From Albuquerque, we headed west into Arizona. It was my first time visiting the state, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. Turns out “fascinating stuff” is what.
We pulled into Meteor Crater RV Park west of Winslow, eager to see all we could. For the next several days, I gazed out the window by my desk at the remains of a building on a private gravel road that was once part of Route 66. I longed to get up close and take photos, but the “keep out” signs did their job.
With help from Google, I found out we were only one highway exit east of Two Guns.
Two Guns Ruins and Graffiti
This fascinating Route 66 ghost town can be accessed by anyone.
Presumably trespassing is prohibited, as it’s on private land, but there are no notices or gates. This is all that’s left of the former caretaker’s house.
The prevalence of graffiti proved we weren’t the first visitors.
The setting was definitely borderline horror movie.
But sometimes, it was poignant.
Other times, it was funny.
One thing’s for certain: the combination of crumbling buildings, desert scenery and street art is utterly captivating.
Two Massacres and a Tourist Trap
There’s more to Two Guns than an abandoned gas station and campground.
There’s a legend that goes like this. In the late 1800s, some Apache massacred a Navajo encampment in the area, taking three surviving girls prisoner. The Navajo sent out a party to find the offending Apache and seek revenge.
They searched and searched in vain until a scout felt hot air and heard conversation rising from the ground. He had discovered a vent that led to a cave off the Canyon Diablo where the Apache were hiding.
The Navajo killed the Apache scouts at the cave’s mouth, and then trapped the remaining Apache with a fire.
The Navajo told the Apache they would have mercy on them if they released the three girls they had taken prisoner. But the Apache had already killed the girls, so the fire raged on.
In the end, 42 Apache were asphyxiated in the cave under Two Guns — now called the Apache Death Cave.
In the 1920s, a man named Henry Miller bought the land. He figured its gruesome history and convenient location on Route 66 would make it a great tourist stop. (It’s also possible he, or someone else around the same time, made up the whole tale to attract curious visitors.) Up went a gas station, restaurant, gas station and even a tiny zoo.
He capitalized on the Apache Death Cave tale by giving tours, selling skulls as souvenirs and building cliff dwelling ruins to look like pueblos.
Once I-40 was built, the town was bypassed by most traffic, with nothing more to than a highway exit to suggest its existence. The Route 66 tourist town quickly fell into obscurity.
Today, it’s an eerie place to photograph and explore.
Best seen in the early morning and at sunset, make sure you leave before dark. The road is full of potholes, it’s easy to get lost around the canyon, and some believe there’s bad mojo in the air.
Please make sure you are careful all over the site, especially around the canyon and caves. There are sheer dropoffs, broken glass, rusted metal, etc.
But if you do stick around for sunset, you’ll be rewarded with this gorgeous view of snowy Humphreys Peak in nearby Flagstaff.
Have you visited any awesome ghost towns? Share in the comments.