Founded in 1882 as a railroad terminal, the town commemorates General Edward Francis Winslow, president of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad that was associated with the Atlantic and Pacific line running through here. Navajos called the place Beeshsinil ("Iron lying down"). Ranchers turned the community into a major stock-raising center and shipping point. By the early 20th century, Winslow had become the most important community in northern Arizona. Route 66, formed in 1926 to help connect Chicago with the West Coast, brought America's motorists to the busy downtown. Charles Lindbergh came to design Winslow Airfield as a midway stop for flights between Chicago and Los Angeles, then made the inaugural flight in 1930. The Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey Company opened a fabulous resort hotel, La Posada, also in 1930.
But alas, by the 1970s commercial flights had long bypassed the airfield, train passenger traffic had dried up, and I-40 bypassed downtown. Winslow lay tattered and nearly forgotten. Now visitors have started to discover the history and atmosphere of the old town. La Posada, nearly lost, has been dusted off, restored, and reopened as the grand Southwest hotel it once was. The airfield and a piece of Route 66 also survive, as do prehistoric ruins nearby in Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Old Trails Museum downtown portrays Winslow's colorful history with many old photos and artifacts.
Trade and the railroad remain important to the community, though tourism, trucking, and a state prison boost the economy as well. Winslow (pop. 9,475) lies in the Little Colorado River Valley at an elevation of 4,880 feet. Travelers find it a convenient stopover; Meteor Crater is 25 miles west, the Hopi and Navajo reservations lie to the north, Petrified Forest National Park is 50 miles east, and the Mogollon Rim forest and lake country is 40 miles south.
Almost immediately after its 1930 opening, La Posada became the place to stay for movie stars and other rich and famous people who came for a relaxing getaway in splendid surroundings. Architect Mary Colter let loose her imagination, creating not so much a hotel as a grand hacienda that would have made an 18th-century Spanish don proud. She designed and oversaw construction of the magnificent arches, acres of exotic gardens, a ballroom, antiques "from their travels," and rustic furniture "made by the ranch hands." Colter considered it her masterpiece. People staying here felt as though they were personal guests of the fictional don.
La Posada turned out to be the last great railroad hotel built in the United States. The Depression hurt business in the 1930s, then the post-war decline of the railroads forced the hotel to close in 1957. The Santa Fe Railroad converted some of it to offices. The building might have been torn down had not some people discovered this "lost treasure" and set to work restoring it. Now, after 40 years of lying dormant, La Posada once again welcomes guests with its spacious halls, dining area, lounge, and guestrooms. Patios and libraries invite guests to sit down and relax. A gift shop sells Southwestern items including Native American work, Mimbreņo ware (with prehistoric designs), and books. You're welcome to drop by 7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily and take a self-guided walking tour of the grand public areas. With advance notice, The Winslow Harvey Girls offer guided tours. The hotel is online at www.laposada.org.
Old Trails Museum
This fun little museum (212 Kinsley Ave., 928/289-5861, www.oldtrailsmuseum.org, 1–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., closed Wed. Nov.–Feb., donations welcome) reveals life in the Winslow area from Stone Age to modern times. Popular exhibits include Homolovi pottery, railroad memorabilia, La Posada and Harvey Girls displays, Route 66 history, territorial doctors, and the moonshine still used by Italian immigrant Frank Ianni from the 1920s to the 1980s. You may see clothing worn by stage actress Norma Deane (1897–1926), a local girl who made it big in the theater, was engaged to famed star Victor Jory, then died on a visit home while trying to cross a flooded wash. The collection is downtown in a 1921 commercial building. You can purchase historic Winslow calendars and regional books.
Take it Easy, a hit single recorded by The Eagles in the early 1970s, inspired the little park near the museum with the lines “Standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me.” Look for the statue and mural at the northwest corner of Route 66 (Second St.) and Kinsley Avenue.
In 1876 Mormon pioneers arrived to establish this new settlement on the Little Colorado. They had been called by their church to provide a new place for members to live and work. The colonists' early optimism for the farming potential of bottomland along the Little Colorado soon faded as floods washed away dams and irrigation systems. Fear of Native American attacks caused residents to protect their community with walls 200 feet long and seven feet high. Although never attacked, settlers abandoned Brigham City in 1881 because of the irrigation difficulties. It's slowly being reconstructed on a site just northeast of Winslow; ask at the chamber office. Old Trails Museum has a model of the settlement.
