Abandoned Route 66 Icons Point to New Future

Think of the modern American road trip. Where are people headed? Where do they stop along the way, and why? As US Highway 66 was developed and populated, midwesterners traveled the historic road from Chicago to Santa Monica, with many popular stops in the state of Arizona. But in many cases, unlike the road warriors of today, the highway itself was the destination, not a town or city.

That mentality seems to be all but gone now. With a faster and higher-capacity Interstate system in place, highway travel is seen more as an inconvenience than an experience.

Peter Dedeck wrote in his book, Hip To the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66, “Route 66 fell victim to its own success.” That success is the highway’s efficient planning. 66 followed the contours of the terrain, whereas other US highways such as US 30 and 40 did not.

Such an efficient and speedy way to head west gained popularity, and by the time the Interstate system was being developed in the 1950s, a culture was bred around the highway. Gas stations were established, roadside attractions were built, and popular artists wrote songs and made films about the expressway to the west.

That culture was disbanded when the Interstate was constructed. Many sections of Route 66, the most efficient paths, were paved over by Interstate highways. Dedek writes, “In 1985, Route 66 existed existed only as a series of mostly disused strips of eroding pavement stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles.”

And as many of the sections of Route 66 disappeared, so did the businesses that thrived off of them.

According to Dedek, the “funeral” for Route 66 was held in Williams, Ariz. in 1984. Icons from the highway’s culture gathered on main street to say goodbye to America’s Main Street.

In that same region, two abandoned structures along Route 66 struck a particular interest: Pine Springs and Twin Arrows. One of them is leading the way in a redevelopment of that highway culture that was almost lost.

What led these businesses to fall? What is their future? Will the Route 66 culture be re-fostered and restored in a point-to-point travel society?

Abandoned Arizona – Route 66 from Kyle Anderson on Vimeo.

PINE SPRINGS – ONCE BOOMING, NOW DESERTED

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A landscape of the Pine Springs property from the west, through the chain-link fence surrounding the property.

“I’ve kinda grown up along this highway,” said Route 66 veteran, Jim Pritchett, recounting his highway life.

Pritchett spent over half of a million dollars rebuilding and restoring one of Flagstaff’s former trademark Route 66 stopping points: Pine Springs. But, as fate would have it, that investment didn’t quite make it.

“It looks pretty much like it does now [as] when I took it,” Pritchett said.

Pine Springs, located just west of Flagstaff along the historic drive, is a complex of buildings in many shapes, sizes and colors surrounded by a chain-link fence. The rusting sign with painted pine trees still stands as a reminder of what used to be.

“[It] used to be an old truck stop, years ago.” said Pritchett, Pine Spring’s landlord for about 15 years. For a time, Yellow freight used Pine Springs as its Flagstaff base station. Not surprising, considering it was the only truck truck stop in Flagstaff for a while.

Before the complex’s tenure as a fuel and service station, it served as something more commonly tied to Route 66.

“It probably, years ago in the ’40s, was a little restaurant and motel,” said Marjorie Skrobut, co-owner of the neighboring Woody Mountain Campground.

Skrobut has heard mostly rumors about Pine Spring’s history, but claims the site closed due, in part, to a construction accident.

“In the early ’90s, they put in some fiber optic cable up Route 66, and they hit a tank,” Skrobut said. “And they’d been leaking. So all of that ground, now, is contaminated.”

In actuality, Pritchett said that his lease with the Arizona State Land Department, dating back to 1978, wasn’t renewed.

“They thought that I’d just move out and let them have the buildings,” Pritchett said. “I wouldn’t sign it over to [them.]”

Pritchett said he figured it was about time to give up trying to save the property and end the legal battle with the Land Department.

“It was a thriving business. It’s sad to see it happen,” said Pritchett.

TWIN ARROWS – HISTORIC TRADING POST TURNED CANVAS

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The larger-than-life markers for the Twin Arrows Trading Post pictured before their reconstruction in 2009.

Covering the cracking white walls of the Twin Arrows Trading Post, 20 miles east of Flagstaff, is a variety of graffiti and spray paint stenciling. This building used to be covered with art of a different form: Native American designs and themes.

“Twin Arrows was built approximately in 1932 to 1933,” said Mary Smeal, financial director for the Hopi Tribe Economic Development Corporation, or HTEDC.

The HTEDC is currently trying to restore the site to a usable state and reopen the business to serve its original purpose.

“[It was] a trading center for, not only the people going down Route 66, but Native Americans in the area,” said Smeal.

Before the death of Route 66, the trading post offered Native American arts and crafts, fuel, and food to travelers and nearby residents alike. The business remained open until the mid-1990s, and reopened for one year as a fuel-only station. Its second closure was blamed on mis-management.

