The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

A chapter in an occasional series of posts documenting a Spring 2021 road trip.

Today in America time is money and very few have time and money to call their own. If you work, the chances are that work won’t bless you with the time or the money to take the great American road trip. Whether by personal choice or the pressures of life, the destination has become the ambition and the journey an impediment. Indeed, the road trip is becoming a lost piece of the American jigsaw puzzle. ~ The author.

“The best travel throws sameness aside for a spell and seeks reprieve from the monotony of undeviation and bends the straight lines of our days into the thrill of unexpectation.” ~ Nathaniel Trenant in O America, by William Least Heat-Moon

May, 23rd, 2021. Flagstaff, Arizona.

The wind that’s followed us for days has finally blown itself out or, as my dad used to say, “blown this town,” whipping somewhere east where it can torment travelers in New Mexico and Texas.

It’s early morning, I’m up, Cora’s still asleep, and Lexi is bouncing around the room wanting to go out. She’s telling me that there’s adventures out there to be found.

It’s the usual routine every morning since we left home; I search around a dark room for my clothes, while trying to keep Lexi quiet, and then once I’ve collected everything I get dressed in the light of the bathroom, still trying to keep Lexi quiet.

Getting myself together in the dark is a much easier proposition than keeping Lexi quiet. Gordon Setters have their own canine language which consists of various tones, lengths and decibels of “rooo – rooo” and Lexi is talkative, every – damn – morning. Once I’ve got it together I gather my camera, leash up Lexi and we’re off.

After Lexi has taken care of business we take a drive, looking for things that we don’t know are out there.


Out there.


What’s there?

Who knows, let’s find out.

We’re eastbound on Interstate 40, following the course of old Route 66 which is visible only now and then from the highway. Some sections are drivable, others are iffy, and on some stretches the old Mother Road, just tires out and expires into a rocky dead end.

Once out of Flagstaff we hit the hard land. Off to the north there’s a clear view of the San Francisco Mountain range.

Fifteen miles out Flagstaff we arrive at the little community of Winona; some homes, a gas station/trading post and a smattering of small businesses.

Spanning a dry creek bed northwest of town is the historic Walnut Canyon Bridge, built in 1924 and incorporated into Route 66 two years later. The bridge sits at the end of a stretch of abandoned road bed.

Like many of the obscurities along Route 66, the Walnut Canyon Bridge, blocked from automotive traffic, sits forlorn, and, but for those travelers in search of the Mother Road’s antiquities, largely forgotten.


In 1946, songwriter Bobby Troup gave a nod to the little community of Winona, when he included it in the lyrics to his classic song, “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66”. “Don’t forget Winona,” goes the lyric. And then the song moves on, just like time moved on from little Winona. Unless you’re a Route 66 groupie, Winona is not just forgotten, it’s damn near unknown, just another road sign on the highway, “Huh, there’s Winona, I wonder what’s there.”

This morning I know just exactly where we’re going; a place with the unlikely name of Two Guns. Looking out at the terrain I think to myself that maybe that name isn’t so unlikely. It speaks of the Old West and if you look past the highway, and shut out the rocket whoosh and the wash of passing big rigs abusing the speed limits and common sense, you can almost imagine cowboys driving a herd, Native American hunting parties roaming the stony ground, or outlaws hunkered down in rockbound gullies.

Off to the north, the mesas rise up from the flat, flinty land. Vegetation is sparse and what there is of it is rough, scraggly brush. Between towns of any size, this can be a crude, coarse place, resistant to subjugation by man. Drive the course of Route 66 in the Southwest and you’ll see the ruins of filling stations and outposts where man has tried unsuccessfully to tame these flats. Like the carrion eaters, the elements strip the structures of their flesh and what nature doesn’t take the vandals will.

The remainder of a fuel pump at Twin Arrows.

Eastbound on the way to Two Guns and ten minutes out of Winona I spot two gigantic arrows jutting out of the ground at an angle, as if the desert gods had launched those colossal darts from somewhere on those faraway mesas.

As I get closer I can make out the ruins of what appears to be one of the many lonesome way stations along Route 66, long gone and fallow.

When you see two giant arrows sticking up out of the hard desert ground in the middle of nowhere, you can either pass by as if the sight is nothing out of the ordinary, or you can pull off the highway and follow your curiosity.

The former will leave you wondering just what the hell those two arrows were all about, while the latter will provide, if nothing else, a few photos and a little story to tell.

