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Your Guide to Holbrook, Arizona

Holbrook, Arizona: one of the few places where you can stay in a wigwam.
Holbrook, Arizona: one of the few places where you can stay in a wigwam.
Janessa Hilliard

Jackalope Ranch is hitting the road this summer -- and you're coming, too. Well, sort of. With Going Places, our writers recommend the best things to do and see during your travels.

Whoever said "it's not the destination, it's the journey" may have been talking about the drive to Holbrook. One of the noted pit stops along the famous U.S. Route 66 highway, Holbrook is a town whose hey-day is behind it, boasting ruined relics that time forgot.

See also: 12 Things to Do and See in Bisbee, Arizona

Blink and you'll miss it. The tiny town -- whose population and elevation are roughly the same at 5,082 feet -- is tucked off Interstate 40, between signs for pawn shops and $7 moccasins and woven blankets. Declared "too tough for women and children," Holbrook has a sordid history still visible today. With roadsigns like "Bucket of Blood Street," named after nearby saloon owners literally filled a bucket with blood, cleaning up after a shoot-out, it made southern Arizona's Tombstone look like a cakewalk, according to locals.

Founded in 1881 or 1882 (no one can agree on that one), Holbrook was a by-product of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. When trains gave way to automobiles, the then-thriving community found itself sitting right in the middle of a new roadway: U.S. Route 66.

The Disney-Pixar collaboration Cars (2006) was partly inspired by the northeastern Arizona town. Director John Lasseter spent hours at popular cafe Joe and Aggie's, learning the history of the town and drawing, literally, visual inspiration. Many of the movie's recognizable features are plays on hotels and murals seen today.  

Holbrook: "The Gateway to the Petrified Forest."
Holbrook: "The Gateway to the Petrified Forest."

Drive Time

Holbrook is more-or-less a straight shot from the Interstate 17 North and the I-40 East toward New Mexico. At approximately 230 miles from Central Phoenix, it's a three-and-a-half-hour car ride, or an hour and a half east of Flagstaff. Shave off 15 minutes and take a more scenic bypass, grabbing the AZ-87 N to the AZ-260 E.

See and Do

Though not technically in Holbrook, one of the state's north-most draws is just a few miles away. The Meteor Crater, near Winslow on the way to Holbrook, is about a mile across and 550 feet deep. In other words, it truly is one giant hole in the ground. Admission is steep: $18 for adults and $9 for children ages six through 17, but if you're looking for time to kill and some relief from a long car ride, this is it. The attraction is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Holiday hours vary.

Holbrook was more than a stopping place from point A to point B, and took to marketing itself as such. "The Gateway to the Petrified National Forest," it was called, located less than an hour away from the popular destination. Stretched between the Navajo and Apache counties of Northern Arizona, the 146-square-mile park (open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily) is truly a sight for sight-seeing. It's part Painted Desert, part petroglyphs, but is known for its fossilized wood. During the petrifying process, volcanic ash created quartz crystals that replaced organic matter, creating mineralized moments in time.Thanks to its proximity, everywhere from diners to trading posts offers petrified wood trinkets in their gift shops. Choose wisely.

Your Guide to Holbrook, Arizona
Janessa Hilliard

If an indoor walking tour is more your speed, visit the Navajo County Courthouse and Museum, 100 East Carter Drive, in the heart of Holbrook. The (allegedly) haunted jailhouse was home to murderer George Smiley and the site of many hangings. Locals and those who have stayed overnight have claimed to be spooked by ghosts of former prisoners. For those less interested in catching a fright, the Navajo County Historical Society is now housed in the building, featuring a well-rounded mini museum of the area and Arizona's glory days.  

Your Guide to Holbrook, Arizona
Janessa Hilliard

Shop and Play

A haven for prehistoric playthings, nearly every business from gas station to bar has a faux dinosaur out front, a hat tip to the petrified forest and its predecessors. For a look at the real things without trekking into the forest itself, visit the Rainbow Rock Shop, 101 Navajo Boulevard; Stewart's Petrified Wood Shop, I-40 Adamana Exit 303; or the Pow Wow Trading Post, 752 Navajo Boulevard.

For something a little more unique, pay a visit to Wild Bill, located at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Co. mere minutes from the center of town at 147 U.S. 180. Bill's an old guy, 2.9 million years old to be exact. The fossilized alligator is the driving attraction at Jim Gray's, but lovers of wood and museums will love the polished petrified collection he's amassed as well.

If you're looking to get out of the dirt and hit the green, Holbrook recently built a 9-hole golf course, a green mini-oaisis in the middle of the desert. It's $5 per round at the Hidden Cove Golf Course -- perfect for practicing your swing while stretching your legs at 1500 Golf Course Road. The city of Holbrook recently received grants to forward on a neighboring Petroglyph Park. Assumed to be Hopi petroglyphs, the preservation park isn't slated to open until sometime in2015, but will provide an up-close-and-personal look at the drawings through a series of hikes.

Your Guide to Holbrook, Arizona
Janessa Hilliard

Eat and Drink

Residents here offer one chief cuisine: a Mexican-American hybrid. Throughout the cafes and corner stores there is no shortage of burritos, burgers, and beer.

Opened in 1943, Joe and Aggie's Cafe, 120 West Hopi Drive, is arguably the town's biggest draw, food-wise. Next to nothing on the menu is over $10, and the portions are beyond substantial enough to keep stomachs satisfied for the remainder of the road. The cafe is part kitchen, part boutique (Holbrook and Route 66 T-shirts and onesies a-plenty), and part information center, the family joint is a one-stop shop for passersby.

If you're overnight-ing it and looking for some variety, hit up Hilltop Cafe, 2105 Navajo Boulevard, for some huevos rancheros, Jerry's Restaurant at 2600 Navajo Boulevard for breakfast all day and portions comparable to Joe and Aggie's, or Mesa Grill & Sports Bar, 2318 Navajo Boulevard, for a cold one.  

Your Guide to Holbrook, Arizona
Janessa Hilliard

Sleep and Stay

"Have you slept in a Wigwam lately?"

That's the tagline for the Wigwam Village Motel, 811 West Hopi Drive, arguably one of the more unique overnight stays in the Southwest, or even the country.

Built during the 1930s and '40s and designed after teepees, the Wigwam Villages are dotted with antique automobiles and collectibles, memorabilia, and artifacts spanning the Civil War to the 1960s. These Wigwams, of which there were seven, could be found across the country. Today, only #2 in Cave City, Kentucky, and #7 in Rialto, California exist outside of Holbrook -- which is listed as #6.

Designated a historic place in 2002, the 15-room motel is still operational. Single queen bedrooms run at $56 per night while two double beds can be reserved for $62. Amenities include air conditioning and cable television, and each unit has its own bathroom.

On the likely chance that your teepee has been booked up, check out the Globetrotter Lodge at 902 West Hopi Drive (featuring king, queen, and double beds $75 to $93/night) a few doors down the street on Hopi Drive or the Heward House Bed and Breakfast at 108 Crestview Drive ($85/night), a 1930s art deco home just outside of town.

Go There

1. Because you're on your way to Albuquerque. Sure, Flagstaff is nearby and may have more amenities of a tourist town, but Holbrook is literally on the way. And cheaper.

2. For the history. Whether your interest is the prehistoric Petrified Forest, the Wild, Wild West, or planes, trains, and automobiles, the hub features something for everyone in the family -- a more exciting way to stretch your legs than a rest stop.

3. Because it's just as off-beat and unique as Jerome or Bisbee, with less than half the foot traffic.

See also: 9 Things to See and Do in Washington D.C.

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