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Stock Desert Interstate

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A common sight along the Southwest.

"If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that is best
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six!"
Nat King Cole, "Route 66"

Oftentimes characters will be traveling down a road or interstate through the desert, usually in the southwestern US, and the location feels like it's stuck in The '50s. It'll feature stereotypical diners, gas stations with old-fashioned red pumps, and dramatic desert landscapes with buttes, most often with reddish hues and beautiful sunsets, providing some nice Scenery Porn. A common occurrence in this trope is the main character's car will break down and they'll have to walk to a gas station like previously described.

The famous Route 66, one of the first American highways, was established in 1926 and ran from Illinois to California, and notably passed through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. The highway was decommissioned in the 1980s but it remains present in popular imagination. Much of the route features little towns that led to the rise of the old-fashioned gas stations and diners that are typical for this trope.


May involve a Desert Skull, All Deserts Have Cacti, and Decade-Themed Filter. Compare The Wild West (an earlier depiction of the American West prior to industrialization), Area 51 (another stock American desert location), and the Motorcycle on the Coast Road (similar stock romantic depiction of a solitary driver, more common to Japanese works than in the west).

To some degree, this trope is considered Truth in Television. If you get far enough away from the major cities in the American west, the little towns you come across do start to look like this.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop ("Wild Horses"): Spike's fighter, the Swordfish, is in need of overhaul, so he flies it to a shop owned by its original designer. He spends most of the episode there, talking with Doohan, who operates the shop, and it fits the aesthetic of this trope. It also has a Space Shuttle hangar and a huge runway.
  • One Piece: In the Alabasta arc, one of the Baroque Works agents, Zala a.k.a. Paula a.k.a. Ms. Doublefinger, owns a diner out called Spider Cafe in the middle of the desert nation. It's mostly used as a meeting spot for the other agents. Later, a cover story mini-arc showed that, after Baroque Works were defeated, she and most of her fellow agents find a dilapidated one called Cactus Saloon, this time somewhere within a rocky terrain and running it legitimately.

    Comic Strips 
  • Bloom County: Opus the Penguin finds himself on one after losing his script, wandering along the highway and across the desert before eventually reaching a 7-11, an outpost of American civilization.note 

    Films — Animation 
  • Cars: Radiator Springs, the main setting of the Cars movies, is a desert town along Route 66, surrounded by picturesque rock formations. It was once a thriving community servicing cars driving across the country, but by the events of the first movie, was a Dying Town due to Interstate 40 cutting off its main source of income. It becomes a hot tourist attraction after racer Lighting McQueen makes it his base of operations.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bagdad Cafe take place in a setting like this in the Mojave Desert. The creator of One Piece said Spider Cafe was inspired off this movie.
  • Next: Nicholas Cage travels through Flagstaff which feels and looks a lot like a stereotypical Southwest Desert.
  • Easy Rider: A film about a road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans, so it features many red-tinted, wide shots of the road in the desert. As the film was made in 1968, the 50's feel is a lot more excusable.
  • Gas Food Lodging is set in Laramie, NM, a dusty little town by the highway with a truck stop and a trailer park. Trudi suffers from Small Town Boredom and longs to get out (although the real reason is that she was raped).
  • In parts of Natural Born Killers, Mickey and Mallory commit some of their crimes in desert gas stations and drive along Route 66.
  • The first act of Psycho focuses on Marion Crane driving from Phoenix, Arizona, to Fairvale, California, and a large stretch of that time is spent on desert highways. Her problems really start once she gets out of the desert, getting lost in a rainstorm and accidentally getting off the main highway, where she finds a quaint little motel.
  • Used as a central motif in the aptly-named Lost Highway. The movie's title sequence is focuses on the flickering yellow lines of the highway, and it climaxes at a roadside motel out in the California desert.
  • In Seven Psychopaths, the main characters drive through one of these as they flee LA. Much of the second half of the movie focuses on them camping in the desert, off the side of the road.
  • Most of the victims of The Beast of Yucca Flats are people driving through the desert, the narrator explaining that they are on vacation.
  • Both versions of The Hills Have Eyes are likewise about a family on a Deadly Road Trip through the American Southwest.

