In the summer of 1915, Edsel Ford and more than 10,000
motorists rolled west toward California over the National Old Trails Road in western Arizona, blissfully unaware that they were passing within yards of the entrance to a stunning natural wonder. Vestiges of that pioneering highway are still found in a canyon east of the entrance to Grand Canyon Caverns, but the road was long ago overshadowed by Route 66, and the caverns themselves.
The caverns as an attraction, as a destination evolved with Route 66. From 1927 to the modern era, this complex has mirrored the ebb and flow of the storied highway itself. When the road boomed so did the caverns, as evidenced by the four lane divided highway at the entrance. At the time of its construction, this was the only four-lane segment of U.S. 66 between Albuquerque and Los Angeles out side of an urban area. In fact, aside from the Grand Canyon itself, this was the most popular attraction in the entire state of Arizona.
With the bypass of Route 66 in the late 1970’s the caverns complex began to fade. The service station and garage closed. The motel was empty more often then rented. People taking the tour through the underground wonderland plummeted precipitously.
Fast forward to a new century and the dawn of a new era. With assistance from partners, the passion of John McEnulty, a long time fan of the caverns, was unleashed and a Route 66 landmark was reborn. As with Route 66 itself, the caverns is experiencing a renaissance.
A one of a kind suite 21-stories underground offers a truly unique lodging experience. Superb food, and delicious fresh pies have transformed the restaurant into a destination. With the addition of the Caverns Grotto this summer, visitors can enjoy those good eats in a breathtaking setting where the temperatures are 61-degrees year round. Resultant of the recent discovery of new levels in the caverns, people can choose the classic tour unchanged from the 1960’s, wheel chair accessible tours, and even spelunking.
The refurbished motel built in 1964, is a delightfully quiet oasis with modern amenities wrapped in a time capsule. The swimming pool, the award winning campground, a bunkhouse for larger groups, and a quirky miniature golf course all ensure that this Route 66 landmark is ideally suited for families or people looking for a relaxing weekend getaway.
As my dearest friend and I live a mere sixty scenic miles to the west in Kingman, the caverns has become our refuge, the place we go to recharge the batteries, for a relaxing evening, and to savor some very, very good pie over a cup of coffee where laughing families are making memories.
And now, as with Route 66 itself, the caverns is becoming a destination for international travelers as well. Recently Dale Butel of Australian based Route 66 Tours, brought a group to the caverns for a lunch and tour. Next year they will return.
If your motoring east, or west, on the most famous highway in America, you might want to add a stop at the caverns for dinner, lunch, a tour, or restful night to the schedule.