A Few Local Pages Out of "Weird Arizona"
Unusual Places On and Off the Beaten Path
If we actually had a coffee table, Weird Arizona is a big, thick book that would be sitting on it. Instead, it's tucked in a chairside rack for easy access here in our Flagstaff, Arizona, home. It's a book we refer to often for interesting and somewhat "different" destinations to explore, as well as more information about familiar yet somewhat strange or fabled locations in our own backyard.
Here, I'd like to take you to a few of the unique sites highlighted in the book. If you live in or ever come to Arizona for a visit and enjoy exploring offbeat places and learning some of the lesser-known facts about others that, on the surface, may not look so unusual, I recommend flipping through all 246 pages for some great ideas and fun, sometimes freaky tales ... most of which are actually true.
Image Credits: Unless otherwise noted, the photos on this page were taken by me, Deb Kingsbury, or my husband, Jeremy (who kindly gave me permission to use them without any coercion on my part).
This is Where These Pages Come From
This "Weird" book has its roots on the other side of the county in New Jersey, where original authors Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman started out with a home-grown newsletter about the bizarre and off-beat in their own home state. This newsletter went out only about once a year to family and friends and friends of friends. But it became so popular that it eventually became a full-fledged magazine and, from there -- twelve years and many issues later -- the first book was born. You guessed it: "Weird New Jersey."
Then came their book that spanned the whole country. But there was just way too much odd stuff to be contained in a single volume, so Mark and Mark set out to document weirdness state by state. Of course, it's a big country and a lot of interesting places for just two guys to cover, so they hooked up with other adventurous writers to help.
In this book focused on the Grand Canyon State, you'll find places that are notable for their local legends while others are home to unexplained phenomena, bizarre beasts, or ghostly inhabitants. There are funky, personalized properties, roadside oddities, and abandoned places.
Needless to say, if you set out to visit everyplace in this guide, you'll be busy traveling around Arizona for a long time. Or just sit back and enjoy a good read and do some virtual armchair traveling around the state.
Flipping to page 226.....
An Abandoned Roadside Oddity - A strange stop along the old Mother Road
It was once a trading post with cottages for rent and a free campground. It was the site of a post office and a long stone building dubbed first as a fort and later a lodge. It was a tourist attraction along Route 66 with a wild animal zoo and guided tours of bogus ancient cliff dwellings. It was also the site of murders and mass execution, maulings, and other misfortunes.
Nowadays, it's a crumbling collection of spread out structures, bridges, cages and enclosures, littered with broken glass, some interesting "historical trash," and lots of graffiti. But it's actually quite interesting and held our attention for a couple hours' worth of exploring.
Having undergone a few name changes in its day, the odd complex eventually known as Two Guns began in the 1920s when when the Cundiffs, a homesteading couple, opened their business. This was made possible by a bridge that had been built across Canyon Diablo in the mid-1910s.
Then a wanna-be Apache named Harry "Chief Crazy Thunder" Miller came along, signed a lease with the Cundiffs, and added his fort-turned-lodge, the zoo (a couple inhabitants of which eventually almost killed him on two separate occasions), and his brand new "ancient ruins" to the mix, with authentically fake Native American merchandise for sale. Two Guns was really on a roll back then.
In the late 1930s, after Miller's departure, the zoo and the rest of the odd complex was eventually rebuilt by the former Mrs. Cundiff and her new husband after Route 66 was re-routed to the other side of Canyon Diablo.The zoo was promptly closed. Then, after Interstate 40 came along at much higher speeds, the property was sold and a series of managers came and went, culminating with a big fire in 1971 when the whole complex went up in flames, coincidentally just before I-40 was set to open with an exit just for the town of Two Guns.
A relic from the Two Guns Kamp Ground, now a favorite canvas of graffiti "artists"
The Dark Side of Two Guns
Wild animals, lodging, and supposedly native wares weren't the only things that drew passing tourists to make a stop at Two Guns. The legend of the nearby "Apache Death Cave" was another point of nearby interest, located on the other side of Canyon Diablo from the tiny "town." It was in that cave that the mass execution of 40 Apaches and their horses had taken place about half a century before the Cundiffs had set up shop.
As the story goes, this band of Apaches had recently raided Navajo living in the area, destroying two villages in a single day. Navajos scouts had followed the Apaches back to Canyon Diablo and discovered them hiding in a narrow cave when the scouts felt warm air coming up through a fissure and then saw two Apaches step out of the mouth of cave below. The Navajo killed those two, then lit a fire at the entrance and extinguished the rest of the marauding band.
Pictured here is what you'd see today of what Chief Crazy Thunder (Harry Miller) had renamed Mystery Cave and the structures he told visitors were ancient pueblos and ramps above the entry. Miller's construction activities above that fragile area caused the cave to collapse.
A Hodgepodge of Ruins - Various states of decay, destruction, and graffitied decoration
Learn more about the ghost town of Two Guns on GhostTowns.com.
Ahead on page 232....
Another Relic from the Heyday of Route 66 - A piece of crumbling history
Well, except for the two 20-foot-tall arrows. Those are now being maintained by a group of volunteers, who've occasionally been putting a fresh coat of paint on those oversized symbols of Hopi warrior pride since first coming to the rescue in 2009, eleven years after this once popular roadside stop called Twin Arrows shut down. The rest, however, is slowly being eaten away by time and erosion, as it sits out there in the open desert with the San Francisco peaks looming gray in the distance.
The restored twin arrows
One of the Best Little Stops on the Interstate
Built in the late '40s, this roadside oddity is located 20 miles east of Flagstaff and 35 miles from that famous corner in Winslow, Arizona.
