Winslow to Walnut Canyon
Winslow, Arizona, didn’t make it into Bobby Troup’s original Route 66 hit list, but the town made up for it a generation later when Glenn Frey and the Eagles recorded the Jackson Browne tune “Take It Easy.” The second verse begins “Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” a line that has caused more people to turn off in search of the place than anything else. Right downtown between the two strips of Route 66, which runs one-way in each direction down 2nd and 3rd Streets, the funky Old Trails Museum (212 N. Kinsley Ave., 928/289-5861, Tues.-Sat., free) sells a range of “Standin’ on the Corner” T-shirts, and displays a few reminders of Winslow in its heyday. Standing on the corner of 2nd and Kinsley, where a little sign stakes a claim to being the corner the Eagles sang about, there’s a statue of a guy with a guitar and a mural of a girl (my lord!) in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look.
The usual chain motels and fast-food franchises stand at either end of town around Winslow’s I-40 exits, but in between is a great landmark of Southwest style: the elegant La Posada Hotel (303 E. 2nd St., 928/289-4366, $139 and up). Designed in the late 1920s for Fred Harvey by architect Mary Colter, who considered it her masterpiece, the hotel was closed for 40 years before being fully and lovingly restored and reopened in 1998. Near a busy rail line but surrounded by pleasant gardens, the luxurious hotel is also home to a stylish cocktail bar and one of the finest restaurants for miles, the Turquoise Room. If you have the time and inclination to appreciate its old-fashioned, handcrafted charms, La Posada is an unforgettable stop.
Between Winslow and Winona, 3 mi (4.8 km) east of Two Guns and 6 mi (9.6 km) south of I-40 exit 233, sits Meteor Crater (928/289-2362, daily, $22), Arizona’s second-most-distinctive hole in the ground. Formed by a meteorite some 50,000 years ago and measuring more than 550 ft (168 m) deep and nearly a mile (1.6 km) across, the crater is a privately owned tourist attraction. The Astronaut Wall of Fame plays up the crater’s resemblance to the surface of the moon (Apollo moon-walkers practiced here). You can’t climb down into it, but (weather permitting) you can join a guided rim tour, walking a half-mile (0.8 km) there and back across the desert to gaze down into the crater.
Two Guns and Twin Arrows
Heading west from Meteor Crater toward Flagstaff, the route climbs swiftly from the hot red desert up into the cool green pines. Old-road fanatics will want to take the time to explore what remains of two old-time tourist traps lining the next 20 mi (32 km) of highway. Keep your eyes peeled approaching I-40 exit 230: The freeway crosses deep Diablo Canyon, where an old Route 66 bridge still spans the dry wash, and the walls of a half-dozen bleached buildings are all that’s left of the Two Guns Trading Post. A roadside attraction par excellence, Two Guns had a zoo full of roadrunners, Gila monsters, and coyotes, and one building still has a sign saying Mountain Lions—all for the entertainment of passing travelers. For a while in the 1970s, Two Guns was a KOA Kampground (with a swimming pool!), and according to various reports down the Route 66 grapevine, Two Guns has been on the verge of reopening many times, most recently after reports circulated that the whole shebang had been purchased by Australian actor Russell Crowe so that he could film a remake of the classic Yul Brynner film Westworld. But most of the time Two Guns is dead quiet, with the old access road blocked by a sign reading “No Trespassing by Order of Two Guns Sheriff Department.” Probably a good thing, since the old buildings are all dangerously close to collapse. It’s an evocative site, nonetheless, and photogenic in the right light.
A dozen miles (19.3 km) west of Two Guns is another Double-Attraction: Twin Arrows, where a pair of giant and surprisingly well preserved red and yellow arrows point toward a long-closed café and trading post, last seen alive in the 1990s movie Forrest Gump.
Twin Arrows is also home to the Navajo-owned Twin Arrows Casino Resort (928/856-7200, $99 and up), the largest of the four casinos the Navajo Nation runs.
East of Flagstaff, in fact across most of eastern Arizona, following old Route 66 can be a frustrating task, since much of the roadway is blocked, discontinuous, torn up, or all three. Unlike the long stretches found in the western half of the state, here the old road exists only as short segments running through towns, and most of the way you’re forced to follow the freeway, stopping at exit after exit to get on and off the old road. Among the places worth considering is the one town mentioned out of sequence in the Route 66 song: “Flagstaff, Arizona, don’t forget Winona,” which, alas, is now little more than a name on the exit sign along I-40.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
The most easily accessible of the hundreds of different prehistoric settlements all over the southwestern United States, Walnut Canyon National Monument (928/526-3367, 9am-5pm daily fall-spring, 8am-5pm daily summer, $15) is also one of the prettiest places imaginable, with piñon pines and junipers clinging to the canyon walls, and walnut trees filling the canyon floor. On the edge of the canyon, a small visitors center gives the historical background, but the real interest lies below, on the short but steep Island Trail, which winds through cliff dwellings tucked into overhangs and ledges 400 ft (122 m) above the canyon floor. Winter storms sometimes dislodge boulders that wipe out parts of the trail. Check with the rangers to make sure the trail is open, and ask about weather, water supplies, and other safety issues. The rim of Walnut Canyon is nearly 7,000 ft (2,136 m) above sea level, and the altitude can make the climbing especially strenuous.
The entrance to the Walnut Canyon monument, which contains some 80 dwellings, lies 12 mi (19.3 km) east of Flagstaff, accessible from I-40 exit 204.