“It was a very big cost to keep it open,” said Smeal.

Possibly the biggest draw for business were the unique products and giant landmark arrows, the first portion of the property to be restored as of last year.

“You have to find a unique way to get people off the highway,” said Smeal. “If you look at some of the old pictures, it was incredible what they had in their store that nowadays you only really find in a gallery.”

Smeal said that when Twin Arrows was reopened, the owners focused only on serving travelers and paid little attention to the cultural aspects of doing business from the historic trading post.

Plans for the renovation do, however, take culture into consideration.

“We’re going to put in an Indian marketplace,” said Smeal. “We’re hoping to have native American dances there, so I think that’ll make it very unique.”

Restoration of the site is slow but ongoing, with the Hopi Tribe’s primary source of funding being grants and private donations for the project.

“The Hopi Tribe is not a gambling tribe,” said Smeal. “So we’re looking for grants.”

Smeal remains convinced that the restoration project will be a success, but not without its fair share of issues.

“One of the obstacles that we’re running into is the deterioration of the buildings,” Smeal said, adding that the land the buildings are on is owned by the state. “The Hopi are in negotiations for that land, and it does not stop us from fixing up the building. It won’t stop us.”

ROUTE 66 CULTURE SEES NEW LIGHT

A sign in Kingman, Ariz. marking the beginning of the "Historic Route 66 Shopping District."

A sign in Kingman, Ariz. marking the beginning of the "Historic Route 66 Shopping District."

Those making efforts to restore remnants of Route 66’s roadside attractions seem to believe in rekindling the mentality of making the trip, and not the destination, the purpose in cruising the highway.

That mentality is evident in Elaine Ferraro, a Chicago native who traveled on Route 66 in the early 1970s.

On each page of a small, spiral-bound notebook, Ferraro logged every stop made with friends along the way to Las Vegas. She also noted the cost of gas, mileage, if and what they had to eat, as well as some tips for the next time she traveled.

The culture Route 66 created is still alive in some today. Some towns and cities that played key roles in the highway’s development have homages to the road in the form of museums, historic preservations, and other events.

“The old-timers in Williams and Seligman and Ash Fork – They know everything. They even have a Route 66 festival, and it brings people from all over,” said Skrobut.

But others found the construction of the Interstate to be necessary, regardless of the cultural implications it had.

“That Interstate highway was definitely needed along there,” said Pritchett. “Kingman to Seligman – They called it ‘Bloody 66.’ It used to have, I’d say, a head-on collision at least once a week.”

Though, Pritchett enjoys the Route 66 culture and would like to see it make a comeback.

“The culture of Route 66 is really something that needs to be addressed,” said Pritchett. “They are destroying it. Tear down the old; got to have all the new.”

If not found in Americans, a rekindled highway culture can be found in European travelers, according to Skrobut.

“The Europeans that camp here know more about Route 66 than any American,” said Skrobut. “They are fascinated by it and the old west.”

Skrobut said the European travelers she meets travel Route 66 completely for just that experience. And its an experience that has a clear definition.

“Where to stop, what to play, all the teepee motels and the dinosaurs – Those were the fun things, the landmarks that everybody remembered,” said Skrobut.


Flip through Elaine Ferraro’s Route 66 Trip Log from the early 1970s.

THE FUTURE OF THE HISTORIC ROUTE

Despite the fact that a culture has diminished with the construction of a new road system, passion for Route 66 still remains in some. The many businesses that were affected by the death of 66 seem to be making a comeback if they can. But a Route 66 comeback is likely to mean a slightly different nostalgia trip.

“Everybody that I met since I came here has pretty well moved somewhere else,” said Skrobut, meaning the people who take over Route 66 businesses are of a newer generation, slightly disconnected from the Route’s history.

Twin Arrows will be opening its Native American marketplace either this summer or next, though there is no set time line for the project.

Pine Springs won’t reopen at any point in the near future. According to Pritchett, the Land Department is no longer interested in commercial leasing. As long as they own the land, it will continue to decompose.

It’s decidedly unclear how Route 66 will be in the coming years as icons are reconstructed and re-marketed. But for Pine Springs and Twin Arrows, the glory days seem to remain in the past.

About The Author

Kyle Anderson
I'm a media and IT professional and JavaScript developer who worked most recently as an Associate Broadcast IT Engineer (Tier II) for CNN in Atlanta. One of my life-long goals is to help bridge data divides - missing connections between software systems and data stores - promoting inter-system communication and automation. Many of the projects described here reflect this goal in some way or another.