Plan the Road Trip of your Life

Home | Blog

Route 66


California Flag

Ghost Town & Wayside Café

The "free water" town

Last Updated:

Essex's attractions include the old Post Office and Wayside Cafe, Market and Service Station (in ruins), as well as the Water Well where travellers could get water free of charge. Essex is located on the Old Route 66, don't miss the US 66 shield stencilled on the highway.

Essex CA

< Head West
Amboy ¦ Chambless ¦ Danby

Head East >
Fenner ¦ Goffs ¦ Needles



Rent your car advertisement

About Essex, California

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation 1,732 ft (528 m). Population 89 (2005).
Time zone changes as you cross the California - Arizona state line. Time zone: Pacific (MST): UTC minus 8 hours. Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7).

Essex is a tiny unincorporated community located in western San Bernardino County, in southeastern California. (Map of Essex).

Waside Cafe in Essex

Wayside Cafe in Essex, California
Wayside Cafe in Essex California, by

The History of Essex California

Visit our Needles web page to learn about the early history of this area.

In 1884, the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad (at that time named Atlantic and Pacific Railroad), succeded in buying the tracks of a competitor from Needles to Barstow, linking its main line with Los Angeles shortly after.

Essex was, for many years a small station, and it was named in an odd manner: all the stations east of Amboy up to Needles were named following an alphabetical order from west to east (however there were exceptions: the small sidings between those stations, shown below between brackets)

Amboy, (Saltus), (Altura), Bristol, Cadiz, (Siam), Danby, (Arimo), Essex, Fenner, (Piute), Goffs, Homer, (Bannock), Ibis, (Klinefelter), Java, Khartoum.

The name: Essex

Essex dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain. It comes from the Old English "Eastseaxe" meaning the "East Saxons".

Essex was the eastern Saxon kingdom and was first recorded in AD 527.

Things changed in the early 1910s when a new highway linking Los Angeles with New York, the National Old Trails Highway (N.O.T.) was built following the railroad and passed through Essex.

The road was a sandy one, unpaved crossed by washes during the rainy season. In 1915 the road by Essex was described as having "light sand" (in those days Essex offered no services to the traveller). This first roadbed was located to the west of the modern alignment, and in the early 1920s it was realigned near the tracks.

Route 66 was created in 1926 and it incorporated the old N.O.T. road in its alignment. In 1931 it was improved and shortened. The new road, which was wider and also had been paved, took a shorter alignment eastwards towards Needles. The older road, towards Fenner and Goffs, became known as Goffs Road and both those villages declined as traffic vanished.

The new 1931 road is shown in Blue in the map below.

However I-40 would in turn bypass Essex, and now it can be reached from the interstate at Exits 107 or 100 (head south).

Where to Stay near Essex

Lodging close to Essex: Needles:

>> Book your Hotel in nearby Needles

More Lodging Near Essex along Route 66

Motels and Hotels close to Essex, California

Heading East.... In California

Further East.... In Arizona

Heading West...

West, Hotels & Motels in California...

Hotels in neighboring Needles:

>> Check out RV campground near Essex

The Weather in Essex

Latest Essex, California weather
Route 66: Essex, California location map
Location of Essex on Route 66

Essex is located in the Mojave Desert and has a "Subtropical desert climate" that is dry and hot, with strong thunderstorms during the summer monsoon season.

Summer average high (Jul) 109.4°F (43°C) and average low 78.8°F (26°C). During winter, the average high (Jan) is 68°F (20°C) and the average low 42.8°F (6°C).

During summer make sure you stay hydrated. The hot and dry desert climate can dehydrate you quickly. Drink plenty of water and dress for the heat. Read more.

Little rain falls in Essex, barely 6.8 in. (173 mm) per year. There are some 25 rainy days per year. April to July is the dryest period. Snow is very uncommon.

Tornado risk

Essex is well to the west of the Rocky Montains so there is virtually zero risk of any tornados in the area.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.

Getting to Essex

You can reach the town driving along old Route 66 which here is named "Old National Trails Highway". You can also reach it from I-40 at Exit 100 and 107.

Map of Route 66 in Essex, CA

Check out Essex on our Route 66 Map of California, with the complete alignment and all the towns along it.

The California map has the following color key for Essex:

Pale Blue: the "old 1926 to 1931" alignment of Route 66 to Fenner and Essex from US 95 Arrowhead Junction and Exit 133 of I-40. And for the Needles - to Exit 133, it is the 1926 to 1970s road, as is the road west of Essex.
Black: the 1926 to 1931 alignment in Fenner, bypassed later when I-40 was built, and Goffs Rd. moved west to link at Exit 107.
Blue: The post 1931 alignment of Route 66 from Mountain Springs to Essex, bypassing Fenner.

Essex Map

Map with the alignment of Route 66 through Essex

Click on this link > > original US 66 alignment in Essex

Click on this link > > later US 66 alignment into Essex

Route 66's alignment in California: the Historic Route 66 into Essex

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across California

U.S. Route 66 does not have any Byway or Historic designation in California despite the survival of long sections of original roadbed between Needles and Santa Monica.

Click Here for an overview of Route 66 across the state of California.

Below you will find detailed information on Old Route 66 in Essex.

Essex, its US 66 landmarks

What to Do, Places to See

Small Town on Route 66 in the Mojave

Essex is a small, almost deserted village on the 1926 to 1970s alignment of Route 66. Its main attractions are the old Post Office and the remains of the Wayside Cafe, Market and Service Station; as well as the Water Well which gave thirsty travellers water For Free.

Historic context, the classic Route 66 in Essex

In 1946 Jack DeVere Rittenhouse drove along US 66 researching for his "Guide Book to Highway 66". His comments give us a good idea of what it was like to drive along the Mother Road in those days.

