Many of the old wild west ghost towns are located in remote areas that can only be accessed by taking a long drive on a rough dirt road. Relatively few ghost towns are found near a paved road, much less a major interstate freeway. Two Guns is one of the few ghost towns that is easy to access and there is no need to rely on maps, a compass or a GPS system when planning a day trip to this old Route 66 tourist trap ghost town. All that one has to do is head east from Flagstaff or west from Winslow a few miles on Interstate Highway 40 to see the Two Guns sign. Hunting down an old ghost town simply does not get any easier than this!
Two Guns has an interesting history that began long before the pioneers first started heading west of the Mississippi. Two Guns is located in Diablo Canyon, which has been occupied by native cultures since ancient times. The Walnut Canyon National Monument is just west of Two Guns and this vast native heritage site has countless ancient pueblo cliff dwellings. The Little Colorado River basin is nearby and this region also has great cultural significance, because of the life giving waters that irrigated pockets of lush farmland.
Throughout history, the native civilizations in this region were subject to tribal raiders that looked upon the wealth of local communities as easy prey. Plenty of skirmishes occurred in this region and a famous raider battle took place in Diablo Canyon. This legendary conflict occurred in the late 1870s when the Navajo defended their territory from Apache invaders, who had successfully used Diablo Canyon as a hideout after many previous raids. Navajo justice prevailed when over 42 Apache invaders were massacred in a cave in Diablo Canyon near the present day Two Guns location.
Shortly after the Navajo and Apache skirmish, a few old west outlaw gangs used the Diablo Canyon area as hideout. The Santa Fe Railroad was being built about that same time and it crossed Diablo Canyon just a few miles north of the Two Guns location. Lawlessness prevailed back in those days and outlaws viewed the remote railroad towns in the Arizona Territory as easy prey. In the late 1880s a train was robbed in Diablo Canyon and the outlaws made off with over $100,000 worth of loot. According to the legend, when the robbers were captured they only had $100 to their name. The outlaws kept the location of the rest of the loot a secret for many years while in prison. Eventually one of the robbers mentioned that the loot was buried on the rim of Diablo Canyon somewhere near the Apache Death Cave. This fortune in gold has never been recovered and it still awaits to be discovered by a lucky treasure hunter.
At the dawn of the age of the automobile in the early 1920s, the National Old Trails Highway followed the path of the railroad through the Southwest. Many of the old railroad towns eventually turned into highway stopovers, where fuel and water could be found. The local businesses started catering to tourism and during this period in history the American cultural phenomena of Route 66 tourist traps came to be.
The actual history of Two Guns began at just about the same time that the National Highway was designated as a Southwestern automobile travel route. An entrepreneur bought a large plot of Diablo Canyon ranch land along the highway, with the intent of starting a tourist destination called Two Guns. At that time, all it took attract customers was to build an attention getting facility that had gas pumps, a general store, clean restrooms and a restaurant. The old west legends of the Diablo Canyon Apache Death Cave and the hidden train robber’s treasure helped to lure many Route 66 tourists in.
In the mid 1920s, part of the Two Guns property was leased to an enterprising character that had a genuinely unique business plan, which included becoming the king of Arizona tourist traps. This entrepreneur added a zoo, a Hopi village replica, cliff dwellings and guided tours of the Apache Death Cave. Soon after the property was retrofitted, the National Old Trails Highway was renamed as Route 66 in 1926 and it did not take long for this road to become known as America’s highway. Route 66 tourism was booming and the Two Guns tourist trap was making money hand over foot. Eventually the Route 66 boom caused the landowner and the entrepreneur to feud over business matters and the dispute ended in gunfire. The owner of the property was killed and the tourist trap entrepreneur turned killer ended up being run out of the state.
A family feud and arson nearly destroyed Two Guns soon after the deadly property dispute. Eventually the controlling interests won out and Two Guns was rebuilt better than ever. The old historic Two Guns tourist trap lasted many decades and it was modernized once again in the 1960s. A new gas station, saloon, motel and several more tourist trap exhibits were added. Unfortunately, Interstate Highway 40 bypassed old Route 66 during that era and even though an offramp was built for Two Guns, the income was not as good as it was back in the old days. The new gas station burnt down in the early 1970s and Two Guns went into a state of disrepair. Eventually Two Guns joined the ranks of the many thriving destinations that turned into ghost towns along old Route 66.
Visiting the Two Guns Ghost Town in modern times certainly is a surreal experience, especially if one is interested in exploring old burnt-out classic Route 66 tourist traps! Many of the buildings and the gas station are in shambles, but the adobe style walls of the old original fake native village structures and the zoo still stand. The Two Guns bridge is not sturdy enough for cars anymore, but it is a picturesque sight to see.
Walking around the Two Guns property is like walking through a post apocalyptic time capsule from the golden age of Route 66 tourist traps. When looking at the old bridge that crosses the canyon from the hollow remnants of the saloon building, it becomes easy to imagine just how fun this place must have been back in its prime. Strolling past the broken cages at the zoo and reptile exhibit is like walking through an empty dust covered dream. The Apache Death Cave and the legend of the hidden outlaw gold stash that must now be worth millions still draws plenty of attention from visitors that are lured by the tales of the old west.
A visitor can spend a few minutes taking pictures of Two Guns or spend the entire day exploring the remnants of the past. All that it takes is making the decision to get off the modern high speed freeway at the Two Guns offramp to get the venture started. As far as modern ghost town destinations are concerned, the rich history of Two Guns is definitely worth checking out when cruising by on this stretch of good old Route 66!
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