(I should note that when you’re traveling on Route 66, you’ll see sights, ordinary to the Mother Road, that would anywhere else in the world, save maybe Alice’s infamous rabbit hole, seem downright eccentric).

Exit 219, reads simply, Twin Arrows. And why not? There’s nothing more here than two, twenty-five foot arrows and the ruins of a filling station, a café, and a trading post.

What are/were trading posts?

To view the first Southwest trading posts one would have to travel back in time; back before the sixteenth century, when tribes of Indigenous People already had a long established network of trade and communication. Arriving in the sixteenth century, the Spanish tapped into that trade network.

Over time, and connected by developing trails, trading posts run by whites began to dot the Southwest. Native Americans exchanged woven articles, jewelry, furs and pelts for food and finished goods such as steel utensils and tools. It wasn’t necessarily fair trade, as the whites offered, at best, poor exchange rates, and at worst alcohol and disease laden products.

Trading posts weren’t only centers of commerce. They also served as social hubs for the sharing of news, ideas and gossip.

This is Navajo Nation country, and the Navajo has preserved a few of the old trading posts, some in the original buildings that date back to the late 1800s. It’s at these trading posts where one can still trade for Native goods but the medium of exchange is the American greenback (credit cards gladly accepted), and the exchange rate has been, shall we say, made equitable (for example, at the Toadlena Trading Post a beautiful 28” x 43” woven rug goes for $1,350.00 dollars).

(Note: We were traveling while COVID still held sway and all of the Navajo trading posts were closed).

The trading posts found along Route 66 are another matter. When the Mother Road became the avenue to get to sunny California, the trading posts were, to a large extent, souvenir shops offering Old West kitsch. They were emporiums for toy guns and bows and arrows, western hats, beaded belts, headdresses made in Japan and a whole variety of cowboy and Indian gewgaws, trinkets and knickknacks that more often than not would end up in the household junk drawer.

Towns and businesses along Route 66 were marketing the Wild West of pop culture.

It was during the period between 1926 and the 1950s, when cultural appropriation was an accepted thing – unless it was your own culture that was being appropriated. It was a time when today’s pejoratives were the accepted words and descriptions of the day.

In a 2016 story published in Al Jazeera, titled, “Route 66: Decay and resilience along iconic US highway,” Cherokee journalist Lisa Hicks Snell was quoted, “You go on this great road trip to see the West and the Indians. But you’re not going to see the Indians – you’re going to see what you’re allowed to see…What has been packaged is that one Indian fits all kinds of things,” and according to Snell, the package was a loose representation of the Plains Indians.

In the same article, Kaisa Barthuli, of the National Park Service, offers, “These trading posts kind of morphed into tourist attractions,” run by white business owners who realized the profit potential in marketing offensive stereotypes of Native American and Mexican culture, popularized by Hollywood.

Barthuli continued, “Curio stores and trading posts had a tremendous influence on people’s perceptions of the West … These perceptions, often promoted through tourism, were filled with stereotypical and inaccurate representations of Hispanic and American Indian cultures.”

Teepee Curios in Tucumcari, NM. Cultural appropriation?

I’ve parked in the dirt lot at Twin Arrows and after surveying the place, I decide that this isn’t a good place for Lexi to explore, off or on leash. The ground, littered with debris, is a minefield of hazards for doggy pads, and the area is probably alive with unfriendly reptilians.

In 1937, or thereabouts, (with Mother Road icons it’s sometimes hard to separate the definite from the obscure), FR ‘Ted’ and Jewel Griffiths opened the Canyon Padre Trading Post, named after a nearby canyon. It included a filling station, a diner and a curio shop – the standard trading post formula.

The Canyon Padre eatery was a Valentine Diner, one of many small, mail-order, prefabricated cafes produced and shipped out of Arthur Valentine’s headquarters in Wichita, Kansas.

Arthur Valentine incorporated his business in 1947, during the post-World War II boom. His business model, catering to the small business owner, offered affordable eight to twelve seat diners that could be run by one or two people. Valentine diners were the everyman’s entre into entrepreneurship. An early Valentine sales brochure described the perks of being the owner of a Valentine diner: “The individual operator is assured of a permanent, self-sustaining revenue where he becomes his own boss and is not subservient to someone else. His immediate family may assist in the operation of each unit, as only two operators are required on each shift when it is running to capacity. During slow periods of business, one operator can do all the work and give good and efficient service, thereby holding the overhead to a minimum, with corresponding high profits.”

