About Needles, California
Facts, Trivia and useful information
Elevation 495 ft (151 m). Population 4,844 (2010).
Time zone changes as you cross into California from Arizona. Time zone: Pacific (MST): UTC minus 8 hours. Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7).
Needles is a city, in western San Bernardino County, on the state line between Arizona and California, in the southeastern part of the latter state. (Map of Needles).
The Route 66 Motel Sign
The valley of the Colorado River has been inhabited for the over 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age. The land is the home of the Mojave people, a name which derived from the words "aha", water, and "macave", along; that is "beside the water" (of the Colorado River).
The Native Americans lived to the south of what is now Hoover Dam beyond what is now Parks Dam.
California belonged to the Spanish colonies in America, but the desert that stood between their settlements in Los Angeles and the Colorado River deterred any attemt to establish themselves in the area.
Mexico took possession of the land after its independence from Spain in 1821 only to loose it to the U.S. after being defeated in the 1846-48 war.
The U.S. Government set out to explore the area and sent Capt. Lorenzo Sitgreaves in 1851 followed in 1853-54 by Lt. Amiel Weeks Whipple and Joseph C. Ives to survey a Pacific Railroad along the 35th parallel. (See a map of their expedition), both groups passed through what is now Needles. Lt. Edward "Ned" Fitzgerald Beale surveyed a wagon route in 1857, passing just north of Needles during his journey.
In 1859, the military established a fort on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, north of Needles: Camp Colorado, later changed to Ft. Mojave 1859 to protect the settlers heading towards California.
Only after the Civil War and the pacification of the Natives was a rail link built across the Southwestern US, and the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad -A & P (In 1897 it was absorbed by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad) reached the area in 1882, after crossing Arizona.
They built the first bridge across the Colorado River (Read more) and established "the first Needles", as a station built on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, on Feb. 18, 1883.
The unsuitable location was soon changed for the Californian side of the river once it had been bridged and Needles was relocated on a low terrace above the Colorado River flood plain.
The Name: Needles
The town was named it after a range of volcaninc mountains with jagged needle-like pinnacles, located about 3 mi. southeast of Topock. They were known as "The Needles".
Whipple-Ives map of 1854 shows the mountains and gives the native name for them: Asietic Häbí.
In the meantime, a rival railroad Huntington and the Southern Pacific (SP) laid a line from Barstow to Needles across the Mojave to block any advance of the A & P into California. An interchange was built at Needles linking both lines and it was the point where cargo was transfered from one line to the other.
However A&P decided to reach Los Angeles directly and started to build a line parallel to the tracks of SP. This forced their rival to negotiate the sale of their Mojave line to A&P in Oct. 1884.
The following year the Barstow - Needles Branch was linked via Cajon Pass to San Bernardino and Los Angeles, reaching the Pacific coast.
In the early 1910s when the National Old Trails Highway (N.O.T.) was being discussed Needles lobbied actively through the "Mojave County Good Roads" to have the highway built through town, and in 1912 they succeeded in their efforts and the road went into Needles and crossed the Colorado River further south, towards Topock.
The N.O.T. guide printed in the 1920s informed that Needles had a "Harvey House, hoels and garages, stores and camp grounds. Soon after, in 1926, Route 66 was aligned along the N.O.T. highway.
The town incorporated in 1913 and became a charter city in 1959.
There was a Prisoner of War camp near Needles and the Desert Training Center which was the largest in the U.S. during World War II was located nearby and trained troops for the North Africa campaign.
The improvements along the Colorado River led to an inflow of tourists interested in watersports and the town thirved until bypassed by Interstate 40 in the 1970s.
Needles is still a tourism and recreation center both for the River, the game and gambling towns to the north (Laughling) and is also the eastern gateway to the Mojave National Preserve, a scenic desert National Park.
Trivia: Needles and Peanuts
Cartoonist Charles Schulz, who created Peanuts, lived in Needles during his childhood, going to second grade there while his father was a barber (1928-30) The town has Spike (Snoopys' brother) and Shulz Roads. (Street location map).
