Route 66 Twin Arrows arrow tip in Flagstaff, Arizona

Route 66 from Arizona to New Mexico

Embark on a nostalgic American Road Trip with me in Part 1 of this two-part exploration into the rich history and intriguing roadside attractions of Route 66, from Arizona to New Mexico. Join me as I explore some of the quirky landmarks, and abandoned buildings of this iconic highway from a tour bus along the Main Street of America.

In December I flew out to Phoenix for a work-related meeting joining my friend Donny Michael, CEO of Gigtours. My friend and videographer Chuck Shanleaver came along to help me shoot some videos and stills for Donny’s tour bus company. Donny’s long-time friend Duane Goodwin of Goodwin Orchids also flew out to join us all for a 1700-mile journey back to Nashville along the iconic Route 66. 

Donny was heading back from a tour that ended in LA so it was a perfect opportunity for us all to explore. Captivated by the nostalgia of this well-known highway over the years, I was excited to start our Route 66 journey from Arizona to Texas with my friends. 

The History Of Route 66

Route 66 is a ribbon of asphalt stretching 2500 miles across eight states, also known as the “Main Street of America.” Today this stretch of highway from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California weaves through the heart of the United States, offering a nostalgic journey through time. 

In 1926 Route 66, came to fruition but it took 12 years to build. In 1938 it became the first completely paved national highway linking Chicago to Los Angeles. It enabled families to stop at roadside diners and quaint motor lodges while embarking on a great American road trip. 

The highway helped the country’s economic growth during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era. It played a significant role in providing a passage for families seeking refuge out west and enabled more than 200,000 people to migrate to California. John Steinbeck gave it one of its most famous nicknames “the mother road,” in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” 

In 1946 the song written by Bobby Troup “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” was released by Nat King Cole. Despite the popularity of Cole’s song, he was not welcome in most of the restaurants and Motels at that time because of his skin color. At the time there were very few businesses along the route that would allow black people. 

Although this stretch of highway represents freedom and adventure, for decades black travelers used a guide known as the Green Book to know which motels, restaurants, and businesses would serve them.  Postal worker Victor H. Green published this essential road trip guide from 1936-1964. It earned its nickname the “Bible of Travel” and helped black people avoid travel difficulties and embarrassment along this famous stretch of highway. The Green Book is a historical reminder of the segregation we often forget from our nation’s past.

In 1985 the poorly maintained Route 66 highway was decommissioned and replaced with Interstate 40 which runs alongside the earlier 2-lane original highway. Today it is no longer possible to drive the entirety of the legendary Route 66. As time passes the abandonment of businesses, deterioration of buildings and human vandalism is slowly causing what is left of its history to disappear. 

The historic route provides a window into the past and easily connects you with the stories of those who traveled along this iconic highway. On my adventure, we used Interstate 40 because the dilapidated 2-lane highway was not efficient for our tour bus. We carefully choose our exits to see preferred quirky roadside attractions and historical landmarks. Our road trip allowed us to disconnect from the modern world and discover a simpler time.

Arizona To New Mexico

Rocks & More, Williams, Arizona

The true magic of Route 66 lies not just in the major attractions but also in the countless hidden gems along the way. After our meeting in Phoenix, we traveled North toward Flagstaff stopping 25 miles south of the Grand Canyon South Rim to see some Western metal artwork outside of Rocks & More.    Unfortunately, the rock shop itself was closed so we didn’t stay long.

Flintstones Bedrock City, Williams, Arizona

Across the street stood a tall Yabba Dabba Doo sign of Fred Flinstone which marks the entrance of the “Flintstones Bedrock City,” a quirky vintage pop culture roadside attraction. This historical cartoon landmark from the 70’s hosts Flintstone-themed houses, dinosaurs, and vehicles spread across the 3 acres of desert landscape. On the property, there is also a campground and wild bird refuge. It was also closed so we pressed on.

Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel, Tusayan, Arizona

By sunset, we had made our way to the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel just a mile from the South entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. Our trip was during the off-season and the town of Tusayan felt like a ghost town. We had a late dinner in the hotel lounge and heeded to our rooms for the night. As I fell asleep I was excited about starting our Route 66  adventure the next day.

The Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon, Arizona

In the morning we headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim, entering the park and doing some sightseeing. We stopped along the road taking in the beauty of the majestic canyon and rock formations stopping at the various lookout points of interest as we headed back down toward Flagstaff. There we would continue on Interstate 40 alongside the original Route 66. 

Twin Arrows Trading Post, Flagstaff, Arizona

In Flagstaff, we got off at exit 219 to check out the infamous Twin Arrows Trading Post which closed in 1998. Originally named the Canyon Padre Trading Post around 1946 after the nearby gorge, it offered a diner and store for travelers.

In 1955 when the Troxell Family took it over, they re-named the complex Twin Arrows Trading Post after erecting two 20-foot-high wooden arrows complete with tips and feathers in the parking lot. The giant arrows near the main buildings attracted traveling motorists with curiosity and business flourished. 

After the Interstate replaced the two-lane highway business slowed and the trading post was closed. The land is in the Navajo and Hopi reservations, the Hopi owns the buildings but the land belongs to the state of Arizona. What was once a gas station is now a graffiti-filled dilapidated building. Some time in February of 2022 one of the arrows fell due to high winds and was removed. The foot plate and wooden footing still stand but the second arrow is no longer there.

Two Guns, Canyon Diablo, Arizona

After exploring Twin Arrows we drove about 12 miles to visit a ghost town in Canyon Diablo. Named Two Guns, this area is a fascinating and tragic roadside attraction that was once a bustling tourist pit stop from the 1940s through the 1960s. Native Americans inhabited the land between 1050 and 1600 A.D. The first American settlers in that area had a good relationship with the Navajo. 