Valentines were wildly popular. According the the Kansas Historical Society, Valentine, in 1948, touted diners in 38 states. An estimate of Valentine diners in Wichita alone touted 2000 or more.

Valentine diners thrived during the salad days of the great American road trip. Canyon Padre was the kind of outpost that offered gas, a satisfying meal for mom and dad, trinkets for the restless kids, and a bone to throw to Aunt Mabel back home tending the homestead; all the essentials for a successful automotive discovery of America.

A typical Valentine diner. The Suzie Q Cafe in Mason City, Iowa.

Here in the Bay Area, the diner is something of a novelty, a paean to American Graffiti and the Happy Days TV series. Here, the diner is where classic car club codgers hang out to reminisce about the old cruising days.

In more rural areas, the diner is still a gathering place, a less alcoholic version of the corner bar. It’s a place where friendships and contacts are bound, where discussion covers topics ranging from the fortunes of the local high school football team to national politics. It’s the place where people wave to each other from across the dining room, maybe lean over a booth seat to exchange the latest gossip or ask the server how the kids are doing in school.

Ruins of the Valentine diner at Twin Arrows

At Canyon Padre, Ted and Jewell apparently fared well enough until the day when Ted was hit by a car while doing some weeding along the main road. His injuries compelled the Griffiths to sell the business to William Harland ‘Trox’ Troxell and his wife Jean.

Shortly after acquiring the business, the Troxells changed the name to Twin Arrows, a sort of ovation to the Two Guns attraction further to the east.

A location on then busy Route 66, demanded an attraction that differentiated one road stop from the hundreds of others, an attraction that inclined travelers to stop, look, photograph and shop. The bigger, the more garish and peculiar, the better. And so the Troxells repurposed two telephone poles into a pair of twenty-five foot arrows.

The couple were already small business owners, running a photography studio in Flagstaff. When they bought the trading post, Jean and her parents ran Twin Arrows. Jean commuted back and forth from Flagstaff, while her parents, Edna and Levi ‘Max’ Maxwell, lived at the trading post.

By the early 1970s, Twin Arrows was beginning to feel the beginning of the end. It was that ‘time and money’ thing. Travelers didn’t have the time to spare and whatever money they had, they wanted to spend elsewhere.

It was about that time that Levi retired and management was taken over by a couple who hung in for a short while before retiring themselves.

In point of fact, the entire length of the Mother Road’s days were numbered. It had, some fourteen years prior, been condemned to death by the signing of President Eisenhower’s execution order, the Interstate Highway Act, which authorized the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highways.

From Barstow, California to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the new Interstate 40 was being constructed along the course of Route 66. Slow poison it was. As sections of the interstate were completed, towns and businesses were bypassed, leaving them to gasp their last, out in the hot deserts and plains.

Speed and convenience were overtaking the lingering excursion, and destination was replacing the journey in American road travel. The interstate removed novelty from the novel journey. Stopping to refresh and to gawk at the quirks was being replaced by the mind numbing plainness of the superhighway. Curio shops and cafes were supplanted by sprawling travel centers that offer everything and then some; fuel, food, drink, necessities and nonessentials, frills and junk, and even hot showers for long haul truckers.

The small diner was pushed aside by the fast food chain. Why go to the family run café that serves a thick bowl of chili, a packet of soda crackers to crumble over the top, and some friendly conversation, when you can visit the glaring yellow cribs belonging to the clown, the king or the little pigtailed brat, that offer a quickie burger of prefabbed pink slime.

And conversation?

‘Can I take your order please?

Slam down that burger and fries and rush back to the car. Places to go and nothing to see.

‘Thank you, come again.’

‘Come again’?

Hell, no worries, you’ll probably never come again anyway. You’re on the interstate in the middle of fucking god knows where, on the way to a SoCal beach and Disneyland, and who knows where you’re stopping on the hurried way back.

On the other hand, ‘Hey remember that diner we stopped at, just outside of Flagstaff? Let’s stop there on the way back.’

During the Route 66 boom times the conversations in those little diners must have provided volumes of yarns. The ceaseless parade of cars headed both east and west carried mostly tourists and truckers, motoring from big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, or from small towns with names like Dwight, Godley, Farmer City and Funks Grove.

