Along the Painted Landscape of Arizona Route 66
Continuing our journey westward along America's Mother Road, we enter Arizona in grand fashion with gorgeous but desolate landscapes that are a trademark of the American Southwest.
For the Route 66 enthusiast, there is a lot of history to experience in this stretch from Lupton to Flagstaff. Arizona's stretch of Route 66 is one of the most picturesque. From volcanoes, to painted deserts, to lush green forests, your journey provides numerous scenic photograph opportunities as well as a wealth of history, great side trips, and a volume of Route 66 era icons.
In 1926, some 400 miles of Route 66 passed through Arizona, but very little of it was paved. That changed in 1933, and it was finally completed in 1938. As with the rest of the Mother Road, once I-40 barrelled through, Route 66 and many of the towns along its path became a shell of their former selves. But there's plenty of the route left to see if you exit off the interstate.
Here are some of our favorite views of the eastern half of our journey in Arizona. Once more, this is not all the small towns, hidden away icons, and spectacular views you will find along this part of the Mother Road, but just a few highlights of what caught our lense. Click on an image to go to the Arizona Route 66 Gallery. Links in the text will take you to more information and stories about the subject referenced.
Situated right at the New Mexico-Arizona border, Lupton, also known as Painted Cliffs, invites you with high sandstone bluffs, where statuesque figures of deer, bear, and eagles peer down from above. These beautiful cliffs, formed from 60 to 200 million years ago, typify the stark, lonely beauty of the Indian country to the north.
Immediately, you are surrounded by a number of trading posts at the base of the cliffs, selling all manner of Indian treasures. Several of these have been in business since the birth of Route 66, including the Tee-Pee Trading Post. Lupton is also home to the Painted Cliffs Welcome Center, a great visitors' stop on your way into the state.
The National Old Trails Highway passed through here, and in 1926, Route 66 would follow most of the same path. This created tourism opportunities in Lupton and the town sprouted several gas stations and a store. Today, Lupton is called home to just about 25 people.
Beyond Lupton we made a quick stop at Houck, where in 1874, James D. Houck, an express rider mail carrier, built a trading post on the south side of the Puerco River. He also had a water tank, hence, the post was called Houck's Tank. He continued run the post intermittently until 1885, when he moved to the Mogollon Mountains. Houck's trading post went through several hands before being abandoned around 1922. Though there is nothing left of Houck's trading post, others sprung up, and the one doing the most business during the Route 66 era was the White Mound Trading Post, which was established in about 1924. This post was first located north of the Allantown Bridge along the US Old Trails Highway and owned and operated by Joseph Grubbs. At some point, about 1933, the highway was rerouted farther north, and Grubbs moved the store to the tract now occupied by Fort Courage, a tourist facility. In 1934, the Arizona Navajo Reservation Boundary Act extended the reservation boundary south of the new store, so in 1936 Joseph Grubbs deeded the land to the US government. However, the store evidently continued to operate into the late 1940s and belonged to Al Frick, who also owned the Lupton Trading Post store.
The White Mound Trading Post held Houck's post office from 1924 until 1946. In 1958, U.S. Interstate 40 came through the area, superseding Route 66. The White Mound Trading Post closed two years later.
Then, in the 1960's, a new modern trading post was built at the same site. Called Fort Courage, this place was inspired by the television show F-Troop, a 1960's television series. Over the years this stop featured a Coffee Shop, Restaurant, Gas Station, Grocery Store, Gift Shop, and Trading Post which kept a large selection of authentic Indian jewelry, Navajo rugs, and all types of curios and souvenirs. It also featured motel units, a trailer park and a campground. Today, however, Fort Courage is only a shell of its former self and sat empty and abandoned on our stop there.
Not too much further on our journey, we ran into the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. We were fortunate to have a glimpse of what the park looks like after a dusting of snow, and the white wash added to an already incredible beauty.
One of the primary landmarks in the Painted Desert is the Painted Desert Inn. The vision of Herbert Lore, a local homesteader, he began constructing the two-story Inn on a high perch overlooking the Painted Desert in 1920. It was first called the "Stone Tree House" because so much petrified wood was used in its construction. In 1924, he registered it as a business and claimed property under the Homestead Act. For almost twelve years, Lore operated the Inn as a tourist attraction. Visitors could eat meals in the lunchroom, purchase Native American arts and crafts, and enjoy a cool drink in the downstairs taproom. Rooms were available for $2-4 dollars per night. Lore also gave 2-hour motor car tours through the Black Forest in the Painted Desert below. An isolated oasis in the Painted Desert, it was without electrical connections, so an onsite lighting-plant was built to supply electricity. Water was hauled from Adamana, ten miles south on the Puerco River.
In 1936, the Painted Desert Inn and other sections of land owned by Herbert Lore were purchased by Petrified Forest National Monument. Work quickly began on updating the Inn's electrical, plumbing, and heating systems. Guest rooms, a new entryway, a dining room and a shaded porch were added to the original structure, as well as stained glass ceiling panels, hammered tin chandeliers, and hand-carved furniture.
During the Dust Bowl days, thousands of heartland residents fled west on Route 66 in search of a better life. Hollywood documented the era in The Grapes Wrath, which included scenes at the Painted Desert Inn.
In 1940, the inn opened under the management of the Fred Harvey Company, which was famous in the Southwest for providing hospitality services to tourists and travelers on the Santa Fe Railroad. For two years, the inn offered Route 66 travelers food, souvenirs, and lodging, and local people with event and meeting space. It was closed during WWII as resources were shifted away from domestic programs. It re-opened in 1947 complete with the legendary Harvey Girls complimenting the Inn with their excellent service in the spotless dining room. That same year, the Harvey Company’s noted architect and interior designer, Mary Jane Colter, was given responsibility for renovations of the facility. Along with overseeing repair work, Colter created a new interior color scheme and made other changes. New plate glass windows to capitalize on the magnificent surrounding landscape were an important addition. At Colter’s behest, Hopi artist Fred Kabotie painted murals on the dining room and lunchroom walls that are reflections of Hopi culture. In 1848, the Painted Desert Inn became the park's northern headquarters.
