Route 66 – Winslow to Williams

I got up early to catch my hotel for the night, La Posada, in the early morning light. Built in 1929 as a Fred Harvey House, this is a beautiful railway hotel in Winslow, AZ. The hotel was designed by Mary Colter, one of the most important female architects of the early 20th Century. Bucking the trend, at the time, of using European designs, Colter designed the hotel in a Spanish Colonial style more suited to its location. A few years ago it was fully renovated to restore it to its original glory. At the time I visited, the hotel was decked out in Christmas decorations.

(Clicking any gallery will open full-sized images.)

Founded in 1882, Winslow was originally a railway hub in Northern Arizona. It continued to prosper with the coming of Route 66 but started into decline as I-40 bypassed the town and Route 66 was decommissioned. However, thanks to an Eagles song, tourists still flock to the town to take photos of the “Standing on a Corner in Winslow Arizona” corner. I shared photos of this corner in an earlier post – click here to view it.

Standing on the Corner in Winslow Arizona

After a hearty breakfast in theTurquoise Room Restaurant at the La Posada hotel, it was time to hit the road. Not far from Winslow is the Meteor City Trading Post. The site dates back to 1938. Originally a gas station, over the years it became a souvenir stop for tourist visiting the nearby Meteor Crater. The geodesic dome with the yellow Mohawk, originally built in 1979, burned down and was rebuilt in 1990. In 2012 the trading post closed for good. An online search provided information that the property was purchased in 2016 with the intent of restoring it and re-opening by 2018. When I visited in December 2019, the restoration had either been put on hold or abandoned completely.

A few miles further west, all that remains of the town of Two Guns are a crumbling zoo and an abandoned, graffiti-covered gas station. Remnants of animal cages, which apparently included Mountain Lions according to the sign, can be seen among the rubble down the hillside.

Just a few miles further west is the Twin Arrows Trading Post. Dating back to 1937 it was originally called the Padre Canyon Trading Post. In 1955 it was rebranded when two telephone poles, with arrow heads and feathers, were driven into the ground to look like two arrows had been fired into the earth. As time went on, a gas station, curio shop and a Valentine Diner were added. (Valentine Diners were prefabricated cafes built in Wichita, KS.) All are now abandoned. I did find a YouTube video of the property taken in 1993, a couple years before it closed for good in 1995. You can view the video here.

The pre-1947 alignment of Route 66 takes you past the Walnut Canyon Bridge, typical of bridges of its day, and ultimately into Flagstaff.

Flagstaff is the largest city along the Arizona section of Route 66. At 7000 feet it is also at the highest elevation along the Mother Road and is surrounded by the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest. It is also a city rich in Route 66 history, hotels and eateries.

A couple of the famous landmarks are the Museum Club and the Hotel Monte Vista. The Museum Club was originally built in 1931 by a taxidermist to house his collection of stuffed critters. rifles and Native American artifacts. It was billed as the largest log building in Arizona. Following his death, new owners of the building converted it to a roadhouse. The club was bought in 1963 by Don and Thorna Scott who turned it into a Country and Western Dance Club. During their time, stars such as Willie Nelson, Wynn Stewart and Wanda Jackson appeared on stage. Tanya Tucker is reputed to have made her first public appearance here at age 14. In 1973 tragedy struck when Thorna died after a fall down stairs. Two years later, a despondent Don took his own life in front of the fireplace in the club. Stories abound of the Museum Club being haunted by the ghosts of Don and Thorna. The club survived under new owners until it closed abruptly in 2017.

The Hotel Monte Vista has been around about as long as Route 66. According to the hotel website, in the mid-1920’s, with increasing tourism, the citizens of Flagstaff recognized the need for a first class hotel. Fundraising began in April 1926 and within a month townsfolk, assisted by a donation from writer Zane Grey, had raised $200,000. Ground breaking was in early June and the hotel opened on New Year’s Day 1927. During it’s history many Hollywood stars have stayed there while filming in the general area. The attached Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge was the first speakeasy in Flagstaff. During Prohibition it was a successful bootlegging operation until it was raided and shut down in 1931. After Prohibition ended a couple of years later it became a favorite drinking establishment for locals and celebrities. Humphrey Bogart, Carol Lombard, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clark Gable all were said to have been patrons. Needless to say, the hotel also has its share of ghost stories.

My last stop of the day was also the last town to be bypassed by I-40 when Route 66 was decommissioned. Williams was founded in 1876 by a group of cattle and sheep ranchers. By 1882 the railway had arrived in town and Williams soon became a hub for ranching, lumber, mining and tourism to the Grand Canyon 60 miles to the north. With the cowboys, mining and rail workers came a booming industry in saloons, gambling halls and brothels. Many of these buildings still exist today. In fact, my accommodation for the night was at The Red Garter Inn, a former brothel facing the railway station.

Williams proudly wears its Route 66 heritage. Its route through downtown is lined with shops, motels and lots of neon signs. I arrived early enough in the afternoon to check out the town before catching the neon signs lighting up as it got dark. An added bonus was the Christmas lights and decorations.

Williams is also the southern hub of the Grand Canyon Railway which transports tourists from the town to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. During the winter months it also operates the Polar Express, a magical journey from Williams to “The North Pole” and a visit with Santa.

Williams was a perfect way to cap off a day on Route 66!

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