Day 2: from Tehachapi (CA) to Needles (CA).
30 minutes of joy
The original plan was to move on east on the second day of our trip. During the break in train traffic the day before though, we walked past a spot that looked well worth trying with morning light. So, after a good night of sleep, we found ourselves back in the hills east of Bealville. Fingers crossed for more traffic than the day before… we didn’t have to wait long this time. A rumble far in the distance announced something coming over the hill. Is it a monster? 3 Union Pacific beasts are pulling a long train of military vehicles, creeping slowly but steadily through the curves, in front of the lenses of 2 enthusiast Belgian photographers. When the last cars disappeared in the tunnel below us, 30 minutes had passed since first hearing the train.
5 minutes, 5 new engines
Still stunned from the passing of the military train, we were surprised to hear more rumble in the distance after only 5 minutes of silence. 5 engines emerged out of the tunnel, slow enough to give us time to try different focal distances.
The Chaparral Yucca was a common sight on that beautiful Monday morning. Native Americans used to make flour from its flowers’ seeds, and baskets from its leaves. We waited for one more train to allow a photo with one of these interesting plants.
One for the road
We had had our fun at the previous spot, so we decided to take the car further east, into the Mojave desert. While walking back we heard another train in the distance. When we arrived at the car, there was still time to set up for one last shot in Bealville. An ex-ATSF dash 9 enters the image, surrounded by telegraph poles. It’s unclear if these poles are still in use.
About an abandoned town
Ludlow was founded in 1883 as a water stop along the transcontinental railroad. When railroad activity ceased in the 1940s, the town survived supplying the needs of travellers of the national old trails road, the future route 66. The opening of interstate 40 in the 1970s meant the end for businesses as people didn’t need to stop here anymore in their faster cars on the faster system. As a result the town was abandoned. Today, only some supplies for interstate travellers remain at the exit ramps.
The trains still pass though. They are a reason for some people to visit Ludlow. The surrounding hills provide a great view on the town, and the surrounding desert.
On this first view in Ludlow, we see a westbound train approach the ghost town. This image shows why Ludlow was abandoned after interstate traffic on route 66 fell down: there’s really nothing else here.
In the 1960s there exited even a project to remove part of the mountains in the background. “Operation Carryall” was supposed to blast a path through the Bristol mountains for the ATSF railroad, using 23 nuclear bombs for a total of 1.8 megatons of explosive power. The operation was part of a bigger project to use nuclear explosives for construction purposes. Fortunately, the operation was cancelled due to environmental concerns, among others. Interstate 40 in the Mojave desert was thus carved out using conventional bombs. The railroad line curves south here, running around the mountain range.
In the wide open desert
A westbound doublestacker runs through Ludlow, now populated by creosote bush instead of people. The remains of the town can be seen in the center of the image. The interstate highway, main reason of the town’s disappearing, can be seen on the left.
Of course, trains don’t need to make intermediate water stops anymore.
Technological advance made this town obsolete.
National Old Trails Road
In Ludlow, we started following the National Old Trails Road, aka Route 66. Following this legendary road leads the slow traveller past long forgotten restaurants, motels and gas stations. It follows BNSF’s transcontinental railroad, or at least the parts of it that we explored in California and Arizona. This makes route 66 a must-see for every railfan.
Along the road you discover great places, and when a train is coming, you can easily stop and make a photo in the wild scenery.
That’s exactly how the next few photos were made.
In Ludlow we got our supply of fresh water, highly needed, and started following the famous route. We hadn’t even left the town behind before the first train showed up.
We met the next train in Klondike, in front of a backdrop formed by the Bullion Mountains. The 3 engines are working hard pulling their load through the curves and up the hill.
As is mostly the case, you need luck with train traffic. Despite the great weather and the beautiful locations, we didn’t get to see any more trains. When the sun was gone, we headed to the nearest town offering a selection of motels and restaurants: Needles, next to the border between California and Arizona.
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