Trip Report: Painted Desert Trading Post

A Trading Post Outing

On Memorial Day weekend we had an opportunity to help out the Route 66 Co-Op, a non-profit group that recently purchased the Painted Desert Trading Post. This long-closed trading post is considered to be a sort of 'holy grail' of Route 66 destinations. It is located along an abandoned segment of Route 66 east of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. In the 1950s, the business closed for good after the highway was rerouted onto a new alignment. Its isolation kept it relatively safe and intact for some 60 years. It has been virtually inaccessible on private land, unless you knew the right people to ask for access, or were willing to trespass and hoof it several miles down abandoned 66.


The Painted Desert Trading Post in 2014.

In recent years, the land surrounding the PDTP has been used for cattle grazing, leading to increased damage as cattle could walk around inside the building, bump into walls, etc. Without action, it would not survive for much longer. The Route 66 Co-Op was able to purchase the property, and immediately set about fencing off the building to keep animals out, cleaning up 60 years of mess inside, and stabilizing the structure. So far they have held 3 work sessions, where Co-Op members and volunteers have made tremendous progress in arresting the decay of the trading post so that it can survive into the future.

Work was taking place on site for the majority of the week leading up to Memorial Day, but unfortunately we had no time off work except for the holiday weekend. We live about 400 miles away, but we wanted to put in some work on the day we arrived, which meant getting there as early as we could. We had only one major stop planned along the way: a visit to another world famous Route 66 trading post. Unlike the Painted Desert Trading Post, our other destination is still very much alive.


Day 1: Old Highways Galore

We left home in Las Vegas with a full charge, standard procedure for EV road-tripping. This time we avoided freeways through the Las Vegas area and instead drove regular streets, to trace the former routes of US Highways 95 and 93. We would continue this pattern across northern Arizona, taking original US 66 whenever possible. The goal was to approximate 'vintage' mileage to our only major stop along the way: the Jack Rabbit Trading Post near Joseph City.

The Jack Rabbit Trading Post has been a fixture on Route 66 for 70 years. It is known to roadies around the world for its giant yellow sign with a rabbit and text proclaiming "Here It Is". For many years, there were small yellow signs placed along highways up to hundreds of miles away, with the simple image of a rabbit and a mileage figure - how far it was to the Jack Rabbit. Recently, the Jack Rabbit has been offering these signs to visitors, each custom made with the requested distance to the Jack Rabbit. Our sign was made back in November 2018, but I wanted to pick it up in person and so they held it for us until this trip. I used a mileage figure based on the distance from our home using original US Highways, and I was determined to arrive with The Blue Spirit's trip odometer reading exactly that figure.

The path across northern Arizona doesn't have many Tesla Superchargers, so we added some charge in Kingman before continuing east. We ate a quick breakfast at Carl's Jr. where the superchargers are located, and by the time we were ready to leave, the car was as well. The total charge time was just 18 minutes. After a very brief stop at the Powerhouse Visitor Center, we headed toward the next Supercharger in Flagstaff. Though some areas required us to take the interstate because Route 66 is no longer complete, there are numerous segments between Ash Fork and Flagstaff which can be taken as a through route to avoid a lot of Interstate 40. We took those old roads whenever possible, adding to our time but making for a more relaxing and authentic 66 experience. It's a beautiful area and highly recommended to drive instead of the interstate. We also encountered the first short stretch of unpaved road that our Tesla has ever driven upon. While the unpaved areas can get muddy in inclement weather, it's no problem in good weather even for our car, which has lower-than-typical ground clearance.


Former US 66 is now Branigan Park Road, or as Jessica put it, "Baby's first gravel road."

The Blue Spirit on Branigan Park Rd., with the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.


Upon arrival in Flagstaff we had to leave Route 66 for a couple of miles to visit the Tesla Supercharger, which is located at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel very close to the I-40/I-17 interchange. This time, we needed a longer charge than at Kingman. While the car charged, we walked across the street for lunch at Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. One of the things we have learned in road-tripping with an EV is not to rush meal stops. This can make the trip a bit longer than a gas car trip, but it's less stressful than hurrying at lunch and being worried about how fast we can get back onto the road. After our lunch the car had charged for 44 minutes and was nearly full once again. We had plenty of range to make it to the Painted Desert Trading Post, without stopping at the Holbrook supercharger on the way.

The Flagstaff superchargers.

