Spontaneous boondocking at a ghost town in Arizona

The “Rolling Turd” parked in front of the old Trading Post at Two Guns, AZ

So, in my last post I told you a little bit about traveling with my mother-in-law. We just started camping together with her in June of 2017. And our first stop with her while en route to our first destination was a ghost town. Why did we stop there you ask? Well, we had left a little later than we had originally planned and didn’t make it all the way to the Grand Canyon that night. My husband pulled out one of his trusty camping apps and asked how much longer we think we can keep driving, as Jennie was starting to turn into a gremlin and the sun had started to set. He found a post by someone that recommended a little known spot right off the old Route 66 and he checked to make sure we were all in on it. Spend the night at a ghost town in the middle of nowhere with a little one?! SURE! We were all SO in! I mean, how many times do you get the chance to stay at such a cool place that isn’t far off your route and not flooded with traffic? If you ask me it beats stopping at a supermarket parking lot for the night by a long shot! I started to google the town of Two Guns as I am a sucker for history and ghost towns as well. Here is what I found on Wikipedia:

Two Guns was the site of a mass murder of Apaches by their Navajo enemies in 1878. A group of Apaches had hid in a cave at Two Guns to avoid detection, but were discovered by the Navajos, who lit sagebrush fires at the cave’s exit and shot any Apaches trying to escape. The fire asphyxiated 42 Apaches, after which they were stripped of their valuables. The murder site is referred to as the “death cave”.[5]
During the winter of 1879-80, Billy the Kid and his outlaw gang hid in the ruins of a stone house and corral on the west rim of Canyon Diablo, across from Two Guns.[6]
In 1880, long before Two Guns was established as a settlement, the construction of the Santa Fe Railway was progressing across northern Arizona. At the location where the rail line crossed Canyon Diablo, about 3 mi (4.8 km) north of Two Guns, construction was delayed while a trestle was built. A settlement populated by male work crews was established near the construction site and was named Canyon Diablo, after the nearby canyon. The settlement “quickly became a wild and lawless place as drifters, gamblers, and outlaws made their way to town”.[7] Four men employed by the Hashknife Ranch robbed the train at Canyon Diablo in 1889, then fled on horseback with $100,000 in currency, 2,500 new silver dollars, $40,000 in gold coins, as well as silver watches, jewelry, and diamonds. A posse led by sheriff Buckey O’Neill pursued the bandits, but recovered less than $100 when the men were captured. Years later, after release from prison, one of the thieves disclosed that the stolen goods, along with their rifles, had been buried in the canyon rim near Two Guns. The location remains popular with treasure hunters.[8][9]
The National Old Trails Highway (called the “Santa Fe Highway” in Arizona) was built in 1907 in Arizona, and loosely followed the railway.[2] The highway crossed the dry river bed of Canyon Diablo at the Two Guns location, and zig-zagged up and down each embankment. In 1915, Canyon Diablo Bridge opened at the Two Guns crossing, and was used until 1938 when a new bridge was built nearby.[2][10]

The first settler at Two Guns was Ed Randolph, who built a store next to the death cave.[10]
In 1922, Earle and Louise Cundiff purchased 320 acres (130 ha) of land from Randolph at this location for $1,000, and built a store, restaurant, and gasoline pumps.[11]
Harry E. Miller leased a property from the Cundiffs in 1925 and began extensive construction. Calling himself “Chief Crazy Thunder”, Miller wanted to capitalize on the beauty of Canyon Diablo and the flow of passing tourists.[11][12] Along the canyon rim Miller erected a zoo with cages made of brick, mortar and chicken wire; his zoo animals included mountain lions, cougars, gila monsters, coral snakes, birds and a lynx.[10][11][4] A restaurant and Indian gift shop were opened, and Miller cleaned out the death cave, selling any Apache skulls found inside as souvenirs.[11] For a fee, visitors were led on a tour which began at a Hopi house Miller had built, where rolls of colored piki bread was made and sold.[11] They then followed a paved path down the side of the canyon to a soft drink stand at the bottom. Next was a tour of the death cave, where Miller had installed electric lights, and fake ruins of cliff dwellers.[11] Flamboyant signs were placed along the highway, and Miller named his establishment “Fort Two Guns” as an homage to silent movie actor William S. “Two Guns” Hart, with whom Miller claimed to have previously worked.[10][11][13]
The Cundiffs applied for a post office under the name “Two Guns” in 1924, but it was refused. The post office was renamed “Canyon Lodge”.[11]
In 1926, the highway designation was changed to U.S. Route 66.[10] That same year, Cundiff and Miller had a disagreement about the details of their lease, and Miller shot the unarmed Cundiff to death. He was later acquitted of the killing.[11]
The interior of Miller’s store burned in 1929, and soon after, Louise Cundiff built her own tourist store. The following year, Miller left the state. Cundiff remarried, and in 1934 opened the Two Guns Texaco service station along a new alignment of Route 66. Behind it they relocated the zoo (which closed prior to 1950).[10]
In 1938, a new bridge across Canyon Diablo was built, and Route 66 began following Interstate 40 at the Two Guns location.[10]
A more modern service station was built at Two Guns in 1963, and in the late 1960s a motel, western tavern, reptile exhibit, and new zoo were added. Later, a Shell service station was built and a KOA campground opened.[10][14]

The service station burned in 1971, and Two Guns began to decline.[10]
The ruins of many former structures remain, including the trading post, campground, old cottages, zoo, and burned-out service station.[10][4]
In 1988, Canyon Diablo Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[2]


Entrance to Two Guns with the old camp building in the background

We arrived just as the sun had set and tried to get ourselves parked and situated before it was completely dark out. In the near distance you could faintly hear the occasional vehicle drive by along new Route 66/I-40. It was peaceful and quiet… and maybe just a little bit creepy out there. There were literally no lights around us, besides the ones from our truck and camper, so it was pitch-black. My husband and mother-in-law decided to go out and explore the town with flash lights and our dogs while I stayed back and got our little one ready for bed. They weren’t gone too long until they returned and reported some rattle snake sightings. YIKES! But, that’s what you have to expect when you’re in Arizona, I guess!

After a some sleep (and a very early wakeup thanks to Miss Jennie) I got the little one, the dogs and myself dressed and ready to go for a quick walk with my camera. I was dying to get some shots of this cool place! It wasn’t even 8am yet but you could tell that day would be a scorcher. So we stuck to a quick walk and sniff around while I got to snap some photos. It was so worth it!

If we would have had more time we would have loved to explore the area around Two Guns and learned more about the tragedies that happened there to the Native community. So, if you are ever in that corner of Arizona, make sure to plan a stop. It is worth every second of it!

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