Route 66, the iconic “Mother Road,” winds its way from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. If you don’t have the time to drive the entire route, why not take on this icon of American transportation history in bite-sized pieces? We’re going to help you do just that with a series called Get Your Pics on Route 66 in hopes that you’ll capture some great memories and images as you explore this little slice of Americana. Here’s the Eastern Arizona installment.
Route 66 in Eastern Arizona is full of iconic attractions, intriguing history, and visual reminders of the Mother Road’s importance to the area. Let’s start close to the New Mexico border at Houck, Arizona.
Heading west on Interstate 40, take Exit 348 and turn right onto Frontage Road. Almost immediately you will arrive at Fort Courage, a once-thriving tourist attraction based on the 1960’s television show, “F Troop.” Although not officially part of Route 66 lure, the fort and accompanying trading post, gas station, and pancake house were built to attract fans of the TV series. The fort was a replica of the one used on the set, an 1860 Army outpost, complete with guard towers.
The show only lasted two seasons, but this unusual desert attraction hung in there for a few more. It now stands empty alongside the highway, as a reminder to days gone by, when kitschy souvenirs and campy television comedies were all the rage!
Petrified Forest National Park
Pick up I-40 west again and travel 37 miles to Petrified Forest National Park. This geological wonder encompasses an area full of fossilized tree trunks, as well as colorful badlands known as the Painted Desert. Visitors to the area in the 1880’s would take the stagecoach, the railroad, and even camels to tour what was then billed as Chalcedony Forest, where the organic material in ancient trees had been replaced with quartz, volcanic ash, and iron oxide. The vibrantly-colored fossilized rocks were not the only thing they came to see, however. Ancient Pueblo ruins, petroglyphs, and more than 600 archaeological sites lie within the park’s borders.
When Route 66 was established, drivers often stopped to enjoy the Painted Desert Inn on the loop drive through Petrified Forest. This beautiful building is a perfect example of early Southwestern architecture and was originally built using petrified wood. Once known as the Stone Tree House, it is currently used as a museum within the park.
One nice aside: Petrified Forest is one of a very few national parks that allow leashed dogs on their hiking trails. So be sure to bring Fido (and plenty of water) along on your excursion here!
Twenty minutes west of the national park lies the town of Holbrook, Arizona, which holds one of the most anticipated Route 66 attractions: the Wigwam Motel. Located at 811 W. Hopi Drive, this lodge is one of three surviving from the Wigwam Village motel chain. (Evidently, the builder of the chain did not like the word “teepee,” so he took it upon himself to rename his lodges after Plains Indians homes!) Each room is an individual concrete teepee, and several have vintage cars parked in front.
I have always been enamored with the idea of seeing this motel in person, and I have to say, you can’t pull up to the property without a huge grin spreading all over your face! It does exist, and it’s just as kitschy as the images suggest. The inaptly named Wigwam Motel certainly lives up to its Route 66 reputation. By the way, you can still book a room there for around $60 a night!
The town has several other reminders of the Mother Road’s heyday, including Joe and Angie’s Café and the Rainbow Rock Shop. Several other motels and restaurants still harken back to the days when the automobile was king, with their neon signs and 1930’s architecture. It’s easy to see why so many travelers enjoyed cruising through Holbrook then and now.
Just west of Joseph City, let your eyes wander to the colorful billboard announcing “Here It Is!” You might think that rabbits have been propagating from the looks of the sign, but it’s just a unique advertisement for the Jack Rabbit Trading Post.
Since the 1940’s, the owner of this souvenir shop put up billboards all along The Route, introducing travelers to his store before they ever arrived in Arizona. The final sign is the one you see before you, telling persistent sightseers that they had arrived. Even today it is an entertaining stop where you can collect “selfies” with a giant jackrabbit while shopping for that elusive Route 66 shot glass!
Not known for much more than being a railroad town, Winslow, Arizona found its fame initially from Route 66, but as the interstate eventually bypassed it, businesses began to decline rapidly. Along came Jackson Browne and The Eagles. It seems neither songwriters (Browne and Glenn Frey) had ever been to Winslow before penning their hit “Take It Easy.” But that didn’t stop the local Chamber of Commerce from creating an entire attraction around the lyrics “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.” Granted, the park was created more than 20 years after the song came out, but kudos to those who found a way to make Winslow relevant again!