At times the parade could indeed be ceaseless. In the Al Jazeera article, historian Michael Wallis recalls the Route 66 town of Glenrio, Texas during those sweet, fruitful days, “Coming into Glenrio looked like Times Square. There were lines at the payphone, and everyone fueling themselves and their machines.”

In 1971, Interstate 40 had reached Twin Arrows and though the outpost was granted its own exit ramp, business continued to skid.

In 1994, Twin Arrows garnered a few seconds of celluloid fame in the movie Forrest Gump. During his cross country run, Forrest is seen running on a spur of Route 66. Highway 40 traffic is in the background and the Twin Arrows are off to Forrest’s right. It’s here in the story that Forrest inspires the smiley faced, ‘Have a Nice Day,’ t-shirt.

In 1995,Spencer and Virginia Riedel tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Twin Arrows, and three years later the trading post was taken off of life support.

Ownership of Twin Arrows fell to the Hopi Tribe. It was hoped that the tribe would restore the trading post, and indeed in 2009, the arrows received a fresh coat of paint. That paint job turned out to be the last vestige of TLC that Twin Arrows would receive. Over time the buildings have further decayed and become a canvas for public artists and a target of vandalism (oftentimes one and the same).

I walk around the grounds but I’m hesitant to enter the buildings, wary of annoying snakes or angering homeless squatters. After taking a few photos I get back to the van and we head out for the ruins of Two Guns.

In this photo, one arrow head is gone. Since we visited the arrow has since collapsed. Only one of the darts remains.

Fuel was stored in above ground tanks.

An out building at Twin Arrows.

Today Route 66 has gone through a renaissance, a rediscovery of some thirty to fifty years of American lore. In the mid-Twentieth Century, the road trip became as part of Americana as baseball on a Friday evening, a Sunday apple pie cooling on the window sill, hiking barefoot to the fishing stream, sitting down to Thanksgiving turkey. It was symbolic of the so-called American love affair with the car. It spawned books, movies and television shows.

I’m often asked about the road trips that I took in 2021, drives which between the two totaled over 16.000 miles over a period of ten weeks. I’m told by these inquisitors that they would like to do the same thing one day. I hope that they do. I hope that they avoid airplanes like the plague, that their planning is minimal and that they follow the faded signs and the worn out roads. The more extemporary and unconstrained, the bigger, the better and usually the more unexpected is the reward.

10 thoughts on “Route 66: Diners, Twin Arrows and Trading Posts

  1. Anonymous says:

    You know I’m one of those who would like to drive at least part of Route 66 some day. In truth we have driven some small stretches but I’d like to join a few of those dots. And if/when we do, this is the sort of place I want to photograph.

    I also love that quote from William Least Heat-Moon you used at the start – ‘bends the straight lines of our days into the thrill of unexpectation’ – what a wonderful description of travel!

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sarah, I don’t know if you’ve read any of William Least Heat-Moon’s books. You might enjoy them since they deal with the
      subject of travel. O America is the third book of his that I’ve read.
      I would love to take another trip along Route 66 and like you join some of the dots, or fill in some of the blanks. I wish that I’d done more research before we left on the trip but in fact the trip was pretty much a spur of the moment thing.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. M.B. Henry says:

    Reminds me of our own trip down the 66 a few years ago 🙂

    1. Paul says:

      Hi M.B.
      I would like to take another Route 66 drive again and explore some of these places more in depth. I guess that’ll happen in another life.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. stacey says:

    Great description. I love the Valentine stuff and the their alluring advertisement to would-be operators.
    I can’t even imagine the spike of terror that went through small business owners hearts, like the two arrows folks, when the interstate was announced. A larger thruway was necessary…but at a huge price to others.

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Stacey, Sadly I learned about most of this stuff, like the Valentine Diners, long after returning home. Note to self, dig deeper BEFORE the trip. I don’t know if you’ve been along Route 66 but along the Southwest section there are a lot of failed ventures and a few ghost towns.
      “A larger thruway was necessary…”
      That’s true. When I was a child and we took Hwy 80 to Salt Lake City, there were some sections that were two lanes. At times traffic would get backed up were it went through the middle of a town.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Would love to see some more pictures of Lexi as well!

    1. Paul says:

      Your comment came through as anonymous as per the current WordPress bug. Sadly I didn’t take that many pictures of Lexi during the trip. I have some of her in the snow in Montana.

Would love to hear from you

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