Route 66 or the “Mother Road,” “Will Rodgers Highway,” and “America’s Mainstreet” as everyone refers to it nowadays has been America’s source for cross-country travel since 1926. It originally ran from Chicago, IL through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended at the Santa Monica Pier in California. According to Wikipedia, the road played a huge role during the 1930s and the Dust Bowl. People started traveling west, thus supporting the economies of the small towns through which the road went through. Sadly, when the interstates were built, the famed highway was taken off the United States Highway System map in 1985. However though out the years, the road has been gaining more recognition in terms of more travelers willing to bypass the interstate for “the road less traveled.” Some portions of the road have been designated a National Scenic Byway and historic associations in the eight states are working to promote, preserve and protect the road for future generations.
The Petrified Forest National Park had recently (last year) decided to put on a tour of certain old “relics” of the Route. I had thankfully heard about this year’s tour through the Route 66 networks on Facebook. The tour included the building that I’d be DYING to see and photograph- the Painted Desert Trading Post, a dilapidated building that has since been bypassed by the interstate and is now on private land. The building is literally THE “Holy Grail” of Route 66 icons and is the most often photographed (despite it being on private property). So once I saw that I was going to see that, it was evident that I needed to hop on a plane and take the tour. I also found out that the Route 66 Festival was happening in Holbrook, AZ that same weekend, which was such a thrill!
The tour began bright and early at 8am and was spearheaded by Rangers Bill Parker and Jack Pickett, who were just a wealth of stories and knowledge of the Route and surrounding area. After a brief introduction, we boarded a bus that had been borrowed from a local school, which took us down the road and to our first sights of the day: Painted Desert Point Trading Post, Rocky’s Old Stage Station and LA-A Airway Beacon #51. It’s truly amazing that these spots are just off the interstate. You can’t really see anything until you physically get off the exit, drive along the road and see the faint reminders of the past. We walked through the brush and overgrown vegetation to see foundations, pieces of broken glass, rusty cans and other unique artifacts.
After those three sights, we drove to the Petrified National Park Visitors Center, where we continued the rest of our tour. We hiked for a little over a mile, again through the raw desert vegetation. However we were physically walking one the original alignments that had since been torn up. It isn’t until this tour, that I could see the direction of where the road used to be. The rangers showed us more artifacts, which we could pick-up and look at, but unfortunately couldn’t take with us. Artifacts included: pieces of pottery (mugs, plates), a pair of vintage aviator sunglasses, more rusty cans, a vintage 1950s(ish) car handle and more. It was just amazing. People back then would just throw out their “trash” and here it remains. We continued our hike to the Painted Desert Tower Trading Post. After that, we went to the restored Painted Desert Inn- which was a Harvey House that served passers-by with good food and exceptional service. We continued on to the Petrified Forest National Park Route 66 Checking Station then to Painted Desert Park and Lion Farm. They really saved the best for last- as our final stop was the Dead Wash Bridge and short walk to the Painted Desert Trading Post. The road to ‘paradise’ seemed long and was quite bumpy, as it was the original alignment before the interstate. The Dead Wash Bridge is also an icon that sort of coincides with the Painted Desert Trading Post. The old bridge was likely to have been constructed in the 1910s. We saw old rusted cars that had been placed there to aid with erosion control. It was pretty cool seeing this old gems up close. The walk to the trading post seemed almost spiritual, in that this building was the main reason for my taking the pilgrimage. I am so thankful that the rangers allowed us to explore the building and take never-ending photos. I even stepped inside….again…what a rush, but in the best way possible.
The tour ended with group photos and the ride back to the visitors center. I am forever appreciative for the Petrified Forest National Park and Kathleen Smith (with the city of Holbrook) for helping to organize this wonderful tour. I will never look at the road that same way again. I also want to give a shout-out to my fellow Route 66 ‘roadies’ and new friends that I was fortunate to have met there- Mike Ward, Jim Hinkley, Dean Kennedy, Allen and Lynette Greer, and Mike and Jessica May.