I’ve driven Interstate 40, which follows historic Route 66, many times. In the Southwest particularly, there are so many abandoned places—old tourist stops, defunct gas stations, sometimes whole towns. I’ve never stopped to investigate these places, but my son has a great interest in doing exactly this.
Yesterday, we visited a couple of these abandoned locations. We stopped first at Two Guns, a ghost town with a long, intriguing history, perched on the edge of Diablo Canyon, west of Flagstaff. There’s a cave here, known as “the Apache death cave” where, the story goes, a group of Apache hid to escape their Navajo pursuers. The Navajo discovered them, built a fire at the cave entrance, and asphyxiated the 42 warriors inside.
Much later, a tourist attraction consisting of enclosures for wild animals, and accommodations offering food and drinks for tourists was constructed adjacent to the cave. Years later, a gas station, KOA campground, restaurant, and another zoo were added. The decline and demise began in the early 70’s. Now all that’s left is the ruin of a once thriving business community on old Route 66.
Next was Meteor City, a few miles east. This is so representative of the outlandish degrees to which early entrepreneurs went in order to attract travelers on Route 66. A stone’s throw from the still-thriving Meteor Crater attraction, Meteor City offered a wide range of Southwestern paraphernalia and souvenirs. The dome in the photograph replaced an earlier version burned in a fire. Signage among all the graffiti on the site suggests that there might be efforts to resuscitate this dead attraction.
What I became aware of as I stood amid the ruins of places that once pulsed with life is the fragility of all our enterprise. All that we are, all that we build, all that we dream will pass away. What endures is the land itself, this beautiful tender land.