I’ve gotten my kicks on Route 66 more than once. And on a stretch of that magical highway that goes through Arizona, between Winslow and Flagstaff, lies two desolate, yet intriguing, ghost towns. One is called Twin Arrows, and the other is called Two Guns. The first time I passed these places, years ago, I thought, “There’s got to be a story behind this.” But I never got around to looking it up. But now I have a blog, in which I do all the looking up so that you don’t have to. So here goes.
Two Guns has a rather sad history. The Navajo murdered a group of Apaches that were hiding in a cave there. They smoked them out and shot them as they emerged. The 42 who did not emerge were asphyxiated. The place is called “death cave” to this day. Then a settler came along and built a store next to death cave.
Once the road that is now Route 66 was established, a restaurant and gas station were added. This was a good stopping place for tourists to gas up and eat. This place, which was also the best route across Canyon Diablo, had earning potential.
Enter a character named Harry “Two Guns” Miller. He leased some land and turned this place into a tourist trap. He added a zoo, tours of death cave, and sold the skulls of the Apaches therein as souvenirs. He also put in some fake ruins and a soda stand. He later shot his landlord, but was acquitted of the murder.
During his time at Two Guns, Miller, who liked to dress up as an Apache, complete with braids, was robbed of nearly everything in the trading post, bitten by a Gila monster, and mauled, twice, by mountain lions. Then the trading post burned down, and the widow of his dead landlord, Louise Cundiff, won a lawsuit to prove her ownership of the land. That’s when Miller finally gave up and left.
Cundiff and her new husband didn’t have much luck in Two Guns either. Route 66 was rerouted to the other side of the canyon, so they had to move the entire town with it so as not to lose the tourist trade. Still, Two Guns kind of fizzled out in the 1950’s and stayed that way until it was revitalized in 1960 by a guy who put in a new restaurant, gift shop, gas station and zoo.
But Interstate 40 was on its way, and that tended to kill just about everything on Route 66. Even though Two Guns had its own exit ramp, it finally became a ghost town when a huge inferno burned everything to the ground in 1971. You can still visit the cave and check out the sad ruins of this strange town.
To add to its odd history, in 2011, Russell Crowe purchased it to film a Westworld remake, but it seems that nothing has been done with it since.
Twin Arrows stands on the site of the Canyon Padre Trading Post, named after the nearby gorge, but that trading post did not really attract tourists until it was renamed Twin Arrows Trading Post, simply because a place called Two Guns was nearby. Eventually a gas station, diner and gift shop was added, and then two 25-foot arrows, made out of telephone poles, were placed by the highway.
Twin Arrows was also slowly killed by Interstate 40. It was finally abandoned in 1995. The area is owned by the Hopi tribe, and is on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. The Twin Arrows Navajo Gaming Casino opened just north of there in 2013, but the only thing left of the original town are a few gas pumps and a stove from the old diner.
The huge arrows were steadily decaying, so they were restored by the Hopi tribe and some Route 66 enthusiasts. Whether they symbolize warrior spirit or entrepreneurial spirit is up to individual interpretation. I just love that they’re out there, as I’m a public art lover.
So there you have it. Everything you wanted to know about Two Guns and Twin Arrows but were afraid to ask. If I ever pass that way again, I may just have to stop and explore. That would be a lot more fulfilling than just wondering.
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