Ghost Town Stretch of Route 66
Just west the Grand Canyon Caverns, old Route 66 meanders into the lands of the Hualapai (“Wall-ah-pie”) Indians, a reservation that encompasses more than a million acres, including 108 miles of the Colorado River and a portion of the Grand Canyon. A beautiful stretch through the
high-desert Hualapai Valley, the old pavement runs closely parallel to the Santa Fe Railroad tracks, passing through the ghost (or near-ghost) towns of Peach Springs, the tribal headquarters of the Hualapai Indians and the only access to the west rim of the Grand Canyon; Truxton, which was born specifically to cater to Route 66 travelers; Valentine, the home of an old Indian School; and Hackberry, which got its start as a mining town.
Peach Springs – Home of the Hualapai Indians
The “People of the Tall Pine” have been occupying these lands for more than 1,400 years, where the west rim of the Grand Canyon and the river below, has long since provided food sources and medicinal needs to the tribe. It was from the Haulapai’s west rim, that the earliest visitors accessed the wild Colorado River below.
Euro-Americans became aware of the springs during explorations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beginning in 1858, emigrants along the Beale Wagon Road increasingly used Peach Springs as a rest stop and watering place.
In 1866, the U.S. government granted the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later known as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad) a right-of-way to build a transcontinental railroad, and construction through northern Arizona was completed in 1883. With its abundant water, the location quickly became a “division point” for the railroad. The station was named “Peach Springs”, for the many peach trees found around the spring that fed their steam engines.
Soon, a lively railroad town sprouted along the tracks at Peach Springs. A post office was established in 1887. It didn’t take long before the settlement reportedly had ten saloons but no churches or schools. The ease of access to the Grand Canyon via Peach Springs led to the construction of a roundhouse, several shops, a stagecoach line, and a Fred Harvey restaurant and hotel for tourists. The initial period of prosperity lasted for approximately two decades.
At the turn of the century, the railroad constructed the Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railway via Williams to the Grand Canyon. The decline in tourist traffic through Peach Springs led to a decline in the town. In 1907, the railroad moved its division point to Seligman, leaving Peach Springs as only a minor stop along the tracks.
But, Peach Springs was saved with the “Good Roads” movement of the 1910s, which led to the establishment of the National Old Trails Road. This led to a new prosperity for the town. In 1917, a trading post was opened, which fared very well. In 1926, the National Old Trails Road became part of Route 66. With the widening and improving of the road, traffic through the town steadily increased and business thrived. Several cafes, motor courts and tourist businesses were established to service the many travelers of the road. The original Peach Tree Trading Post did so well, that the original frame building was razed and a new stone building was erected.
Unfortunately, when Route 66 was replaced by I-40, Peach Springs, once again declined. One local business owner recalled, “Before the bypass, Route 66 was almost like a Big City street. After completion of Interstate 40, it was ghostly quiet.”
Today, little is left of Route 66 era landmarks, but, the 1917 trading post building still stands, serving as a tribal administration building. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
In recent years, Peach Springs has seen a large comeback, due to the promotions of the Hualapai tribe and their exclusive access to one of the last undeveloped sections of the Grand Canyon. Visitors can tour the Grand Canyon West Rim on the Hualapai Reservation, stay at the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs, visit an authentic Native American village, and take a walk on well-known Grand Canyon Skywalk — a glass bridge that juts out across the canyon, providing views some 4,000 feet down to the canyon floor.
Truxton – A “New” Ghost Town
Just a few more miles down the highway, you will soon reach the town of Truxton, a relatively “new” town by Arizona standards. Unlike most cities along the Mother Road, this one has no history prior to Route 66. In fact, it started only as a café and a service station in October 1951, when Donald Dilts built the services to accommodate the many wayfarers along the road. Soon other businesses sprung up competing with Dilts, but sadly, the only ones that remain open today are the nine room Frontier Motel and the Truxton Station.
After a half century of operation, the Frontier Motel’s classic neon sign was beginning to show a lot of wear. However, thanks to the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program and the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, the sign has been rescued to shine brightly for Route 66 generations yet to come.
Upon leaving Truxton, you can see an older alignment of the Mother Road on the south side of the highway. Between mile markers 89 and 88 you can also get a fleeting glimpse of an old Route 66 bridge which is still used today by locals.