The Standin’ On The Corner Park was created downtown, where The Route intersects North Kinsley Avenue. A mural depicting an entire verse of the song was painted on a wall that had been left standing after a fire. These days hundreds of thousands of people seek out Winslow to visit this corner, proving, I guess, that marketing campaigns can be effective.
A couple of blocks from Standin’ On The Corner is the La Posada Hotel, an exclusive hotel by renowned Southwestern architect Mary Jane Colter. Although she had designed several buildings for the Fred Harvey Company throughout Grand Canyon National Park and elsewhere in the Southwestern United States, she declared La Posada her masterpiece. It fell into disrepair and was closed in 1957, but eventually was purchased and renovated, becoming once again a draw for those who still follow famous Route 66. Today it boasts not only well-appointed rooms but an art gallery and it acts as the train station for the region. An afternoon spent walking the grounds, enjoying the gardens and dining in The Turquoise Room is well worth the time.
Thirty-three miles west of Winslow lie the remnants of a settlement that harbors a gruesome history. Two Guns is now just a desolate spot on the Route 66 map, but its location on the edge of Canyon Diablo was the setting of several strange events.
In 1878 a cave at Two Guns was the hiding place of raiding Apache Indians who had just wiped out an entire Navajo encampment. The Navajo scouts on their trail discovered the murderers’ lair and exacted their own revenge, blocking the cave entrance, filling it with smoke from burning sage and shooting anyone who tried to escape the cavern. In the end, 42 Apaches were asphyxiated and then stripped of their valuables in what became known as the “Death Cave.”
A year later, Billy The Kid and his gang hid out in a stone house across Diablo Canyon from Two Guns, and in 1889 a nearby train was robbed of over $140,000 in currency, coins, and jewelry. When the robbers were apprehended none of the loot was recovered, and it is rumored that the money was buried on the rim of the canyon. Treasure hunters still look for it today.
By the time Route 66 was commissioned, Two Guns boasted a gas station, a wild animal zoo, a restaurant and an Indian gift shop. But like so many other Mother Road locations, when the highway left, so did the business. Today, ruins of the gas station and a campground can be seen, as well as the death cave (although it is on private property and reportedly haunted…enter at your own risk!).
Last on our tour of The Mother Road through eastern Arizona is the town of Flagstaff. An anomaly in the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau, this town sits at 7,000 ft. on rounded mountains full of tall Ponderosa pine trees. It is also the jumping off point for Route 66 motorists who wish to visit the Grand Canyon.
Closer to town is colorful Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument—a cinder cone volcano with slopes the shade of the setting sun. Relatively new to the landscape, this volcano erupted about 1,000 years ago, spewing lava cinders, blocks, and bombs over 850 feet into the air. Today there are several hiking trails around the base of Sunset Crater and one to the summit of Lenox Crater Volcano, showcasing the desolate environment that eventually supported pine trees and a wide variety of plant life.
Visitors close to downtown can enjoy the telescope at Lowell Observatory on most summer nights. Now that the neon signs from Route 66 are almost a thing of the past, Flagstaff has become the self-declared first International Dark Sky City, making the view from the observatory even more enjoyable.
And be sure to check out The Museum Club, a country music dance hall dating back to 1931. It was an entertainment staple for Route 66 travelers, touted as the largest log cabin in Arizona. The original owner was a taxidermist and utilized the space to display his over 30,000 stuffed animals and rifle collection. But over the years it became a music venue and recording studio. Today a few of the mounted animals have returned, as have country music fans from all around!
Get Ready For “Radiator Springs”
I hope you’ve collected plenty of pictures and enjoyed this Next time we’ll tackle the rest of Arizona’s Route 66 trail, including the town that inspired the animated movie, “Cars.” In the meantime, why not find your own adventure along the Mother Road in a motorhome or travel trailer from Camping World?
You can drive the rest of Route 66 with our other “Get Your Pics on Route 66” articles. Read the entire series.