One day in earl March, 1926, two shots accompanied by the growls of the wildcats at Fort Two Guns Zoo echo through Diablo Canyon. Earl Cundriff lies dead on the floor of Harry Edgar “Indian” Miller’s home, his legs protruding through the doorway.
The story of Two Guns did not begin or end with this murder. Nor was this the final chapter in the fascinating saga of “Indian” Miller’s long association with Route 66, its predecessor the National Old Trails Highway, and the tourist traps that once lined the highway like the midway at a county fair.
Sean Evans, a friend who works as an archivist at Northern Arizona University, has extensively studied the colorful history of Two Guns from the murder of a band of raiding Apaches at the “death caves” in the 1870’s to the construction of the Luten span arch bridge at the canyon in 1914 that gave rise to colorful roadside business and equally colorful characters. Earl and Louise Cundriff established the Canyon Lodge here in 1922, and Chief Joe Sekakuku transformed the death caves into an attraction in 1925, the same year Harry Miler builds the Two Guns Zoo and “Rimmy” Jim Giddings establishes a Texaco station, cafe, and small trading post.
I knew of the history and had explored the site but that is not the same as having a knowledgeable guide that can bring the history to life. So, last year shortly after the Route 66 International Festival in Kingman, Sean and I began discussing a Two Guns adventure.
Well, a maddening array of issues ranging from a foot injury to pressing deadlines and schedule confliction resulted in the postponement of the proposed exploration of historic Two Guns in 2014. Such is often the case in the planning of adventures but the persistent explored never gives up.
Left to right, Marion and Dries Bessels, and Sean Evansin the former cabin of Harry Miller.
Fast forward to January of this year when my dearest friend and I followed iconic Route 66 to the Netherlands. While visiting with friends in Amsterdam, I was discussing Route 66, fascinating places such as Two Guns, and a pending trip being planned by Dries Bessels.
Upon our return home I contacted Sean, a date was set, and now the long anticipated adventure to Two Guns would be an international affair shared with friends.
As we counted down the days to the adventure, the weather remained unseasonably warm and the spring winds that plague northern Arizona every year in April were oddly absent. Then the eagerly anticipated day arrived, accompanied by a high wind warning. So, as is our long standing custom when beginning an adventure, especially one that requires a 200 mile drive, we loaded the stalwart old Jeep at first light, and were well on our way as the sun cleared the eastern horizon. We made a pit stop in Williams that included signing books for the visitor center gift shop, another tradition when we motor east, and arrived in Flagstasff for our 9:30 appointment only two minutes late.While waiting for Olivia Charest, a graduate student at Northern Arizona University working on an interpretive anthropological study entitled Travel Experience on Route 66, we enjoyed coffee and fascinating conversation with Sean and his wife Karen. Then it was time to head for Two Guns via an old alignment of Route 66 from Flagstaff to Winona, and meet with our friends from the Netherlands; Dries and Marion Bessels, Dries’s sister Marianne van Marle, and her husband Henk. By the time we joined I-40 at Winona, the wind was beginning to howl. This didn’t bode well for the picnic and barbecue plans.
Author Jim Hinckley at the remains of Rimmy Jim’sold trading post.
In spite of the winds that rocked Dries’s rented RV, we took shelter on the leeward side and enjoyed a dusty lunch of salad, sandwiches, and ice tea, as well as laughter, and conversation, all of which was seasoned with the excitement that accompanies a shared adventure. Then we set out into the winds that whipped clouds of stinging sand for a guided tour along the National Old Trails Highway that served as an early alignment of Route 66 as well as through time. Thank you Sean Evans for bringing the ruins framed by stunning Arizona landscapes and snow covered peaks to life.It was a delightful adventure! The worst day on a Route 66 expedition with friends is better than the best day most anywhere else. We visited the Apache Death Caves, and the ruins of the old trading posts, the zoos, the cafe, the service station, and the site where Earl Cundriff dies so long ago. As Sean’s fascinating narrative unfolded the wind that whistled and moaned through the ruins seemed oddly appropriate. This, however, was at its heart a Route 66 adventure and these are always filled with surprises.Upon return to our parked vehicles we found a familiar site; the gaily painted Blue Swallow Motel trailer. As it turned out Kevin Mueller and his son Cameron had business in California. What a delightful surprise!After a round of ice tea, conversation, and laughter, it was time to part ways. Even with the winds, it was such a wonderful outing we hated for it to end.
The remains of Rimmy Jim’s famous four holeouthouse.
So, my dearest friend and I headed west toward the snow covered San Francisco Peaks, and the sun that was nearing the western horizon. As it turned out, there was one more surprise awaiting us before the trip came to an end. We had set our sights on Williams rather than Flagstaff for dinner as the desert adventure had stimulated the appetite. At least two or three times a year we stop in Williams, usually at the Pine Country Restaurant for a meal or pie and coffee. This time we decided to cruise town and see what was new before deciding where to placate the growing hunger. That was when we discovered Old Smoky’s, a new incarnation of a Route 66 classic in that city. As it turned out, this restaurant opened a mere two weeks ago. Old Smoky’s on the east bound alignment of Route 66 across from the historic Turquoise Teepee sign is a small place with seating for about a dozen people. Still, the atmosphere was pleasant, the staff friendly but professional, and the food very good. As a bonus the price was quite reasonable (barbecue chicken sliders, coleslaw, beans, and excellent coffee – $22.00 including tax). A very good dinner shared with my dearest friend, a new discovery, and an Arizona sunset – what a perfect way to close out a day of friends sharing memory making adventures on the most famous highway in America.