Rain drizzled onto our SUV as we drove towards the Airport Mesa Vortex, hoping to feel “energized”. The sky was ready to unleash onto our backs as we climbed to the top, less than 5 minutes from the parking lot. The walk was brief and ended on a small plateau surrounded by views. A vortex is supposedly an energy center that some people react to physically. I stood at the top and watched the hazy clouds and mountains colored in rainbows. It felt like being in the center of a funnel cloud—motionless air but with beauty swirling around it like a storm. I didn’t expect to feel anything, but all at once my fingertips began tingling vigorously. As we walked back down towards the car, the tingling stopped like turning off a faucet. It tripped me out.
When Katie and I went on our first big road trip, we drove East to West down the same stretch of Route 40 that I was currently on. We scribbled down the names of a few ghost towns that we felt confident we could find, but it was dark before we reached them. I love a thrill, but even I won’t go ghost hunting in the black of night with no towns for miles. My family and I were driving down that same stretch of Route 40 this time, going East instead of West. We put a pin on our map for Two Guns Ghost Town and didn’t look back.
Two Guns sits on a whisper quiet stretch of open plain not far from Winslow. It has its own exit from the highway, so it’s surprisingly easy to find. There was no plaque and no sign of formal visitation. We rolled over the poorly maintained dirt road and parked in front of a crumbling structure with the words “Mountain Lions” painted on it. I learned that the site was once home to a zoo (and actual mountain lions), but a swirling history of violence, deceit, and murder plagued its rein. On a nearby stretch of the town sits the “Apache Death Cave”, a former hiding spot underground where dozens of Apache tribe members and their horses were slaughtered during a retaliatory attack by Navajos in the 1800’s.
The town’s ruins were scattered across a large swath of land. The “road” in between sites was overgrown and riddled with large rocks. A narrow, structurally questionable bridge spanned the canyon and I held my breath as our SUV creaked across. We parked and wandered throughout sand-colored structures and down a grassy path to the canyon floor, looking for more signs of former life. It was quiet except for the occasional squeaking moan of trucks rolling down the freeway nearby. I had this cryptic, sour feeling in my gut as we descended into the washy area below the ruins. It was a palpable dread that I couldn’t shake. Ironically, this was before I had done any research on the town’s sordid history. When we migrated towards the “death cave” and peered inside, I was overcome with sadness and a tightness in my chest. I felt the way you do when you hold back crying. The energy in that space was profound and thick, and an experience I had never had before.
The sky was a murky, pre-storm blue as we rolled back down the highway and left Two Guns in silence. We made an obligatory stop at the site of a meteor crater. It was cool but overpriced and the wind at the observation area was enough to knock you off your feet. We tumbled lunch in Winslow, Arizona (standin’ on the corner…) and wandered around the historic La Posada Hotel to gawk at haunting wall paintings and intricate decorations.
Route 66 continued before us, riddled with decaying structures and remnants of old neon. A planned stop at the Petrified National Forest was thwarted due to the government shut-down, so we were left standing in the rain outside of the gift shop (we were informed, by the friendly shop employee, that there was a single petrified tree stump in the garden outside). Rain turned to snow as we finally turned into our budget motel on the outskirts of Gallup, NM.
“Budget” is usually a loose road trip term that proved literal in this case. The wind howled outside the door of the front desk as the attendant warned us that it may knock out the pilot light that ran the heater in our room (Um…). We got a first-floor room because “those are nicer”. The heater spanned floor-to-ceiling with a thick vent surrounded by thin panel walls. I squeeze my ear up against the decades-old contraption and hear what sounds like a fireplace or newly fired-up oven. Was I going to make it through the night? It didn’t help that there was only 1 hanger in the closet (instant suspicion, though I wasn’t sure why) and a precarious lump under the carpet that I decided was a trap door. I flung a rolling suitcase on top of said-lump as insurance and a winter coat against the door to block the piercing draft. My weird little threadbare home.
I went to sleep in the outskirts of that small town, with darkness for miles, snow outside, and the sound of endless trains in the distance. The roads sit quiet and in limbo, like the hazy end of a dream. It’s almost like a memory that never existed.