Across the Painted Desert on Route 66

In 2015 we journeyed the Mother Road through New Mexico and Arizona, making a stop to take in the wonders of the Painted Desert. 

A little snow in the Painted Desert

A little snow in the Painted Desert

Sites & Information:

Lupton

Allantown

Houck

Querino Canyon Bridge

Sanders

Chambers

Side Trip: Hubbell Trading Post

Navajo

People of the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest

 

As your Mother Road journey begins to cross Arizona you will travel through Navajo country, the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and more than a dozen small towns, of which, many are little more than a trading post, and of others, nothing but a ghost town.

Through this section that you can truly get a feel of what Route 66 might have been like long ago — the small towns are still small towns, many of the Indians continue to make their living from the trading posts, and though not always in very good shape, original sections of the old pavement lie intact upon this section of Arizona’s high desert.

Beautiful vermilion cliffs surround you on both sides of the highway as you enter Arizona, setting the tone for the highly colored drive you are about to take.

The original road from Lupton to Chambers closely follows I-40, mostly to the north of the interstate. There are pieces through here where the original road is in bad shape and turns to gravel or dirt. From Chambers to Holbrook, the old road simply disappears or is on private property. There are exits from the interstate to the sites you may want to see through the Painted Desert, so your best bet might be to stay on I-40 from Lupton west to Holbrook.

Lupton

Trading Posts in Lupton, Arizona

Trading Posts in Lupton, Arizona

Situated right at the New Mexico-Arizona border, Lupton, also known as Painted Cliffs, invites you with high sandstone bluffs, where statuesque figures of deer, bear, and eagles peer down from above. These beautiful cliffs,  formed from 60 to 200 million years ago, typify the stark, lonely beauty of the Indian country to the north.

Immediately, you are surrounded by a number of trading posts at the base of the cliffs, selling all manner of Indian treasures. Several of these have been in business since the birth of Route 66, including the Tee-Pee Trading Post. Lupton is also home to the Painted Cliffs Welcome Center, a great visitors’ stop on your way into the state.

Known as Tesesi’ani’ (Setting Rock) and Tsedijooli (Round Rock) to the Navajo, Lupton has been inhabited on intermittent basis for more than 200 years. Prior to the establishment of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, it was a central point of departure for military expeditions and for supply routes.

In 1863 and 1864, the United States government, as a part of an Indian removal effort, forced the Navajo to depart from the area and relocated them to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. This evacuation is known as The Long Walk of the Navajo, or the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo. The government’s objective was to “Americanize” the Navajo. However, the site the government chose was not adequate for agriculture and the entire idea, a miserable failure. In 1868, the Navajo were finally acknowledged sovereignty and allowed to return to their lands.

The first trading posts at Lupton were established during the decade following the Navajo’s return from Fort Sumner. In 1905, Lupton became the site of the first railroad station established by the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in Arizona. The station was named for G.W. Lupton, a train master in Winslow, Arizona. Before long, more people settled in the area and more trading posts were established. A post office was established in May, 1917 with Joseph D. Gorman as the first postmaster.

At about that same time, the National Old Trails Highway was blazed, and in 1926, Route 66 would follow most of the same path. This created tourism opportunities in Lupton and the town sprouted several gas stations and a store. Today, Lupton is called home to just about 25 people.

Just about another eight miles will bring you to the very small community of Allantown.

Allantown

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Like Lupton and other towns in the vicinity, the area around Allantown was long inhabited by the Navajo people. The town got its start when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad was built in 1881 and 1882. It was named for construction superintendent Allan Johnson. One of the first non-Indian residents in the area was a man named Curt Cronemeyer, who established a trading post some distance south of the railroad tracks. Cronemeyer had two Navajo wives, and the land upon which his trading post sat may have been allotted to one of them. Cronemeyer, of German descent, was an interesting character, leaving an impression upon those who lived in the area. Said to have been a notorious ladies’ man, the impression he left on some, was not always a good one. In June, 1915, he, along with another man named McDonald were robbed, shot, and killed at the trading post. According to Navajo oral history, the 49-year-old trader was confronted at his store by a number of Navajo men, accusing him of flirting with their wives. Cronemeyer protested his innocence, but the Navajos were having none of it and one of them shot him. However, newspaper articles later related that the Gallup, New Mexico sheriff was tracking a group of Mexican bandits to El Paso, Texas, where they eventually confessed to the murder and were apprehended.

Allantown, established as a railroad siding, never grew very large. It obtained a post office in 1924 and when Route 66 came through, boasted a gas station, grocery store, curios shop, and cafe. However, it’s post office closed in 1930. The original townsite, next to the railroad, was located south of I-40 about a mile south of where remaining businesses are located today. Before I-40 barreled through, visitors along this stretch of the road associated Allantown with a large geodesic dome structure that housed Indian City. Though the domed building is gone, folks can still visit Indian City.

Houck

Just a short three miles to the west, west-bound Route 66 travelers will arrive in the small town of Houck. This small city of a little more than 1,000 people is called Ma’ii Tó by the Navajo, meaning Coyote Water, which is the name of a local spring. Houck was founded by an express rider carrying the mail between Prescott, Arizona and Fort Wingate, New Mexico. This route was an old indigenous travel corridor that became important to colonizers in Fort Sumner, New Mexico when the U.S. Government began to remove the area Navajo people. The first non-indigenous route in this corridor was a wagon road on the south side of the Puerco River that connected Fort Wingate, New Mexico with Fort Whipple, Arizona. This road became  the “Overland Stage Road” and was in regular use by the 1870s. It intersected with the 1858 Beale Wagon Road farther west at Navajo Springs.

James D. Houck, Sheriff, Sheepman, and Trader

James D. Houck, Sheriff, Sheepman, and Trader

In 1874, the mail carrier, James D. Houck, built a trading post on the south side of the Puerco River, where he also had a water tank, hence, the post was called Houck’s Tank. The main section of the post was an oblong red sandstone building put together with mud and mortar. He ran sheep in the area in addition to operating the trading post. In 1880, William Walker and William Smith were murdered by Native Americans here. If his nearby neighbors didn’t already know, violence appeared to follow Houck as he would make a reputation for himself in years to come.

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