On our way out of Flagstaff I missed my turn to stay on Route 66 - I wasn't paying enough attention to the signs and I added perhaps half a mile to my odometer to get back on track. East of Flagstaff, one is forced to rejoin I-40 to continue, so we made better time, leaving the interstate only to drive through Winslow. My mistake in Flagstaff was thankfully not large enough to ruin my mileage plan, and upon our arrival at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post the trip odometer read 355.8 miles, matching (in whole numbers) the sign we were to pick up. Don't ask me why this was so important to me; I'm just a nerd that way!

We finally picked up our sign! Thank you Tony and Cindy!

Here it is! For several definitions of 'it'.
 
The road geek in me rejoices: 355 on the sign, 355 on the trip odometer.


Cindy and Tony at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post are wonderful Route 66 ambassadors, receiving travelers from all over the world into their shop, which has been in Cindy's family for decades. A large assortment of souvenirs and other products are available, as well as a museum room of Route 66 and historical memorabilia for customers' enjoyment. Since we still needed to reach the Painted Desert Trading Post this day, we stayed only long enough for a brief chat and pictures, and vowed to stop again in two days on our way back home. With our Jack Rabbit mileage goal satisfied, we hopped back on to the interstate to reach the PDTP as quickly as possible.

What did we spy in Holbrook? A truckload of Teslas. The EV revolution is here, folks.

The Painted Desert Trading Post lies about 3.5 miles away from I-40, along an old stretch of Route 66 that is now on private property behind a gate. The access road leading to this old segment is dirt, and old 66 itself is mostly degraded to rough gravel. For its second foray off-pavement, The Blue Spirit did just fine as long as we took it slow. I was most worried about tire damage from pieces of debris or old loose chunks of pavement. We arrived at the PDTP about 4pm. Work on site was ongoing as it had been most of the week, and since it was near the end of the day we could only fit in about an hour of work ourselves before the workday was ending for everyone. Being unskilled labor, we mostly helped to clear trenches for a new foundation around the building.

We made it! Our first visit to the PDTP since 2016.


We headed back to Holbrook for dinner with a bunch of the amazing folks working on the PDTP, and then to check in to our motel. The Blue Spirit was still running on the charge from Flagstaff, and had enough left that I decided to wait until the next morning to recharge. Late in the evening I met up again with one of our Co-Op friends, Roamin' Rich, who took me up on my offer to take the Blue Spirit for a spin around Holbrook. Some fun freeway onramp acceleration and Route 66 cruising ensued. Then it was time to get some sleep before our full workday at the PDTP on Sunday.


Day 2: Trying to be helpful

Before our full workday at the PDTP I visited the Holbrook Supercharger around 8 a.m., and 13 minutes of charging was more than enough for getting to the work site and back to Holbrook again that night. We arrived on site about 9:30 and set to work doing whatever was asked of us - shoveling trenches, cutting wood for concrete forms, etc. - following the Co-Op members' instructions on what to do, and how to do it. We were just happy to be there, seeing friends and helping out.

The Holbrook superchargers, at Burger King.

Conversing on site.
 
We had been to the Painted Desert Trading Post in previous years, as part of the Route 66 Relics Tour, a guided tour of sites held in conjunction with Petrified Forest National Park during Route 66 festivals in Holbrook. We had not been able to attend either of the first two work sessions since the PDTP was purchased. The first session concentrated on fencing off the building to protect it from cattle, and stabilizing the structure to avoid collapse. The second session this past March focused on repairing the roof. The major goal of this work session was the replacement of the building foundation. The trading post was not built to last this long, with a thin concrete foundation and floor which has deteriorated badly over its decades of abandonment. A new reinforced foundation needed to be poured around the entire building, and wood replaced around most of the perimeter to provide a solid base for the walls. There was certainly no shortage of work and I wish we could have stayed longer!


Extensive support was needed before new concrete went in.

Forms for a new foundation were needed all the way around the building.

The Painted Desert Trading Post lives on into the age of EVs.


We had one side goal of our own, apart from the work that we did: showing that a modern EV can make such a trip. The Painted Desert Trading Post is known by roadies around the world, if not by name then by sight; but it is also hard to visit, along a gated and abandoned section of highway, and is not even visible from the interstate unless you know exactly where to look at just the right moment. As far as I am aware, The Blue Spirit is the first and only electric car to ever visit this site. In the years ahead I'm sure there will be more! We want to encourage EV drivers to get out on the road, not just stick close to home. The money saved from not buying gas can be spent supporting great places on Route 66 and elsewhere, like the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, and contributing to great causes like saving the Painted Desert Trading Post.