These days, the trading post that once sold cactus candy, jackalope postcards, and genuine Native American souvenirs (made in Japan) is a weathered, peeling shell of a blocky building next to the decaying box of the pre-fab eatery known as Valentine Diner, where you could sit yourself on one of 8 stools and order up some roasted jackrabbit ears or tongue of lizard from the gag menu but end up with a hearty breakfast of steak and eggs or a burger and fries instead.
Then you could top off your tank for $1.36 per gallon -- the last posted price when the place shut down in 1995 -- and be on your way. Originally, that would have been via Old Route 66 until the interstate was constructed in the '70s, and the abandonment and decline of the Mother Road began and Twin Arrows along with it. The "best little top on the interstate" struggled and changed hands a number of times before it finally closed down for better or worse, despite having its very own exit off of I-40.
If you'd have stopped by in the early years the new millennium, you would have seen two splintering, leaning posts sticking out of concrete slabs. The arrow heads had finally decayed and disappeared, and one was missing its fletching. But thanks to the continuing care of about 60 good samaritans from all over, those famous leaning landmarks are once again complete and good as new.
A New Twin Arrows
Used to be there wasn't much else to see or do right around the dilapidated former trading post or those two huge, red and gold arrows, but now there's a place nearby where you can spend -- and maybe win or lose -- some money, see a show, eat, drink, be merry and sleep it off. It's the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, off of Exit 219 on I-40 ... the same exit as the original Twin Arrows but on the other side of the freeway.
The Museum Club
If you're heading west from Two Guns and then Twin Arrows, flip back to page 188 for our next stop....
A Haunted Hang-Out Locally Known as "The Zoo" -- Kick up your heels as the ghosts look on
In 1931 in the Flagstaff area, you may have seen the following advertisement: "Wanted: freaks, antique guns, and prehistoric Indian curious." That ad was placed by Dean Eldredge, who was hoping to add to collection of novelties -- 6-legged and 2-headed farm animals among them -- for his roadside taxidermy museum.
Today, few of Eldredge's stuffed oddities remain, but the building that housed his gallery is still going strong, the entrance flanked by the double trunks of a huge ponderosa pine that was split by lightning around the turn of the 20th century and continued to grow.
This photo is in the public domain.
Now a Popular Local Watering Hole
With live music, lots of two-stepping and line dancing, and off-track betting too
This huge log cabin of a roadhouse along a remaining stretch of Route 66 in Flagstaff is now a popular honky-tonk, with live music, well-attended karaoke, lots of two-steppin' and line dancin', and plenty of spirits to keep everyone singing and dancing, though not always successful at avoiding the large tree in the middle of the floor.
Between the time of Eldredge and the establishment now called the Museum Club and locally known as "The Zoo" (for obvious reasons if you stop by), the building was home to a roadhouse that served some of the country's first post-Prohibition legal alcohol following that 14-year dry spell.
Eventually, a man named Don Scott bought the Museum Club in 1963, and things went well -- very well, with some of the biggest names in country music playing there to capacity crowds -- until 1973, when Don's wife, Thorna, tragically died when she fell down the stairs that lead from the main floor to the upstairs living area. Her extremely depressed husband later took his own life in front of the fireplace you'll see when you walk in the front door.
The stories, sightings and sounds, and even some reportedly disturbing interactions with the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Scott, still thought by some -- make that many, including a long-time bartender -- to inhabit the premises.
So, consider stopping for a cold beverage, even on a quiet afternoon, take a look around, and ask the person behind the bar to do a little ghostly storytelling. You can tell them I sent you.
Visit the Museum Club website for more information and a calendar of events.
Pay Virtual Visits to these Three Unusual Locations
Let a most unusual character show you around Two Guns, ignore the "No Trespassing" State Land Trust signs at Twin Arrows, and go ghost-hunting at the Museum Club with Teresa Koch.
Visit Some of the Other Odd, Unusual, and Interesting Places in "Weird Arizona" -- A sampling of the other destinations featured in the guide
From ancient ruins to burros run amok to an other-worldly rock garden, there are all kinds of funky and fascinating places to read about and maybe go see (or least pass by and maybe stop for a few) in this state of ours that ranges from scorching desert and canyons to snow-capped peaks and alpine forests.
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
A mysterious, 600-year-old tower of mud
- Hole in the Rock
Once the home of Stone Age families, located in Papago Park in Phoenix
- Meteor Crater
A very big, very deep hole in the ground created about 50,000 years ago
- Oatman, AZ: Home of the wild burros
See a short video of the wild burros roaming this old mining town on part of what's left of Route 66. The burros are descendants of those left behind when no longer needed by the miners. Better drive slow; the burros have the right-of-way.
- Boothill Graveyard
Located in the Tombstone, "the town too tough to die," this graveyard of the Wild West is the resting place of outlaws and their victims, those who were hanged (legally and otherwise), and many of the town's early citizens.
- Louis Lee's Rock Garden
Though not open to the public, you can view much of this unusual place from the street. This over-the-top, improvised "rock garden" took half a lifetime to create, with its maze of small rocks, knickknacks, bottles, license plates, and other bric-a-b
More Weird Places to Go
Yes, it's true; there are weird, whacky, unusual places all over the country, In fact, I think there's a "Weird" travel guide for just about every state or region in the U.S. and even one specifically for Las Vegas, which we all know is an unusual place.
Here are two of those books covering some of the weirdest of the weird from coast to coast, border to border.
This is the second book Mark and Mark put together after covering their home state of New Jersey.
And there's much more where all of that unusual stuff came from, this time with a little extra help from another friend.
© 2013 Deb Kingsbury