Rittenhouse describes it as follows: "... gas; lunchroom; small grocery; post office.) Like so many of the small places along US 66 through the Mojave Desert, Essex chiefly serves the needs of the tourists.". The next town he mentions is "Danby" 1o miles away.

The Post Office is still standing.

Water and the well at Essex

Historic Water well at Essex, Route 66 Mojave

The water well at Essex. By Richard

At that time, cars had no airconditioning, they were slower and tended to overheat, especially in the desert or when being put to the limit in long climbs.

For this segment of US 66, Rittenhouse recommended that, during summer, "it is advisable to make the drive from Needles to Barstow, over the Mojave Deser, either in the evening, night or early morning hours"; he also suggested carrying extra water in case the car overheated.

Water was a scarce commodity in the desert.

Heading west from Needles, there was a stop named Mountain Springs (now gone) with gas, lunchroom, cabins and a garage. Surprisingly Water had to be paid for unless you loaded gas.

Essex was no exception, water was scarce and you had to pay for it: 10 cents for a gallon of water for the radiator or 10 cents for a glass of drinking water. It may not seem much, but in the 1930s 10 cents were the equivalent of 1,40 dollars of today, and that was during the Great Depression.

Fortunately the Automobile Club of Southern Californiia dug a well and made water available for everyone, for free.

The old well is still there (without the fittings, but intact, with its stone walls and shingled roof). It is opposite the Caltrans Essex Maintenance Station on the south side of town. See a Street View of the well.

Tour Essex

From north to south along Route 66 which runs parallel to the railroad (which is 820 ft. east of US66 - 250m). As you enter town you will see to your right the Elementary school which opened in 1937 and is now closed. And, and on the southeastern corner of US 66 and Sunflower Springs Rd. is the old Post Office.

Post Office

The post office is closed, now mail is routed through the post office at Needles.

Stone building with a gabled roof.

The old post office at Essex during its better days

Post Office at Essex, California
Old Post Office at Essex California

Route 66 shield on the road

Don't miss the U.S. highway 66 shield painted on the road's tarmac, in front of the post office on the westbound lane and just past it, to the north, on the eastbound lane.

Wayside Café Store, Camp and Service Station

Right beside the Post office is the old Wayside Café, it was in its day a two-building complex, but now only the old Market - service station survives.

What remains standing was at one time the grocery and service station. The old garage was later torn down and only partly rebuilt as the stone wall building on the north side of the market.

The Wayside Café was to the south, but was demolished. Only the foundations remain.

So what remains is the stone building, the flakingwhite facade and a square flat canopy with the gas pumps long gone.

As you can see in the 1932 photo below, the old facade was higher and had a gabled roof, both have been modified -to accomodate the canopy. Yet the windows and door on the grocery remained.

A 1932 photograph of the Wayside Camp, Cafe and Filling Station.

Wayside Cafe Market and Service station in Essex, California
Wayside Camp, Cafe and Store, U.S. 66 Essex, 1932 California, by !-- fair use -->

Derelict remains of the Wayside Cafe Market and service station in Essex. Notice the post office in the background.

Wayside Cafe Market and Service station in Essex, California
Abandoned Wayside Cafe Market and filling station, Essex California, by

Further south is another Old Service Station, perhaps from the 1960s, it has a flat square canopy. It too is abandoned.

Finally, on the western tip of town is the Caltrans Essex Road Maintenance station. And the Well is on the eastern side of the highway.

Tours and Nearby places to visit

The Alignment of Old Route 66 from Needles to Essex

route 66 shield California

Road Closures

Updated Dec. 12, 2019

Since 2017 Route 66 has been closed west of Essex, all the way to Chambless. The road east of Essex to I-40's Exit 115 (Mountain Springs) is also closed. There is complete information, with maps at the San Bernardino County Road Closed web page).

Apparently Essex Rd. from Essex to I-40's exit 100 is open, so you can go along it, take I-40 westbound and then reach Chambless or Amboy and retake Route 66 by driving Kelbaker Rd. from Exit 78.

The 1926 to 1931 Route 66

The Sacramento, Piute and Old Woman mountains run to the west of Needles with a Soutwest to Northeast direction. They had to be crossed to reach the coast.

The first to do so was the railway in 1883, which laid its tracks in a long wide arch, towards the north. It had an easier grade.

In the 1910s, the National Old Trails (N.O.T.) road followed the railroad and when Route 66 was created in 1926 it was aligned along the N.O.T.

See the 1926-1931 Route 66 map from Needles to Essex via Goffs and Fenner.

The 1931 alignment of Route 66

In the early 1930s, route 66 was realigned, shortening it. It was also paved, widened and its bridges improved.

A shorter alignment south of Goffs and Fenner was built across the Piute Mountains it struck straight towards Essex. Although it had a steeper grade than the old road, it reduced the distance by 8 miles. The new road opened on Dec. 4, 1931.

This 1931 road followed the earlier alignment to Klinefelter Spring, and there headed west, going through Mountain Spring Camp (now gone) to meeting the 1926 alignment 3 miles south of Fenner and 2 mi. north of Essex.

This is the 1931 - 1970s Route 66 map from Needles to Essex.


> > See the previous segment Topock AZ to Needles

> > See the next segment Essex to Danby

Accommodation Search box:


Rentalcars advertisement

Outdoors, National and State Parks

Mojave National Preserve

Kelso Dunes in Mohave Preserve California

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 wildlife like the Desert Tortoise or Bighorn Sheep. Visit the "Hole in the Wall" area, the Cinder Cones, Cima Dome and Kelso Dunes.

Visit the Official National Parks website for more details.


Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.

Banner image: Dead Man's Curve, Laguna New Mexico by Perla Eichenblat.