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas opens on one of these, "somewhere outside Barstow, on the edge of the desert", as the two protagonists drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Mirror: "Black Museum" opens with protagonist Nish driving her 1961 Ford Thunderbird coupe across a desolate highway, stopping at what looks to be the typical Gas Station of Doom. As this is 20 Minutes into the Future, the station is defunct, the car is electric and Nish only needs to leave it out in the sun for a while to charge on a solar panel. And the attendant who greets her, wearing a Waist Coat Of Style, is the proprietor of the titular museum, itself a shuttered tourist trap that he wouldn't mind showing her around while she waits on her car.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, in the episode "Death Wish" the crew gets to visit the Q Continuum, a higher plane of existence where You Cannot Grasp the True Form applies to both the place and its inhabitants. It appears to the crew as a road through the desert with a waystation and Q in human form just hanging around.
  • Twin Peaks: The Return involves road-tripping through the American West, and as such there are plenty of shots of the empty road in the desert. The last episode especially has this, and much of it takes place in old-fashioned diners and motels or in a car traveling through the desert. A frequent visual motif is an old-fashioned gas-station, which is a portal to Another Dimension that hops around, appearing both in the remote desert and along the roadsides.

  • Presumably the "dark desert highway" where the Hotel California is located.
  • The Jonas Brothers' music video for their song "Paranoid" involves Nick Jonas driving a sportscar through the desert, and getting into a race with a lady driver.

    Video Games 
  • Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped: The motorcycle levels have this aesthetic, complete with '50s-style diners and gas stations. In addition, the soundtrack has a '50s sound, and Crash wears a Fonzie-style leather jacket. The level "Area 51?" also features Raygun Gothic-style flying saucers.
    • Dingo Canyon in Crash Team Racing has been given this treatment in its remake, Nitro-Fueled, taking everything that was in the motorcycle stages and plonking them down there.
  • Overwatch: One of the playable maps in the game is called Route 66, which features a lot from this trope like the stunning Southwestern landscapes and a Greasy Spoon type of diner that players spawn into, along with an old-fashioned gas station called Big Earl's.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has a few post-apocalyptic versions of the trope. Unsurprising given the Zeerust fifties aesthetic of the franchise and New Vegas's American South West setting.
  • In Final Fantasy XV, the first area of the game is a fantastical version of this. It was explicitly inspired by the American Southwest and features several diners and out-of-the-way gas stations.
  • The entirety of Full Throttle essentially takes place along a single unnamed Southwestern interstate, starting at the Kickstand bar, then passing through the town of Mellonweed (where Maureen lives), the diner where Ripburger kills Corley, the Mink Ranch, the offramp to the Old Mine Road, the bridge over the Poyahoga Gorge, and the Vultures' hideout, and finally terminating at the Corley Motors factory and stadium. The protagonist Ben generally rides it from one end to the other, occasionally getting stuck or backtracking a few stations, with the climax actually taking place over the Poyahoga Gorge.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Daughter for Dessert, the trips across the desert to and from Whiskeyville have this as the visual.

    Western Animation 
  • Love, Death & Robots: The episode "Fish Night" begins with the traveling salesmen's car breaking down somewhere in the Arizona desert. Since it's too hot to walk back to a gas station in the day, they plan to wait the night out there and start walking in the early morning.
  • Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner: The cartoons take place entirely along highways on the American Southwest.
  • Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox opens with a young Wally West with his mother on the side of a lonely highway in the desert with their broken down car. Fortunately, there's a (decidedly 50's looking) gas station and diner about half the mile down the road!
  • Phineas and Ferb played with this concept during the aptly titled "Road Trip" ep where they built this kind of diner on top of their RV while it was still in transit allowing trucks to drive up a ramp, get some grub and leave just as fast. As per the norm of the show, their parents are oblivious to this and the diner is quickly gone by episode's end.
  • On Rugrats, Stu and Didi stop at one of these with Tommy and Angelica on the way to the Grand Canyon, when they have some car trouble.

    Real Life 
  • The famous Route 66, one of the first American highways. It was established in 1926, ran over 2,000 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, and notably passed through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. Thus, this setting features in many mid-20th century stories where the characters travel west. Although the highway was slowly decommissioned over the 1970s and 1980s due to the construction of Interstate replacements (I-55 from Chicago to St. Louis, I-44 from St. Louis to Oklahoma City, I-40 from Oklahoma City to Barstow, I-15 from Barstow to San Bernardino, and I-10 from San Bernardino to Los Angeles), much of the original route is still traversable through newer roads, and it remains in popular imagination. Much of the route features little towns that led to the rise of the old-fashioned gas stations and diners you see in this trope.
  • Vega, Texas, is the embodiment of a Route 66 town. It even features a restored magnolia gas station that dates back to the 1920's.