Where to Stay in Needles
Lodging in Needles:
>> Book your Hotel in Needles
More Lodging Near Needles along Route 66
Motels and Hotels close to Needles, California
Heading East.... In Arizona
- 64 miles. Kingman
- 114 miles. Peach Springs
- 135 miles. Seligman
- 158 miles. Ash Fork
- 179 miles. Williams
- 200 miles. Bellemont
- 208 miles. Flagstaff
- 233 miles. Twin Arrows
- 264 miles. Winslow
- 299 miles. Holbrook
West, Hotels & Motels in California...
- 144 miles Barstow
- 166 miles Helendale
- 174 miles Victorville
- 184 miles Hesperia
- 196 miles Cajon Junction
- 210 miles Fontana
- 212 miles San Bernardino
- 217 miles Rancho Cucamonga
- 228 miles Pomona
- 241 miles Arcadia
- 248 miles Pasadena
- 256 miles Los Angeles
- 263 miles Hollywood
- 272 miles Santa Monica
Close to Route 66 ...
>> Check out RV campground at Needles
Weather in Needles
Needles is located at a low altitude so it has very hot summers. The area has a "Subtropical desert climate". Dry and hot, with severe thunderstorms during the summer monsoon season.
Summer average high (Jul) is 109°F (42.8°C) and the average low is 84°F (28.9°C). Winter has an average high (Jan) of 65°F (18.3°C) and an average low of 44°F (6.7°C).
Rainfall is scarce, only 4.6 in. (117 mm) per year with only 23 rainy days per year. Hardly any snow falls though, in 1949, 12.2 inches of snow fell in the area.
Needles is far to the west of the Rocky Montains, there are virtually no tornados there.
Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
Getting to Needles
You can reach the town driving along Historic Route 66 in Arizona and California or I-40 from Flagstaff, Williams or Barstow, and also from Las Vegas, Nevada, by US 95.
Map of Route 66 in Needles
Map of Needles and US Highway 66, California.
The map below shows the different alignments of Route 66 near Needles; the color key is for Needles only, and is the following:
(for the other parts of the map, check the color key of the map of the corresponding city)
Pale Blue: the "old" alignment of Route 66 near Needles.
Red: I-40, where it covers the old roadbed of Route 66.
Black: the 1926 to 1947 US 66 across "Trail Arches Bridge".
Blue: The old 1947 to 1966 alignment of Route 66 that no longer exists (bridge removed).
See Route 66's alignment in California Map
Remove or restore State shading
Route 66's alignment in California: the Historic Route 66 through Needles
Route 66 across California
U.S. Route 66 does not have any Byway or Historic designation in California despite having long sections of original roadbed between Needles and Santa Monica.
Click on the following link for an overview of Route 66 across the state of California.
Below you will find detailed information on Old Route 66 in Needles
Sights and Attractions in Needles, California
What to Do, Places to See
Gateway to the Golden State
The "Eastern gateway into California", Needles, has many US 66 Motels (Palms, Imperial, Sage among others), the historic El Garces Hotel and several classic Route 66 service stations. Visit the Indian Mystic Maze built 600 years ago, and its musem.
Historic context, the classic Route 66 in Needles
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse drove along Route 66 in 1946, collecting information which he included in his book "A Guide Book to Highway 66". Which is a great reference for learning about US 66 during the post-war period.
Rittenhouse mentions the following about Needles:
"... hotels: California, Gateway, El Garces, Monarch; courts: Monarch, West End, Gray's, Swain's, The Palms, Havasu Court & Trailer Camp, Motor Inn Motel..." he added that during the war, the "Town was jammed" but was then "returning to its leisurely way of life again. Local folk lounge in the plaza...".
Few of these classics survive, below we will go over them, and other Route 66 icons in Needles:
Route 66 and its Motels, hotels and service stations in Needles
Route 66 is Broadway Street, which is Needles' main street. The tour begins at the town's eastern tip, at I-40's Exit 144. Head west along Broadway.