As we drove through the National Park, we came upon the Route 66 pull out, where the park pays tribute to the Mother Road. The telephone poles by the pull out are the only thing showing where the original pavement went through the park.
Continuing on the National Park Road you enter the Petrified Forest. The park is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science featuring one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, the multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation known as the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225 million year old fossils.
The Agate Bridge, pictured above on the right, formed millions of years ago as numerous tall trees washed into the floodplain, where a mix of silt, mud and volcanic ashes buried the logs. The sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs decay. Silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs and replaced the original wood tissues with silica deposits.
Eventually the silica crystallized into quartz, and the logs were preserved as petrified wood. Later, centuries of scouring floodwaters washed out the arroyo beneath this 110-foot long petrified log and formed a natural bridge. The petrified log, harder than the sandstone around it, resisted erosion and remained suspended as the softer rock beneath it washed away. Enthusiastic visitors, fascinated by the bridge worked to preserve it through the establishment of Petrified Forest National Monument in 1906. Conservationists felt this ages-old natural bridge needed architectural support and in 1911 erected masonry pillars beneath the log. In 1917 the present concrete span replaced the masonry work. Current National Park Service philosophy allows the natural forces that create unusual features to continue. If discovered today, Agate Bridge would be left in its natural state.
Also along this path you will find the Puerco Pueblo. Overlooking the Puerco River, this 100 room pueblo built around 1250, surrounded an open plaza. The rooms had no windows or doors but each could be entered by climbing a ladder and descending through a hole in the roof. As many as 200 are thought to have lived here.
At Puerco Pueblo and many other sites within the park, petroglyphs—images, symbols, or designs—have been scratched, pecked, carved, or incised on rock surfaces. Most of the petroglyphs in Petrified Forest National Park are thought to be between 650 and 2,000 years old.
Meanwhile, back on the Mother Road, we run into the historic town of Holbrook, where in 1881, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad laid its tracks through an area that was known as Horsehead Crossing. The following year a railroad station was built and the small settlement’s name was changed to Holbrook in honor of H.R. Holbrook, the first chief engineer of the railroad. Primarily called home to cowboys, cattle ranchers and railroaders, the settlement soon took on all the vices of a typical Wild West town, complete with a saloon called the Bucket of Blood. Law and order were non-existent, gambling was popular, and painted ladies far outnumbered "proper women."
In 1884, the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, better known as the Hashknife Outfit, began operations in Holbrook. The second largest cattle ranch in the U.S., the cattle company had some 60,000 head of cattle, and employed hundreds of cowboys. The sudden presence of so many cowboys also gave rise to rustling, robbery and gunfights. Much of the rustling was done against the Hashknife Outfit itself.
By the time Route 66 made its appearance, the wild and lawless town had become more settled, and the narrow strip of asphalt became a symbol of hope to the city and the many travelers of the Mother Road. When World War II ended, the gas shortage was over and tourism in the city flourished. It was during this time that dozens of other souvenir shops including the PowWow Trading Post opened, offering samples of petrified wood and Indian Treasures. In 1950, the Wigwam Village was built, which continues to serve customers today. When you need to sate your appetite stop at Joe and Aggie's Cafe in the center of town or Romo's Cafe, just across the street.
In the area of Joseph City you'll find more Route 66 icons like Geronimo's Trading Post, the abandoned tourist attraction Ella's Frontier, and just beyond that the much photographed Jackrabbit Trading Post, built in 1949 and still in operation today.
A must stop for the Mother Road traveler is of course Winslow, if for nothing else than to "Stand on the Corner".
Winslow became a division point for the Santa Fe Railway in 1880. In 1881, it became a regular railroad terminal. The settlement reportedly got its start when a settler named "Doc” F.C. Demerest operated a business from a tent. Later another settler by the name of J.H. Breed built the first stone building, and a post office was established on January 10, 1882. The new town was named for General Edward F. Winslow, President of the railroad.
We did make a stop at the now abandoned Meteor City Trading Post, which upon our visit had been apparently vandalized. They actually rebuilt and moved the tourist stop on down the road apiece, which also includes an RV Park. But it was sad to see the original building, known by many over the decades, falling into such disrepair.
Next up we hit more of our favorite types of abandoned places, along with active Icons of Route 66, including Two Guns, Canyon Diablo, Williams, Flagstaff and beyond. In the meantime see all our images uploaded so far in the Arizona Route 66 Gallery.
About the RV Parks we stayed in during this portion of our journey:
We spent a couple of nights at the "Root 66 RV Park" in Sun Valley, just outside of Holbrook. The current owners have the RV Park up for sale. They told us after 14 years they wanted to have some time to do other things. Much of the park, including the original office, appears to be in need of repair, but while we were there the owners were putting a new roof on the house, which acts as the new office. They have WIFI, but it was tough to get on during the evenings. I'm guessing, but it appeared they may be streaming on it during the evenings, or it's just not equiped to handle more than a few people. While we were there we only saw a couple of other RV's Parked. It wasn't a bad stay though, and we hope that the "Root 66 RV Park" finds new life with a new owner soon.
Keywords: Arizona, Houck, Lupton, Meteor City Trading Post, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, Route 66, Winslow
Excellent article on Arizona's Rt 66. Was along that road on a bike trip a couple of years ago and your writing brings it fresh again in my mind. Thanks so much for the words and pics.
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