Guardian Lions of Route 66 – Amboy, California - Atlas Obscura

Guardian Lions of Route 66

A pair of large white marble lions guard this stretch of the Mojave Desert, and it is utterly mysterious how they got there. 


Along Route 66, four miles east of the landmark Roy’s Motel and Café sign, an attentive traveler may catch sight of two large white statues, set back about 500 feet from the eastbound roadside. Further investigation will reveal a pair of solid marble Chinese guardian lions, spaced a quarter-mile apart, surrounded by nothing but desert chaparral, hot sun, and unimpeded winds.

Most days you can see clear from the lions to the Amboy Crater, the geological remains of an extinct cinder cone volcano, five miles to the west—making the presence of these beautiful marble creatures that much more otherworldly.

Often called “foo dogs” in the west, Chinese guardian lions are most notably gendered by the tokens they hold. The male (symbolizing yang) holds an embroidered ball, representing a building or other space under his protection. The female (symbolizing yin) shelters a cub, representing nurturance and protection of the souls within a space. In this case, it seems the pair is tasked with keeping watch over the entire Mojave Desert and all who pass through.

It is unknown how the lions got there. Standing about five feet high and elevated on cinder block pedestals, they were first sighted in late 2013, and whoever placed them there has never stepped forward to claim responsibility. Administrators of the lions’ Facebook page emphasize that they are not the benefactors. The mystery serves only to amplify their allure. How and why were two hand-carved solid marble statues weighing thousands of pounds transported here, four miles from the nearest town?

Other mysteries circulate online as to the origin of visitor logbooks at the sites, and pondering the significance of a surveyor’s brass waymarker pounded into the earth before the female lion. Is this a geocache hiding in plain sight? And what is the significance of a real estate sign placed near the roadside north of the male lion? 

Whatever the lions’ origin, passersby have attached their own meaning. People leave coins, offerings, memorials, and words. Logbooks collect travelers’ musings; when the logs disappear, fans replace them with new notebooks, reproducing if they can what has been documented from the missing logs. The lions stand watch over an ever-changing landscape of meaningful gestures and tokens. Good luck and memorial offerings flooded the female lion after a May 2016 online report that she was damaged by a high-powered rifle (nearby the shooter had scribbled an apology on a piece of driftwood, claiming he didn’t know the target was precious). Among their ever-growing fanbase, it appears the lions have attracted guardians of their own.

Update as of October 2018: Only one of the Guardian Lions is now visible. The other statue has been removed. 

Update as of January 2020: the missing lion has returned and both are now visible from the road.

Know Before You Go

You can find the Guardian Lions of Route 66 between Amboy Road and Kelbaker Road, 500 feet back from the eastbound highway roadside. Driving from Amboy, clock your distance four miles east from Roy’s Motel and Café. You’ll see a real estate sign at the roadside, from which you’ll spot the male lion. You may catch sight of the female lion from there. If not, clock your distance a further quarter mile east and look for her from the roadside. If traveling west, scout for the female just past Cadiz Summit pass.

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June 1, 2017

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