Route 66 illuminated: Night photography along the Mother Road

Route 66 illuminated: Night photography along the Mother Road

I discussed my book about Route 66, night photography, light painting, history, and stories in this YouTube video. I love it when so many fascinating topics collide in one presentation.

This was the original flyer for the July 22 2023 Zoom Series, which was presented live. Fortunately, you can watch the recording of it now!

California Historic Route 66 Association Zoom Series

California Historic Route 66 Association began in 1990 to foster, expand, promote, and perpetuate public awareness relating to the development, history, and significance of Route 66 in California. It’s especially exciting when they ask you to discuss your book on night photography and the history of the Mother Road with other noted historians and authors.

Twin Arrows Trading Post, AZ. "Route 66 Abandoned: Under a Western Moon" by Ken Lee
Above: Twin Arrows, Arizona. One of the arrows fell in February 2022.

I had the honor of presenting photography and stories with other noted authors Jim Hinckley and Cher Eichar Jett. We all have documented the Mother Road in different ways, whether through day photography or night photography.

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VihJryeakRQ(/embed)
Route 66 Tales and Images — California Historic Route 66 Association

More about Route 66 Abandoned: Under a Western Moon

I joked that the irony of my presentation with the California Historic Route 66 Association was that I would present places that no one wanted to go to anymore. But of course, Route 66 is about everything: Western Expansion, history, cars, the Dust Bowl and more. It’s also about what was left behind as well as what’s coming. Of course, much of it either brings the past alive or is moving forward. There are plenty of new stores, businesses and more along California’s portion of Route 66. Indeed, a decent part of Route 66 in California is in colorful, well-populated areas.

I wrote a book with over 140 color photos about the part of the Mother Road that was left behind. This covers much of Arizona and California. Some of the places are better known, such as Two Guns or Twin Arrows, while some are obscure. But all are fascinating.

To many, Route 66 became a beacon of liberation and opportunity.

And eventually, loss. 

The three of us presented our takes on Route 66 while touching upon these themes.

Road Runner's Retreat, CA. "Route 66 Abandoned: Under a Western Moon" by Ken Lee
Above: With the building of the faster Interstate Highway System, motorists bypassed Route 66. Prosperity evaporated, with many leaving their homes, markets, diners, gas stations and kitschy roadside attractions to the elements. This restaurant, Road Runner’s Retreat, has one of my favorite signs along the iconic highway. Photographed at night. The sign and the area have been preserved and are being cleaned up by Ryan Anderson and the Road Runner’s Retreat organization.
Ludlow Garage, Ludlow, CA. "Route 66 Abandoned: Under a Western Moon" by Ken Lee
Above: Ludlow garage at night.

Photographing Route 66 at night

I explored these abandoned locations, driven by curiosity. And sure, I searched out the unusual and strange as well, aiming to photograph them at night. I would illuminate these forgotten locations with a handheld light, illuminating them during long exposure. Throughout the years, I put thousands and thousands of miles on my car, exploring the most famous roadway in the United States.

Night photo of the old Whiting Brothers Motel sign in Yucca, AZ.
Above: Night photo of the old Whiting Brothers Motel sign in Yucca, AZ.

Saving history through photography

I had photographed Goffs General Store before. I now felt fortunate that I had done so.

The photo that saved the Goffs General Store and Saloon sign.
The photo that saved the Goffs General Store and Saloon sign.

Also, I photographed the store sign at night. It had fallen and was leaning against one of the exterior walls. Someone had seen the sign. That person brought it to the attention of the nearby Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs. They took the sign over to the cultural center for preservation.

Now, that sign was all that was left of Goffs General Store.

Goffs, CA along Route 66.
Above: No trip along the Mother Road is complete without stopping by the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs, CA. It’s right on the iconic highway, a bit west of Needles, CA. I am happy to have played a small part in saving part of Route 66 history.