, we were surprised to see so many people out on the street.. walking, bicycling, pushing carts full of their belongings…going places.  Going where?  Some were very friendly, but most just ignored us.  One man, in red pants, stopped to ask if we were with the “High Speed Rail people” — he said they’d been through here taking pictures.  While photographing the iconic Fresno Motel sign, a woman stopped and asked “Is that sign worth anything?”  We replied that it was priceless to us, as a piece of history.  But she said that the High Speed Rail people would probably sell it when they cleared out the area for the new railroad.  She said she lived at the Relax Inn (yep, it’s real) just down the road, and that the plan was to destroy all the buildings from that point down, and to clear the first 100 feet of the property we were standing on.  Of course, all the signs sit on the first ten feet of the motel properties.  I can only hope that if this ridiculous high speed rail project that no one actually needs somehow proceeds, that someone will take responsibility for saving these historic signs and the people who are currently protecting them (not one of them has any graffiti).  If not…shame on them.


Photo Gallery

Obsessive Travel Research (it’s a thing)…

I suffer from OTR, Obsessive Travel Research (OK, it’s not really a thing – but it should be). I like to think of myself as a spontaneous gal. But I also don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want to end up sleeping in my car, so I tend to over-research. SO…if you’re getting ready to check out Route 66, you’ll benefit from my obsession. Here’s what I’ve been checking out…


  • EZ66 Guide for Travelers, by Jerry McClanahan, noted Route 66 author, artist, and historian — If you can buy only one guide to Route 66, this is the one.  Recently updated (3rd edition, 2013), it meticulously documents Route 66, step by step. If you’re traveling West to East, you have to get used to reading from the bottom of the page up, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Route 66 Dining & Lodging Guide (16th edition, 2013) — Also published by the National Historic Route 66 Federation, this is a great companion book to McClanahan’s guide.  Both volumes are spiral bound and small enough to keep on the center console in the car while you’re cruising.   Buy on Amazon
  • Route 66 Sightings, by Jerry McClanahan (are you starting to see a trend here?), Jim Ross, and Shellee Graham.  This coffee-table photography is gorgeous and captivating. These 3 friends have been traveling the Mother Road for decades, and they have amazing shots of Route 66 stuff that often no longer exists.  Each shot is documented with a bit of history and a great personal story. I bought my edition from the gift shop at the Wigwam Motel (, but the best resource is the Ghost Town Press site: .
  • Roadside America, by photographer John Margolies —  A gorgeous coffee-table book from Taschen, one of my favorite publishers.  But I buy all of their books on Amazon — cheaper, and if you have Amazon Prime, free 2-day shipping.  And everyone should have Amazon Prime — $79/year for Amazon Prime Video + free 2-day shipping on most items.      Buy on Amazon
  • Off the Beaten Path: A Travel Guide to More Than 1,000 Scenic and Interesting Places Still Uncrowded and Inviting — A Reader’s Digest Publication (yes, they’re still publishing stuff!).  The book is almost as long as the title.   Buy on Amazon
  • The Most Scenic Drives in America — Another Readers Digest Publication.  Great maps, info, photos.  Buy on Amazon
  • National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, 4th Edition: The 300 Best Drives in the U.S.   Buy on Amazon
  • On the Road: America’s Legendary Highways, by Andrew Montgomery — Great photos, organized by scenic drives across the U.S.   Buy on Amazon
  • Legendary Route 66: A Journey Through Time Along America’s Mother Road, by Michael Karl Witzel & Gyvel Young-Witzel — I bought my copy from Angel Delgadillo, the modern Route 66 gladiator who led the resurrection of Route 66, at his gift shop in Seligman, AZ.  If you ever get a chance, visit the shop!   Buy on Amazon
  • National Geographic Guide to State Parks of the United States, 4th Edition — Buy on Amazon
  • National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States, 7th Edition — Buy on Amazon
  • Traveling with Your Pet: The AAA Pet Book, 14th Edition — Buy on Amazon
  • BEST FREE BOOKS — State Travel Guides and maps from your local AAA office are free if you have a AAA membership.  And you should never go on a roadtrip without a AAA card!

APPS (iPhone) —

Free apps, paid apps, crappy apps…I love apps!  Here’s a few good ones —

  • Road Trip 66 (Propaganda3) — This is the best app I’ve found that is specific to Route 66.  It’s an interactive map of the route with nearly all Route 66 attractions noted.  You can flag places that you want to see, to narrow down the field. There’s varying amounts of info available on each place, often including phone numbers and websites (for hotels and restaurants). It integrates with Google Maps, but not as well as I’d like — you have to leave the app to go to the Google Maps app, but it’s really a minor inconvenience.  Most of the data seems up-to-date, although we found a few signs that are now missing on a recent day trip. But you can notify the app makers of changes, so hopefully that will help keep it up-to-date.
  • TripAdvisor — The best all-round travel app around.
  • Hipmunk — “We compare all the top travel sites so you don’t have to.”  Great place to search for hotels. Generally returns results for the hotel chains, vs. the mom-and-pops.
  • Google Maps — Of course.  And the iPhone Maps (in spite of all the problems) has great turn-by-turn directions.
  • Hotel Tonight — Last-minute deals.
  • Roadtrippers — This one is fun. It combines travel reviews with Google Maps. There are some quirks, and I wish there was calendar integration, but it’s fun and useful.


OK, why re-invent the wheel?  Jerry McClanahan has already gathered a huge list of Route 66 resources —

I’ll share more resources as I use them along the route — have to go pack now!!!