Across the Painted Desert on Route 66

Also at this exit is the old Sanders Bridge on an abandoned section of Claymine Road (former US 66). Build in 1923, this Pratt pony truss bridge over Puerco River is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though closed to vehicle traffic today, pedestrians may still use the bridge.

As of the 2010 census, Sanders had a population of 630.


Just about seven miles beyond Sanders is the small town of Chambers. Established as a railroad siding by the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, the origin of its name has two possible sources. One claim says that it was named for Edward Chambers, a vice president for the railroad. The second claim is that it was named for Charles Chambers who established a trading post here sometime prior to 1888. In the early days of the railroad, J.L. Hubbell, who established the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, some 50 miles to the north, maintained a warehouse here to send and receive freight.

In 1907, a post office was established in the settlement, and the following year, Wells Fargo established a station. By 1913, Chambers was a stop on the cross-regional road that became the National Old Trails Highway and then Route 66. As homesteaders proliferated in the surrounding area, Chambers became a central place with a public school by 1916. By the 1920s, Chambers had also become a railroad shipping point for feeder stock – cattle and sheep – from Hubbell’s and other trading posts to the north as well as ranchers and homesteaders in the surrounding area.

In 1926, the name of Chambers was changed to Halloysite for a number of years because of a clay mine extracting that mineral nearby. Halloysite is similar to kaolinite and is used in porcelain china. The name was changed back to Chambers on June 1, 1930. From 1960-76 wells extracted helium from beneath the surface near Chambers.

Like the other settlements along this route, Chambers has boasted a number of trading posts throughout the years, because of its varied central place functions, early ones being sidelines of ranchers and later ones emphasizing sales of Indian souvenirs to tourists.

The unincorporated community of Chambers is located at the junction of Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 191.

An interesting side trip can be taken here to the Hubbell Trading Post. With this regions’ long history of trading posts, a visit to the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site will give you look at one of the oldest trading posts in the Southwest. It is still in operation today, providing all manner of local Native American product. It is located about 50 miles north of Chambers — follow US 191 north to Ganado, Arizona.

Wide Ruins Trading Post, Chambers, Arizona

Wide Ruins Trading Post, Chambers, Arizona

If you take this side trip to the north, you will pass by a place called Wide Ruins, some 17 miles north of Chambers. This was the former site of an impressive Chacoan-style ruin named Kin Tiel. Covering about 30 acres, the Zuni pueblo was among the largest pueblo sites in the Southwest. Unfortunately, he walls of Kin Teel, some of which were twelve feet tall, were pulled down to extract building stones for the construction of a trading post about 1895.

When a few rooms were excavated in 1929 by Haury and Hargrave for the National Geographic Society, it was determined that the outer walls and terraced dwellings looked down on open courts. From the beams in the kiva roofs archeologists estimated these rooms were built between 1264 and 1285 A.D., indicating Pueblo III and early Pueblo IV periods of occupation. Unfortunately, in about 1895, these walls were pulled down to extract building stones for the construction of a trading post. A trading post remained here for decades until it closed and was also torn down in the 1980’s. Sadly, there is nothing that remains of this once magnificent pueblo.

Continue your journey along Route 66 just a short seven miles to Navajo, at Exit 325.


This small town was first called Navajo Springs because of seeps in a meadow that provided a good grazing spot for travelers’ horses. The site was first noted by white men when Lieutenant Amiel W. Whipple passed through in 1853 and observed a “fine pool of water which breaks through the surface of the valley”. Four years later, in September, 1857, when Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald was scouting for a wagon road through the area, he found Whipple’s trail and “Navajo Springs”. It soon developed as a rest stop for travelers and in December, 1863, the first gubernatorial party for Arizona crossed from New Mexico to Arizona. However, as they were unsure as to where the border between the states was, they proceeded to Navajo Springs, where on December 29th, they held a ceremony to organize the new government. The first territorial governor of Arizona, John Noble Goodwin, was sworn in by Richard Cunningham McCormick, the first secretary of the territory and Goodwin’s eventual successor. Raising the flag and cheering, they dined on fresh antelope steaks as well as champagne they had brought for the occasion. Thus was the territory of Arizona established.

Painted Desert Trading Post Ruins

Painted Desert Trading Post Ruins

The Beale Wagon Road, a precursor of the transcontinental railroad, built through the area in 1882. At the insistence of the Santa Fe Railway company, the Navajo were forcibly moved away from the Navajo Springs area, and by the 1930s, all allotted lands within the area were extinguished and the lands forcibly vacated. In the meantime, Route 66 was built through Navajo Springs, which was later bypassed by Interstate 40. But by the late 1980s, the lands were once again occupied by Navajo Indians, many of whom were “refugees” from the NavajoHopi land dispute. Today, the community is almost exclusively Native American, and a permit is required from the Navajo Nation for off-road travel in the area.

Continue on I-40 from Navajo. Five miles to the west is an old alignment of Route 66 at Exit 320 (Pinta Rd.). Situated on the east of the Petrified Forest, the road dead ends and travelers will have to return to Exit 320 to continue the journey. However, many Route 66 enthusiasts enjoy taking a trek along this road to see the ruins of the old Painted Desert Trading Post.

Heading west, between the towns of Navajo and Holbrook, you’ll pass 200-million-year-old fossils in Petrified Forest National Park, as well as the striped desert vistas of Arizona’s postcard-perfect Painted Desert.

People of the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest

Paleo People

Paleo People

This region was first inhabited by the Paleo People from 13,500 to 8000 B.C. By the end of the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers roamed the Southwest. During this time, the region was cooler with a grassland environment. People gathered wild plants for food and hunted extinct forms of bison and other large herd animals. The nomads used a device called an atlatl to throw their spears and darts. With their distinctive elegant fluting, the projectile points of these ancient people help define the Clovis and Folsom Cultures. Folsom and Clovis camps have been found within Petrified Forest National Park as well as fluted projectile points made of petrified wood.

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