Homolovi Ruins State Park
Ancestral Puebloans lived in pithouses and later at six pueblo villages near present-day Winslow from about A.D. 600 to 1390. The inhabitants, it's believed, then moved north to the Hopi mesas. Oral traditions passed down through generations of Hopi relate how ancestors emerged from a world beneath the present one and migrated in stages to their present home. Clan elders guided the migrations through revelations from dreams and meditations. The Hopi consider these ruins sacred and still leave pahos (prayer feathers) here for the spirits. Site visitors mustn't take or disturb anything; federal and state laws prohibit removal of artifacts. Even the tiniest potsherd must be left in place to preserve the sacred character of the sites.
The name Homolovi ("Place of the Little Hills") applies to all sites in the Winslow area. Serious archaeological studies began only in 1984; you're welcome to watch the archaeologists when they're working here. The visitor center makes a good place to start with its exhibits, videos (shown on request), and information desk; you can purchase Hopi crafts and books on Native Americans. Staff offer workshops on crafts, gardening, archaeology, wildlife, and storytelling. Archaeology Day in July features tours and arts and crafts demonstrations. A pithouse village site lies behind the visitor center, but the shallow depressions can hardly be seen.
A sign at the visitor center parking area points the way toward Sunset Cemetery, a 0.8-mile-roundtrip walk. Lot Smith founded Sunset in 1876 beside the Little Colorado River, though floods and droughts forced abandonment of the Mormon settlement 11 years later.
The park (928/289-4106, http://azstateparks.com, $7/vehicle up to 4 people, $3 individual or cyclist) is open daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m. (24 hours for campground). Take I-40 Exit 257 for AZ 87, just east of Winslow, go north 1.3 miles to the park entrance, then turn left 2.1 miles to the visitor center; on the way in you'll pass the turnoff for the campground and Homolovi I on the left, then the Homolovi II turnoff on the right just before the visitor center.
The campground has tent pads, showers, dump station, for $15 tent or RV no hookups, $18 w/water, $25 w/water & electric including park admission; there's a discount for weekly stays. Water hookups are available only from mid-April to mid-October. The campground usually has room; no reservations are taken. You can walk to the visitor center on a 1.2-mile one-way trail.
Homolovi II is the largest site and forms the main section of the state park. Though badly weathered, the ruins show what a prehistoric site looks like before extensive excavation or reconstruction. A short loop trail, suitable for wheelchairs, leads along the top of a mesa past the ruins. Signs interpret and describe the village. Ancestral pueblo people occupied it from 1250 to 1390 with a population as high as 3,000. The village comprised more than 1,200 rooms arranged around three plazas and probably stood two or three stories high. A group of five rooms in the West Plaza and a kiva in the Central Plaza have been excavated and stabilized to show the original floor plans. The village served as a major trade center and staging area for northward migrations. Waters of the Little Colorado River below attracted game and nourished crops and wild plant foods. The trailhead for Homolovi II is 3.1 miles north of the visitor center on a paved road; a few picnic tables lie along the way in. You can also stop at the Tsu 'vö Loop Trail, a half-mile interpretive loop between twin buttes; a trail leaflet helps you locate petroglyphs and other features beside the trail.
Homolovi I, a pueblo of over 1,000 rooms near the Colorado River, takes some imagination because you can see only outlines of the walls. Follow the paved road 1.5 miles, then walk along a short dirt trail to reach it.
Homolovi III and IV lie west across the Little Colorado River from Homolovi II. Homolovi IV may be visited and has some fine petroglyphs; stop first at the visitor center to obtain directions. There's nothing to see at Homolovi III; the ruins have been buried to protect them from erosion.
Little Painted Desert County Park
Enjoy the views and beautiful sunsets from this park, 13 miles northeast of Winslow on AZ 87 (I-40 Exit 257). Facilities include a scenic rim viewpoint overlooking colorful desert hills, a hiking trail, and picnic tables.
Situated on both banks of Clear Creek Reservoir, McHood (928/289-2434) features swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, and camping. Anglers catch trout, bass, and catfish. Boaters may use the launch ramp and head 2.5 miles upstream into a scenic canyon with 200-foot cliffs; look for petroglyphs. The area has good birdwatching too. The park stays open all year, no drinking water, hookups, or fee.
From Winslow, head south 1.3 miles on AZ 87, then left 4.7 miles on AZ 99 to the park. Turn left before the reservoir bridge to reach the shaded picnic tables overlooking the lake, swimming area, campground, and boat ramp or continue across the bridge and turn left to the day-use area with shaded picnic tables, playground, and group ramadas.
Winslow City Park
At the corner of Colorado Ave. and Cherry St., this park (928/289-5714 parks and recreation) offers a year-round indoor pool (928/289-4543), summertime outdoor pool (928/289-4592), tennis and racquetball courts, ball fields, weight rooms, and sports programs.
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