In 1864 the U.S. Cavalry placed the Navajo on a reservation, four years later they were released and many returned to the area. In 1878 the Navajo Indians killed the rival Apaches living there in retaliation for an earlier battle by starting a fire at the cave entrance. 42 Apaches died in the fire. The murder site today is referred to as “Apache Death Cave.” 

In the winter of 1879, Billy the Kid supposedly hid out with his gang and buried money that he stole in a train robbery somewhere in the canyon. In 1914, the Oldfields settled there and operated a trading post for travelers, prospectors, cowboys, sheepherders, and Indians. Later it grew into a gas station and eatery, known as the Canyon Lodge.

In the 1920s Earle and Louise Cundiff purchased 320 acres of land in the area and built a trading post, restaurant, gas station, and post office. Here is where the story gets interesting… Harry E. Miller leased some of the land and renamed the area “Two Guns” in honor of Western silent film actor William Surrey Hart, also known as Two Gun Bill. 

Miller opened a trading post and zoo, complete with mountain lions, cougars, snakes, and Gila monsters. He decorated the Apache Death Cave with lights offering tours and selling Apache skeletal remains from the cave to traveling tourists. A year later Miller got into a fight with Earle over the terms of the lease, shot him in cold blood, but was acquitted.

After being mauled by two of his mountain lions and bitten by one of his own venomous Gila monsters, Miller left the state taking turquoise jewelry, silver, and other expensive merchandise with him. Louise Cundiff continued managing the businesses and maintaining the property. In 1971 the gas station burned down and when tourists stopped coming the business shut down.

Today the remains of a gas station, trading post, and a few other dilapidated buildings covered in graffiti still remain on the popular roadside stop. It is said that the area is haunted by ghosts. The old abandoned zoo entrance still reads Mountain Lions and many of the cages out back are still intact.

Standin’ on the Corner, Winslow, Arizona

Our next stop about 30 miles east was the charming town of Winslow, Arizona. Popularized by the Eagles song, “Take It Easy,” we visited the “Standin’ on the Corner Park.” As you arrive you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. The Eagles’ greatest hits play through speakers on the streets near the park. It’s estimated that nearly 100,000 people visit each year. 

This quirky little part of the town made famous by the Eagles sits at the corner of 2nd Street and N Kinsley Avenue. In between the old buildings, there is a statue of Glen Frey, a painting on the road of a Route 66 sign, a statue named “Easy” holding an acoustic guitar, and a 1960 red flatbed Ford parked on the street nearby. 

Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Joseph City, Arizona

Up the road, another 16 miles we stopped at the iconic yellow sign with a big rabbit that says ‘Here it is’ just past Joseph City. The Jack Rabbit Trading Post is a long-time landmark store where you can get all kinds of Route 66 and Native American souvenirs.

The Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona

From there we stopped in Holbrook Arizona 15 minutes up the interstate to visit the kitschy cool Wigwam Motel. Its interest has grown over the years with its appearance in the Pixar movie Cars. The motel showcases vintage cars parked on the property and charming well-preserved concrete teepees that you can stay in overnight.

These Wigwam Motels built during the 1930s and 1940s were the brainchild of  Frank A. Redford and have become one of the most memorable and iconic motel chains in the US. 

New Mexico

As we left Arizona and crossed into New Mexico, the landscape transformed into mesas and canyons with beautiful vistas. It was my first time visiting New Mexico and I was captivated by the landscape from the window of the bus. We made our way about 100 miles east stopping in the town of Gallup right before sunset and from the window of the bus witnessed the vibrant Native American culture. 

The city is known as the “Indian Capital of the World” because of its location in the heart of Native American lands. There were endless art and jewelry shops, galleries, and trading posts along the many streets as we drove through the city.

Founded in 1881 as a headquarters for the southern transcontinental rail route, Rand McNally labeled Gallup as “America’s Most Patriotic Small Town.” It is responsible for manufacturing more than 70% of the nation’s Native American jewelry.

Hotel El Rancho, Gallup, New Mexico

Because we arrived at sunset, we were only able to make one stop so we decided it would be Hotel El Rancho. It is known for its red carpet reputation where Hollywood stars of yesteryear came to film Westerns. Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, and Humphrey Bogart are just a few of the stars that have graced the rooms of this unique Hotel.

In 1936 visionary and movie theater tycoon R.E. Griffith wanted to create a place that would immerse people into the Old West. The depression enabled success for moviemakers at that time and he wanted to give people a true Western experience. New Mexico offered a beautiful western landscape for the imagination of filmmakers so Hotel El Rancho was a perfect fit for hosting directors, actors, and film crews. 

The Hotel offered Hollywood moviemakers a comfortable, fun, and lively place to stay and launched the hotel into the Hollywood spotlight. Its ranch architectural style includes a grand lobby with exposed wooden beams, a large stone fireplace, and a curved red-carpeted staircase. The decor is made up of rich colors, rugged Western surroundings, and memorabilia from movie stars throughout time. The hotel remains an icon within New Mexico and along Route 66. 

We originally had planned to stay the night in Albuquerque but found out there were highway delays due to snow so we ended up staying in Gallup for the night. I was bummed because I was excited about spending some time in Albuquerque but with all adventures sometimes plans have to change. 

TO BE CONTINUED…….stay tuned for Part 2

The Creative Push Vlog on YouTube

You can watch my Route 66 travel vlog Part 1 from Arizona to New Mexico in this video.

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You can listen to my Route 66 travel vlog Part 1 from Arizona to New Mexico here or on The Creative Push Podcast!

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