Route 66—established in 1926 and one of the original roads in the U.S. Highway System—traversed 2,448 miles from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona—ending in the promised land of Santa Monica, California. During its heyday, the small towns along Route 66 thrived. But after Interstate Highways replaced it, the celebrated route was retired from the Highway System in 1985. Much of the original route was repurposed, absorbed by other highways (in Arizona, Interstate 40 follows most of what used to be Route 66). The romance still lingers, though, and parts of Route 66 are now designated as historic routes.
Here, our adventures along this short, but fascinating, stretch of Route 66:
•Fool Hollow State Park, Show Low, AZ
This wasn’t along Route 66, but Fool Hollow State Park was our first stop after Silver City (190 miles) and it doesn’t merit a blog post of its own. Not that it’s not a nice park—it is—but we only spent two nights and didn’t do anything except hike around the lake. The sites are large and situated in the pines, but many are double sites, which are great if you’re camping with friends, but too cozy if you’re sharing a site with strangers. (When we pulled up to our site, I hopped out of the truck and announced to our site-mates, “Your new best friends have arrived!”) Fortunately, they were quiet and didn’t leave annoying porch lights on. The hiking is pretty along the lakeshore, and the kayaking looks like fun. If we stay again (and we most likely will) we’ll definitely get out onto the lake.
•Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, AZ
Traveling 47 miles north from Fool Hollow, you run directly into Route 66 (AKA Interstate 40). Here, on the main drag in Holbrook, is the fabulously kitschy Wigwam Village Motel, built in 1950. It’s now listed in the National Register of Historic Places—and you can still “Sleep in a Wigwam.”
•Homolovi State Park, Winslow, AZ
Just 30 miles from Holbrook is Homolovi State Park, a gem in the high desert of north-central Arizona. Considered by the Hopi to be part of their ancestral homeland (Homol’ovi means “place of the little hills” in their language), the park is a combined effort between the state and the Hopi people to protect this sacred place. The Hopi live on nearby mesas and continue to make pilgrimages to Homol’ovi.
Of the seven ruins, two are open to visitors. Pathways wind through the grasslands and the adobe rubble of ancient dwellings, plazas, and kivas. These are not reconstructed or well-preserved ruins, so if you go, don’t expect Mesa Verde. The fascinating part of wandering these ancient villages is the incredible abundance of potsherds left behind by the people who lived here between 1260 and 1400 AD. Painted, inscribed, coiled, and stamped—thousands upon thousands of pieces of pottery are scattered throughout the ruins. Everywhere you look, there are small collections of exquisite pieces of pottery arranged on rocks—offerings made by visitors.
Homolovi State Park is beautiful, peaceful, and a lovely place to spend a few days (and reasonable, at $18 per night for electric and water hookups). The campground is quiet and dark, with spacious sites, fabulous sunsets—and not much in the way of shade. It has an excellent visitor’s center, many educational programs, and short but fascinating hiking trails. The Little Painted Desert is just a few miles down the road—worth a quick visit at sunset.
•La Posada Hotel, Winslow, AZ
Just three miles up the road from the ruins of Homolovi is Winslow, Arizona, home of the La Posada Hotel, a National Historic Landmark and a fabulously beautiful 1920’s era structure. Built by renowned architect Mary Colter (she also designed the Grand Canyon Lodge), this was an opulent layover along the Santa Fe Railroad and one of the famous “Fred Harvey hotels.” Harvey was responsible for civilizing the west, bringing luxury to train travel and the stops along the way.
La Posada fell onto hard times when train travel declined, was almost demolished several times, and ultimately was saved by an artist and her husband in the 1990s, who have restored it to its former magnificence (and then some). We spent several hours at the hotel, enjoying a delicious lunch in the Turquoise Room (grilled chicken Caesar salad, Southwest style—with chipotle and toasted pepitas in lieu of croutons) and wandering the hotel/museum/art galleries/gardens.
•Standin’ On The Corner Park, Winslow, AZ
Located in downtown Winslow, the park commemorates the song “Take It Easy” by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey, made famous by the Eagles in 1972, with Frey singing the lead vocals. There’s a life-sized bronze of a guy in bell-bottom jeans with a guitar, a red flat-bed Ford, and a trompe l’oeil mural setting the stage. Don’t laugh—I’ll bet you would stop for a photo, too.
Heading west another 60 miles, Route 66 still runs right through downtown Flagstaff—it’s the main drag. We only had two days in Flagstaff this trip, but it’s well worth a longer visit.
Our favorite place to stay in Flagstaff—more accurately, it’s 18 miles from town—is Bonito Campground, a beautiful Forest Service campground next to Sunset Crater National Monument. High in the ponderosa pine forest, with spacious sites, great hiking, cool temperatures, and pitch-black night skies, it’s a peaceful place. No hookups, but the price is right at $10 per night (with the Golden Age Pass).
Sunset Crater—which erupted 900 years ago—and the surrounding lava flows create a starkly beautiful landscape of cinder cones, lava caves, petrified rock, and artistically twisted ponderosa pines. There is a terrific small visitor’s center and several hiking trails through the lava formations.
While in Flagstaff, we spent half a day at the Museum of Northern Arizona, a lovely small museum dedicated to preserving the history and culture of northern Arizona. Founded in 1928 by zoologist Dr. Harold Colton and artist Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, it houses wonderful exhibits of native Indian cultures (including basketry, pottery, kachinas, and jewelry), natural sciences, and fine arts, including landscape paintings by Colton.[portfolio_slideshow]