Needles Shell Carty's Camp Station
201 E Broadway St.
The boarded and abandoned service station was at one time Carty's Camp Shell and later a Chevron Gas Station. Built in 1925, It had a flat box-shaped canopy that promoted "Lunch, hot-cold drinks and Groceries" as well as gas, lubrication and batteries.
The old concrete foundations for hte pumps are still visible as well as the old canopy.
Right behind it is a classic motel:
Route 66 Motel
Desnok and East Broadway St.
It is just a few yards from Old Route 66, on the southwestern corner.
The motel opened in 1946-47. After I-40 bypassed the town in the 1970s, guest flow decreased. Sine the 1990s it rents its apartments.
It was built in front of the historic Carty's camp, a group of tourist cabins, now gone.
It is a typical one story motel with a rectangular plan: a central office surrounded by six units.
See the motel's sign nowadays:
Keep westwards. Around 1970, the canopy of gas stations was expanded and also decorated. There are two examples of this as you enter Needles, the first one is to your left on the following block:
Wheelers Flying A Service Station
10 East Broadway
Notice its enormous canopy (Street View).
The second one is where Broadway and Old Front St. split:
Old Trails Inn gas station
300 W Broadway
It is another example of the decorated canopies of the 1970s, this case it is a shingled canopy. (Street View).
Right beside it, along Broadway is the Palms (now Old Trails Inn) motel.
Palms - now Old Trails Inn
The Palms Motel was at one time a cabin court (predecessor of modern motels), built in the 1930s. it has several separate "cabins" as units for its guests. It promoted itself as being "Clean, Air-Cooled, Modern - Reasonable... The Home of Friendly Service".
Owned by Guy and Orsavella Austin, it was -and still is- surrounded by the typical palm trees so common in Needles, that gave it its name.
Later it changed hands, finally closed and in the 1990s reopened as a Bed and Breakfast changing its name to "Old Trails Inn".
Old 1930s photo of the Palms Motel
Palms Motel nowadays:
The palm trees found in Needles, include date palms and especially, a local palm tree, the Neowashingonia filifera (desert fan palm or California fan palm) native to the Southwest of US and NW Mexico.
Across Broadway you will see the historic cottage to your left, which is the "Women's Clubhouse". And, just ahead, also on the left, the famous Wagon that welcomes visitors:
Welcome to Needles Borax Wagon
The famous "Welcome to Needles" wagon was originally part of the decor of the now defunct El Rancho Motel.
At that time it sported a sign that said: "El Rancho - Needles - Cooled by refrigeration - Swimming Pool - Room Phones".
Now it simply says "Needles - California", and has been painted a different color.
A 1950s photo of the El Rancho Motel with the Wagon
By University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Click for larger image)
It is a "borax wagon" which was used to move out the borax (a type of salt) dug up at Death Valley to the railway sidings in the 1880s. They were pulled by teams of eighteen mules and two horses.
Continue west along Broadway and on the right side of the road on the 500 block are two service stations:
Service Stations - Oblong box style
500s W. Broadway St.
An Earlier style that appeared during the Great Depression was the "oblong box", which was designed to stand out and attract customers with a modern streamlined "Art Moderne" finish and a rectangular flat roof and canopy.
Keep on driving and on the right side of the road is a Motel:
Imperial Motor Inn
644 West Broadway St.
It is a two story complex with stucco plastering, with an L-shaped layout which has Spanish Colonial Revival style elements.
Imperial 400 was a motel chain founded in 1959 and its buildings had a characteristic "Gull Wing" shaped roof (like this motel has). It went broke in the mid 1960s and sold out to new owners.