After a day of work (and probably a little too much chit-chat!) we headed back to Holbrook once again for a tasty dinner with some of our PDTP friends at Mr Maestas, a local place we have visited before. At the evening's end I dropped Jessica off at the motel to get some rest and I drove down the block to the Tesla supercharger. In preparation for the following day I charged longer than I had that morning - 28 minutes in all. By my estimate this should have been enough to get us back to the PDTP the next day, and then all the way back to the Flagstaff supercharger once we had to head home. It turns out I was wrong about that...


Day 3: There Will Be Blood

Our last work day at the PDTP was Memorial Day, a half day only since we needed to be home that night. We arrived before 9 a.m. and helped with forms for the upcoming concrete pour, which was to occur the following day. During this work I had a bit of a mishap. All week the wind had been quite strong, and on this day it was frequently blowing at 30-40 MPH. On a site that has been cleared of vegetation this made for a lot of airborne dirt. I was working near the rear of the building, and in an attempt to avoid the stinging sand I squinted hard and quickly ducked in to a rear doorway, forgetting that a temporary bracing beam was attached across the middle of the opening. I impacted it hard with my forehead, jamming my sunglasses into the bridge of my nose and gouging out a nice little chunk of flesh. Once inside I was quickly informed of the blood beginning to run down my face and was forced to take a break! After getting cleaned up a bit, I didn't get much more done besides a little shoveling. My face stung a little but I was more amused and embarrassed than significantly injured. It's healing up fine and I may have a minor permanent scar to show for my blood sacrifice.

Remote? Why yes, yes it is.
 
Approaching the PDTP after 2 miles of heavily degraded former pavement.

The nearby Dead Wash Bridge. The Blue Spirit is probably the only EV that has ever crossed it.

The PDTP will be on firm footing soon!

Old Glory watches over the work.

By midday we had to say goodbye to friends at the PDTP. As we again passed through Holbrook on our way west, it was already clear that the strong winds were having an adverse effect on our car's efficiency. A ground speed of 75 MPH, coupled with a headwind of 30 MPH or more, meant that we were effectively facing an aerodynamic speed of well over 100 MPH, which was drastically cutting into our range. We were using about 50% more energy than the normal range estimate. At this rate we would not make it to Flagstaff without charging. But we had a solution! Even before we left, I was considering where we would each lunch on our way home, and we decided to visit one of our favorite places on Route 66: the historic La Posada hotel in Winslow. La Posada has a pair of Tesla Destination Chargers available for guests, and I called ahead to confirm that these chargers are available for use by restaurant patrons as well as hotel guests.

Before Winslow, we had to stop once again at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. With more time to spend, we had a wonderful chat with Cindy and Tony, and spoke a little about the possibility of adding EV charging for visitors. Like many older businesses, modern power demands are heftier than what the Jack Rabbit was built for, so adding an EV charger is probably not in the cards without improved infrastructure. We showed off the Tesla a little bit though, and as longer range EVs from many manufacturers begin to hit the roads in the near future I'm sure they will soon be seeing more EVs than just Teslas. We'll certainly be stopping by this great place whenever we pass through, charger or not! The Jack Rabbit is planning a party very soon for their 70th anniversary. On Saturday, July 6th, it is the place to be!

Almost back to the Jack Rabbit!

No visit to the Jack Rabbit is complete without a picture of your ride under their iconic sign.

After arriving at La Posada in Winslow, we plugged in to one of their destination chargers and headed inside for lunch at The Turquoise Room. Destination chargers are 208- or 240-volt AC units, similar to what a homeowner would install for their own vehicle. They charge more slowly than superchargers, making them suitable for longer stays such as overnight at a hotel.  Our car charged at 48 amps, which is the maximum that a Tesla Model 3 is capable of charging with an AC charger such as this. We had a wonderful meal at The Turquoise Room while our car added enough range to get us to Flagstaff. We left with about 60 more miles of range than when we had arrived. Thankfully, the winds abated west of Winslow.  At Flagstaff, we rested in the car as it charged for 25 minutes. At about 5 p.m. we hit the road again, straight through on the interstate this time. We charged in Kingman for 16 minutes while we took a bathroom break, and then continued back home to Las Vegas.

La Posada, a treasure of Route 66.

Destination charging at La Posada.

At Flagstaff we charged at 148 kW! Absolute maximum for this type of supercharger is 150.


All told, we racked up over 800 miles on The Blue Spirit in 3 days. We look forward to another opportunity to help out at the Painted Desert Trading Post at their next work session this fall. See their Facebook page for details on access, upcoming work and fundraising. The Route 66 Co-Op is doing an amazing job. And thanks again to Cindy and Tony at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post for a great visit and for our wonderful sign!

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