Next to the Grand Canyon itself, this was the
most visited attraction in the state of Arizona. Still, with the completion
of I-40 and the bypass of Route 66 between Seligman and Kingman in 1978,
business plummeted. The caverns remained open but one by one, components
closed; first one restaurant and then the lounge. The service station and
garage followed. Upkeep and maintenance became a hit and miss proposition,
and the motel manifested this.
Fast forward a few years. The resurgent interest in Route 66 sparked an
international renaissance. Once again, traffic began to flow along Route 66.
The caverns resort complex, however, languished. There was a question if the
renewed interest in Route 66 and its roadside gems came too late.
Enter John McEnulty, a Los Angles printer with a passion for hiking into
Supai and the Grand Canyon. The ideally located Grand Canyon Caverns Inn
served as his base camp for these adventures. With each visit, he witnessed
the growing toll inflicted by indifferent owners, and years of neglect.
His attachment to the resort itself and fond memories of childhood vacations
that included stops at places just like this initially sparked the desire to
own the complex. The ever-growing popularity of Route 66 and the history of
the complexes association with that highway fueled thoughts that, perhaps, a
new lease on life for the resort might be possible.
With an infectious smile, investors, a passionate zeal, and the help of his
son Sean, McEnulty began turning back the hands of time while commuting to
Los Angles to fulfill the obligations of the regular job. As renovations
commenced, John set his sites on 1964, which was the year he selected for
freezing the resort in time.
week John commutes to the caverns. Every week a renovation turns back the
hands of time. Each week the addition of a metal sculpture, a well-worn old
car that fosters the illusion of this being a time worn roadside relic, an
addition to the eclectic museum, or a change in the menu reflects his
unleashed imagination and unbridled enthusiasm for the old resort, and
breathes new life into the caverns complex. All of this, however, is only
the beginning of a new chapter at Grand Canyon Caverns.
The recent discovery of new levels in the caverns, and plans to open them
for tours in the fall of 2016 are but one of many exciting new developments.
Trail rides, wagon rides, disc golf course, ghost walk tours in search of
Walter Peck, and the quirky but challenging miniature golf course among the
towering dinosaurs and the golf cart graveyard are another. Likewise, with
the fully updated and renovated RV park that recently garnered accolades
from Good Sam, or the Caverns Suite, the world’s deepest hotel room.
The ever-increasing popularity of Route 66 and McEnulty’s visionary
stewardship ensure that the Grand Canyon Caverns will become a destination
for a new generation of enthusiasts. That includes the bicyclists taking
advantage of Adventure Cyclist recent designation of the double six as a
bicycle friendly highway, or the electric vehicle owners who stop to charge
batteries while touring the caverns as they venture toward Kingman, home of
the world’s first electric vehicle museum.
Grand Canyon Caverns today is a delightful time capsule where the past,
present, and even the future of Route 66 flow together seamlessly. It is
also refreshing little oasis at the heart of a vacation paradise, and a
wonderful place for beginning an adventure along the 160-miles of smiles
that is Route 66 in western Arizona where the longest uninterrupted segment
of that storied highway flows to the Colorado River.
So, the next time you motor west, and choose the highway that is the best,
add a stop at the caverns to your itinerary. And if the schedule allows,
check into the Caverns Inn, get your key, and step back to 1964 as you
settle into a clean, comfortable pleasant little time capsule for a restful
Hinckley-Legends Of America, 2015
About the Author:
Jim Hinckley is an award winning author and photographer, and an
official contributor to Legends Of America through a partnership developed
in October 2012. Hinckley is a former Associate Editor of Cars and Parts
Magazine, and author of multiple books, including several on Route 66.
His latest "The Route 66 Encyclopedia" is available with autograph via
Route 66 Chronicles, Jim's blog.
on Legends Of America