There are more on Route 66: Imperial 400 in Barstow,
the Imperial Winslow AZ and Vagabond Inn Pasadena CA (former Imperial 400 Motel)
The postcard below (from the 1960s) says: "IMPERIAL 400 MOTEL On Highway 66, Downtown... 644 Broadway Needles, California Air Conditioning ... T.V.... Room Phones Kitchenettes... Heated Pool... Free Coffee Free Advance Reservations Major Credit Cards Accepted..."
Still an Imperial 400 Motor Inn
You can Book a Room in this motel.
Imperial 400 in a 1960s postcard
Imperial Motel nowadays:
It retains its original structure but without the red and blue colored bands on the building.
On the other side of the road (southeastern corner) is a former Motel:
Desert Inn Motel
625 W Broadway St.
The old Desert Inn Motel is now the "Riverstone Apartments Senior", an apartments building. It has retained its original appearance, including the base of the old corner signpost on the facade next to the corner.
Desert Inn Motel in an old postcard
Former Desert Inn Motel nowadays:
On the next block are two more "oldies":
Claypool & Co.
725 W Broadway St.
On the southeastern corner of E Street you will see a department store which began as a hardware store in the 1930s. It is built in Art Decó. During the 1950s and 60s it's classic facade was covered to make it more hip (as shown here).
It finally closed in the 1990s but was restored and it now houses the Palo Verde College.
Art Deco Style
Art Deco style flourished between both World Wars (1914 - 1940). It was a symbol of wealth, luxury and elegance that adopted symmetry, rich colors and bold rectilinear geometric shapes to exalt the technological progress of the early twentieth century.
On the north side of Broadway is the former "Overland Motel":
712 W Broadway St.
It once promoted itself as follows: "OVERLAND MOTEL 712 Broadway On U.S. 66 in center of Needles 40 units beautifully furnished in Italian Provincial... Family Suites... King Size Beds... Individual Air Conditioning and Heating... Tub and Shower... Swimming Pool... Television. COFFEE SHOP... DINING ROOM...".
Keep westbound and on G St. take a right and go to Front St. you will see the El Garces Hotel in front of you.
El Garces Hotel
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
950 Front St.
After the original station burned down in 1906, the AT & SF railway built a new one that included a hotel and retaurant.
It is a two story building styled like a Greek temple style, with Tuscan columns. It opened in 1908. It was named after a Spanish Missionary who explored the region in 1771-74, Francisco Garcés, the first European to cross the Mojave Desert.
It was ran by the Fred Harvey Company, and thus was a "Harvey House", an expensive hotel favored by railroad passengers and the motorists until the Post-War period.
The Hotel closed in 1949 and became the railway offices. It was abandoned in 1988 but a local group (Friends of El Garces) rescued it in 1999, had it listed as a Historic Place (2002) and managed to get a $10 million renovation work started.
Needles Regional Museum
929 Front St.
On the south side of the road, across the Santa Fe Plaza, facing the El Garces is the local museum.
It was the building of JC Penney's store which after 1995 became the site of the museum.
Plenty of memorabilia and artifacts from Needles' past. Open Mon. through Sat., 9AM - 2PM from Sept. through May.
Return to Broadway, and head west, cross the Santa Fe Railroad via the overpass to reach some more historic motels in Western Needles.
The Sage Motel
1624 N St.
It is on the right side of the road. Built in 1955, it has a "L-shape" design and a one-story building. It still has the orignal sign.
The Sage Motel in an old postcard
Look at the Sage Motel as it is nowadays:
Minute Man Service
Keep west until Needles Hwy and there take a left along Route 66. Pass under I-40. Notice the service station to your left on R St. and Route 66, the Minute Man Service which at one time was a Union 76 as you can see in 1950s photo of the place.
Across R. St., also on your left is another Service Station with a modernistic canopy.(Street View).
On your right, is the Kiva Motel:
Across US 66, to your right is this classic motel, named after a Pueblo Indian word for "room".
Now it is the Budget Inn
You can Book a Room in this motel.
