Route 66: The Painted Desert Trading Post!

Well, we’re two thirds of the way through our trip down Route 66.

Today’s episode sees us depart New Mexico and set course for Holbrook, Arizona.  Sure, we’ll stop in and see Fort Courage — an abandoned tourist trap replica fort built to resemble the one used on the 1960s TV series “F-Troop” — but the real crown jewel of this day’s journey is the Painted Desert Trading Post.

The “PDTP” has an interesting history.  It was opened in the early 1940s by Dotch and Alberta Windsor along Route 66 and it served as a haven for the travellers crossing the desert of Arizona.  It never had electricity or telephone services so all the appliances ran off wind power.  There used to be gas pumps out front which were the old gravity feed style.

As is the story for many of these places, when the Interstate (in the case, I-40) was built and bypassed the old route, the customers disappeared and the business was closed.  The PDTP would sit, essentially untouched, for the next 50+ years.

This stretch of Route 66 was quite hard to access for a long time.  The west end of the road used to go right through into Petrified Forest National Park, but it was blocked off and is no longer connected, so it is a “go out the way you came in” stretch of road. 

(Side note:  From Petrified Forest National Park, you can see where the old roadbed sits and connected to the modern roads, complete with a line of lonely telephone poles heading off to the horizon.  This is an area that really deserved more exploration time.)

As well, the land where the PDTP is situated is used for cattle grazing so getting onto the old Route 66 alignment required a bit of luck (finding the gate open), bravery (opening the gate and going in), or homework (tracking down the owner).  Despite — or maybe because of — these obstacles, the PDTP became a bit of a holy grail for roadies.

Today, the situation is a bit better.  A group of Route 66 enthusiasts formed a co-operative and purchased the land.  They installed a bluetooth padlock on the gate.  Today getting access is much easier.  You simply arrive at the gate, call one of the phone numbers listed and speak with a co-op member.  They will send you a link which allows you to donate $10 to their cause.  Once the money is confirmed, they send you another link, this time to an app for the lock.  They grant you access for a set amount of time, you hold your phone next to the lock and it opens.  Drive in, lock the gate behind you, and go on and check out the PDTP.

 You will see this whole process in the video above.

Since we made this video in early October, the Painted Desert Trading Post Co-Op has made several changes to the building.  They have cleaned up more of the site, including grading the land around the building and installing a fence to keep the cattle out.  They have added a flagpole and also stabilized the sagging corners of the building.

I am of two minds about these changes.  On one hand, I feel some of these improvements are too modern and take away from the rustic and remote charm of the area.  Of course, it makes me happy to know the building is being preserved and will continue to draw in Route 66 roadies from around the world for many years to come.  Make no mistake, this building was on a path towards disappearing forever without their help.

Hope you are enjoying the series!

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