Bellemont – A Biker Friendly Ghost Town
Though Bellemont is pretty much a ghost town, it has recently seen a small revival as a “Biker Friendly Town.” Ironically, Bellemont was where part of the movie “Easy Rider” was filmed when outlaw bikers played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper stopped in front of the Pine Breeze Motel. Trying to rent a room, a door is cracked, but when the proprietor spies their motorcycles, the glowing “NO VACANCY” sign begins to blink at the motel. The riders end up continuing down Route 66 and sleeping in the woods.
Not so today. Bellemont is home to the Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson dealership and the Route 66 Roadhouse Bar & Grill, where bikers are welcomed with enthusiasm. It is on the 2.5 acres where the Pine Breeze Motel resides, that the Bar & Grill was built.
Though the Pine Breeze Motel sits idle with peeling white paint and grass creeping at its sides, the land surrounding it invites bikers to camp upon the property and enjoy the hospitality of the Roadhouse. Ironically, the original “NO VACANCY” sign of the Pine Breeze Motel is proudly displayed hanging above the pool tables at the Bar & Grill.
Bellemont began its life as a stop along the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad in 1882, where natural springs of the area provided water to the thirsty steam engines. Named for Belle Smith, the daughter of the superintendent of the railroad, Bellemont soon became lumbering center, complete with its own sawmill. In 1887, its first post office was established.
When Route 66 originally came through it was first built north of where I-40 is today. Later it was changed in 1931, taking a more southerly course.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the government built the Navajo Army Depot at Bellemont, where ammunition and explosives were stored and shipped when needed. Still a very small community, the town had little more than a store and a couple of gas stations. Later the Whiting Brothers established a gas station and motel in east Bellemont, of which, little is left today but a pile of rubble.
In 1982, Camp Navajo was taken over by the Arizona National Guard and is still utilized as a training facility.
The old Pine Breeze Inn and the remains of the Whiting Brothers Service Station and motel are on the south frontage road one mile east of the Harley Davidson dealership, on a cracked and overgrown piece of pavement.
Beyond Bellemont are two old alignments of Route 66. One is almost completely gone, but the other, can still be traveled during good conditions. Caution is advised as the road is narrow, winding, and mostly dirt and gravel. To access this old road, enter the north frontage road of I-40 which will take you through Brannigan Park, the highest point of Route 66, at almost 7,500 feet above seal level.
The route through Brannigan Park is the oldest alignment of Route 66, which presented many hazards to early travelers as they tried to climb over the pass. When the road was moved south in 1941, all businesses along this stretch closed, but the area today is a beautiful drive with grassy meadows, historic homes, and tall stands of pine and aspen.
Parks – Where Pines General Store Predates the Mother Road
Next along your travels, at exit #178 from I-40, is the old town of Parks, Arizona Originally the town began as nothing more than a depot in an old boxcar in 1898.
The depot also served as the post office which went by the name of Rhodes. However, this was short lived when the word “Rhodes” was crossed out and replaced with the word “Maine.” Primarily catering to the area’s lumber industry, the town soon sported a sawmill. When the first highway came through the area, the town relocated two miles to the east.+
In 1907 a new store opened in the town, which also served as the post office. The mercantile was owned by a man named Parks so the town’s name changed again, in honor of the storekeeper.
When a new highway was built from Parks to the Grand Canyon in 1921, another store opened with a gas station at the intersection of what would later become Route 66 and Spring Valley Road. This old store, which predates the Mother Road is called the Pines General Store and continues to serve travelers today.
Just east of Parks is a walking trail that was once the 1931 alignment. Along this trail can be seen an old springhouse that provided water to a tourist camp located here several decades ago.
The next piece of originalRoute 66is gravel so you might want to get back on I-40 until exit #171 where you can get off to see the Grand Canyon Deer Farm that has been in operation since 1969. Here, you can do more than just look at a fleeting deer running past the road, you can walk among them, touch them and feed them. More than just deer, you can also see peacocks, llamas, wallabies and a buffalo at the Deer Farm.