Kiva Motel in an old postcard
The former Kiva motel nowadays:
Old Route 66 heads west and then curves to the north, at the curve you will see the Needles Inn on your right
2306 West Broadway St.
The place is still operating, and is now the Knights Inn.
You can Book a Room in this motel.
A vintage postcard of Hyatt Lodge in Needles
By Charles Hathaway (Click for larger image)
Tours and Nearby places to visit
Also known as "Topock Maze"
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The stone patterns at Mystic Maze, this photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor
South of Needles, at I-40s's xit 153, head to the south side of the highway, and drive east for 1.1. miles. The maze is 100 yards to the north, behind a fence. Map with Directions.
It is an intriguing site: a "geoglyph" (a large design made on the ground with rocks or stones) built by the natives some 600 years ago.
It consists of winding parallel patterns, following the countour of the hill, and cover about 15 acres of desert (6 ha.); in the past it was larger but was destroyed in part by the railway building,
It was created by removing the stones with a jet black varnish, revealing the lighter colored soil below as you can see in this Satellite view.
It had a religious significance for the local Natives but what it meant is a mystery, even to the modern Mojave Indians.
It is a National Wildlife Refuge Systems Archaeological site and despite being similar to agricultural terraces, it was not used for growing crops.
Right next to the Maze are the Bridges that carried Route 66 across the Colorado River into Topock, Arizona:
The bridges in Topock
Four bridges were built to cross the Colorado River south of Needles:
- The Red Rock Railroad Bridge (later 1947-66 U.S. 66 Bridge).
- The Trails Arch Bridge (1916 - 1947 Road Bridge).
- The New Red Rock Railway Bridge (since 1945).
Red Rock Railroad Bridge
The site for the first bridge was a "Eastbridge", 3 miles south of Needles. There the local workers drove pilons into the soft river bed to support the wooden bridge they would build across the Colorado River. The bridge, completed in August 1883 was washed away by the spring flood season.
A new bridge was built in 1884, and again in 1886 and 1888. The floods and the unsuitable location for the bridge site (sandy clay soil) led the engineers to relocate the bridge further south.
They chose a point further south, beyond the marshes and the mouth of the Sacramento Wash, at a narrow spot at Beal, CA, facing Topock where there was a solid rock foundation for the bridge. There they built a steel cantilever bridge, the Railway Red Rock Brige.
The steel cantilever bridge
The bridge cost over $460,000 which is more than $10 million 2016 dollars) and was America's longest cantilever bridge.
As trains and their cargo increased in weight the bridge was reinforced in 1901 to carry heavier loads and later a support pier was added in the middle of the span.
New Red Rock Railroad Bridge
The heavy military cargoes during World War II led the AT&SF to plan and build a new bridge just north of the original one.
It was completed in February 1945: a high level double-track bridge. This bridge is still in use today.
Trails Arch Bridge
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
The Topock Bridge, Arizona & California, by Thad Roan
The cars that drove along the roads of the 1910s, crossed the Colorado River using the Needles Ferry. But a flood razed the ferry in 1914 so the cars crossed the river using the railroad's Red Rock Bridge: planks were laid across the tracks and the cars crossed between trains.
There was a bridge on the Ocean-to-Ocean route at Yuma, but the Los Angeles to St. Louise National Old Trails Highway also required a bridge across the Colorado River
In 1914, the states of Arizona and California, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs and San Bernardino County agreed to build a bridge.
The structure is a steel arch bridge with a "cantilever system" where the arch was assembled in two halves on each side of the river and then hoisted into place and linked together with a ball-and-socket central hinge.
At 800 ft. (243 m) in length and with a span of 600 ft. (182 m), it was the longest arch bridge in America until 1928.
The bridge was completed on Feb. 20, 1916 and carried the traffic of the N.O.T. highway. In 1926, U.S. 66 was aligned across it and remained so until 1947 when it was replaced by the Red Rock Bridge (which the AT&SF had just stopped using).
Its deck was removed in 1948 and a natural gas pipeline was laid across it and is still in use.
Viewing the Bridge
From the California side of the river you can get a good view the old Arch Bridge from this vantage point (Map and Directions), there is a concrete billboard and a parking space. The Billboard says "Welcome, Turn Right Next Exit" with a Route 66 shield.
Route 66 Red Rock Bridge: automobiles
The Trails Arch Bridge was a very narrow bridge and only one lane crossed it. It also had a low carrying weight (11 tons). As trucks carried heavier loads a new bridge became necessary.
When the railway completed the "new Red Rock Bridge" the "old" bridge was modified to accommodate U.S. 66 trafic. in 1947 and continued carrying traffic until it was replaced by the I-40 bridge in 1966. The old steel structure was demolished in 1978. But you can see its plaque at the nearby Needles Museum.
Other Nearby Attractions
South, at Lake Havasu City, Arizona (43 miles to the south - Map with Directions), with water sports and the "London Bridge)".
North, at Laughlin, Nevada is Casino style entertainment with shows, games and the water activities in the Colorado River and Lake Mohave (30 miles to the north - Map with Directions).
And, 111 miles north is Las Vegas, the "Entertainment Capital of the World".
The Alignment of Old Route 66 from Topock Bridge to Needles
California bridge head
The construction of I-40 and the removal of the Red Rocks Bridge as well as the new use given to the Trails Arch Bridge as altered the original roadbed of old Route 66 in the Topock bridges area, however you can drive along the 1930s alignment as follows:
Leave I-40 in California at Exit 153 and head north along Park Moabi Rd. for 1⁄2 mi. until reaching the National Trails Highway. Take a right and follow it eastwards and then south. You will pass under I-40 and reach a parking area next to the "Welcome" Sign of Route 66 on the western tip of the now demolished "Red Rock Bridge" (this is the vantage point mentioned above, to get a good view of all bridges).
This is the starting point of Route 66 in California. One of the hottest and driest parts of the Route 66 alignment, in the Mojave Desert region, which was the toughest on both drivers and vehicles in the old-days.
We will follow the 1930s alignment: Turn back and retrace your steps, you are on old US 66. At Park Moabi Rd., keep straight ahead. The National Trails highway turns towards the SW and paving ends. You can continue along it -now a dirt, gravel and sand road. As shown in This map, pass under I-40 and head west. The road curves towards the NW and runs parallel to I-40 until reaching the "Five Mile Road" at I-40s Exit 148. Here the paving begins again.
Those who don't fancy driving along dirt roads can take an easier route. From Park Moabi, get back on I-40 at Exit 153 and head westbound until Exit 148, leave it there (6 mi.) turn west and then north along the paved "Five Mile Road". Meeting the old dirt road just west of the Interstate.
The road turns north and meets U.S. 95, it continues nortwards, now as US 95, passes under I-40 (at Exit 144) and enters Needles along Broadway Street.
Outdoors, National and State Parks
Kelso Dunes in Mohave Preserve California, "Mike" Michael L. Baird
The Mojave National Preserve protects almost 1.6 million acres of desert habitat; it is a scenic National Park located just west of Needles, between I-40, I-15 and the California - Nevada state line.
Observe Bighorn Sheep, visit the "Hole in the Wall" area, go along the "old Mojave Road" used by Indians and pioneers. Visit the Cinder Cones, Cima Dome and Kelso Dunes.
Read more at the Official National Parks website
Dead Mountains Wilderness Area
12 mi. North of Needles, visit its Official BLM website.
Topock Marsh and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge
Topock Marsh was created by the backwater that flooded the lowlands north of Topock after the construction of Parker Dam.
There are several boat launches with access to the Colorado River such as the Topock Marina in Arizona (exit 1, I-40 AZ) and Park Moabi (south of Needles).
Topock Marsh is ideal for canoeing or kayaking. Reach the water at: North Dike, Five Mile Landing and Catfish Paradise.
It is a great bird watching spot too. This is its: Official Havasu National Wildlife Refuge website.