Sunday, February 12, 2012

Someplace Wicked: Two Guns, Arizona

Anyone that’s interested in abandoned buildings, ghost towns, and history is going to find themselves in some places where fairly unsavory things have occurred. Sometimes there’s just a bad vibe that surrounds a place even when you don’t know exactly what’s happened there. Other times maybe you’ve cracked a few books or done a Google search beforehand and you know where those bad vibes are coming from. Such is the case with Two Guns, Arizona, now not much more than a slowly decaying jumble of collapsed stone buildings off a long-closed portion of old Route 66.

Two Guns miserable history goes back to a time well before it was known as Two Guns. The town, such as it became, was built beside Canyon Diablo, the site of a mass execution of Apaches by Navajos in 1878. The Apaches had been raiding the Navajos for some time and had just nearly wiped out two entire villages in one day. Twenty-five Navajo warriors followed the Apaches back to Canyon Diablo but had nearly given up their search when two scouts detected warm air coming out of a crack in the ground. Below this crack was a large cave where over 40 Apaches were hiding with their horses. Two Apaches, oblivious to the Navajos, stepped into the open and were quickly killed. Then the Navajos lit a fire at the mouth of the cave with brush and driftwood from the canyon floor. The Apaches tried to negotiate, but when the Navajos asked for the return of three small girls that had been taken hostage they were met with silence. Understanding that the girls had been killed, the Navajos piled on more fuel and eventually every Apache was either asphyxiated or burned alive. It took a full day for the walls of the cave to cool enough for the Navajos to enter to re-claim their stolen belongings. Inside they saw that the Apaches had tried to use the blood of their horses to douse the flames. The Navajo warned anyone who asked to stay away and consider the entire area cursed to this day.

A few decades later a shortcut to Winslow was built through Canyon Diablo. (As an aside, if you’re not up on your Spanish, Canyon Diablo translates as “Devil Canyon.”) In the 1920’s, Earle and Louise Cundiff opened a trading post, campground, and rental cottages near the road, just beside the canyon. The main store was constructed at the southern end of what would soon be a large, concrete bridge spanning Canyon Diablo. Then a man called Henry “Indian” Miller came along, claiming to be an Apache chief named Crazy Thunder. Miller was no Apache (he was really part-Mohawk), but he and his wife partnered up with the Cundiff’s and Miller constructed a long stone building north of the canyon that he named, “Fort Two Guns.” Cundiff then wanted to proclaim this miniature community a town and dub the whole place Two Guns. However, the post office rejected this name, insisting instead on Canyon Lodge, a moniker that has nearly faded from memory.

Miller went about turning Fort Two Guns into something like a zoo, including bobcats, snakes, porcupines, and mountain lions. He also built fake cliff dwellings, which he passed off as authentic, just above the cave in which the Apaches had been killed. The cave was called “Mystery Cave” because the Navajos had been unable to find it following earlier raids by the Apaches. It was also known as the "Apache Death Cave,” and Miller lured motorists off Route 66 with canyon tours, refreshments, and tales of carnage. He sold the bones of the dead Apaches to tourists. For awhile, Two Guns prospered.

While all this was going on, for some reason the Cundiff’s decided to lease their store to a drifting couple. These drifters eventually absconded into the night with most of the Cundiff’s merchandise. Then, Cundiff began to argue with Miller over the terms of their contract. On March 3, 1926, Miller shot Cundiff dead and was, for reasons unknown, quickly acquitted. But Miller wasn’t off the hook. Upon returning to Two Guns he was nearly killed by his captive mountain lion. Later he was nearly killed by his lynx. After his daughter was killed in a car crash, Miller had finally had enough and left Two Guns for good.

In 1938, Route 66 was rerouted to the south, bypassing Two Guns. But Louise Cundiff re-married and, with her second husband, rebuilt Two Guns, even re-opening Miller’s zoo. But the renewal didn’t last long. By 1950 everything was closed again and the property was sold. Several people tried to resurrect Two Guns but, in 1971, just as I-40 was slated to open with a designated exit for the "town," the entire complex burnt down. And so it has remained for 40 years, a strange, cursed place that nobody wants. Except perhaps for Russell Crowe, who is rumored to be the property’s current owner.

I didn’t have much time during my visit and I did not go looking for the Apache Death Cave. The cave has apparently largely collapsed and is no more than a fissure in a rock wall. Nor did I go looking for meteorites, bits of which have been pulled out of the canyon, a nice treasure indeed for the lucky prospector. I didn’t even have time to search for the remains of the town of Diablo Canyon, just a couple miles from Two Guns, which was forced into being when the railroad ran out of money for a time and workers were stranded. Diablo Canyon was said to have surpassed Tombstone for murder and debauchery. Its main street was not named “Main Street” but “Hell Street.”

I may make a return trip to Two Guns someday but I admit that I am wary. It seems no one who has gotten close to Two Guns has fared well in the end. It is a quiet, eerie, forlorn place, strewn with the rocks that the Miller's and Cundiff’s once used to build their dream. Maybe I’d be better off investigating the abandoned truck stop to the west. Its name? Twin Arrows.

Information for this post came from Weird Arizona by Wesley Treat. The best source for information on the execution of the Apaches is probably Treat’s on-line Roadside Resort. A good history of the Two Guns Trading Post can he found HERE. I got some information about the town of Canyon Diablo from Wikipedia.


Adsila said...

Very interesting about the history of Two Guns. I have been wanting to visit that place and hope to some day....awesome photos.

Nan said...

I will not react on your article, but on the third photo publisged in it! it makes me think of the work of peter bialobrzeski, a photographer working on lost buildings in cities ( not old but brand new buildings!)

keep reading you!


jmhouse said...

Hi Nan,

I had not heard of Peter Bialobrzeski before your comment, but a quick search on Google has shown me that his work is excellent. I am pleased to be compared to him even slightly and very much appreciate the compliment.

Merci beaucoup!


Autumnforest said...

Beautiful. I am ashamed as an urbex'er in AZ to have not gone there. Sounds like it's time for a ROAD TRIP!

Deb W said...

Amazing place... We stopped to explore after visiting Meteor Crater. This would make an awesome paranormal investigation.

trashfire said...

There's a former store on 66, just east of Twin Arrows, where apparently the couple that ran the store was murdered by thieves one night, after which the store never opened again.

jmhouse said...

I didn't know about those murders near Twin Arrows. That really is a rough stretch of road. Thanks, trashfire! JM

Susan Branch said...

I am very familiar with Two Guns and everything between Flagstaff and Winslow on Route 66. My dad was born (1926) and raised in Winslow. Our family always traveled in the 1950's and 60's to Winslow from Phoenix to visit my grandparents. The Apache Death Cave is not sealed up as people think. There is another entrance as we found out in 1998 when we met the caretaker for Two Guns, Jimmy Solinger. He showed us alot more of Two Guns and the Apache Death Cave than people knew about. We became his best friends! He was from Winslow and lived at Two Guns with all his dogs. You mentioned there was always trouble for people associated with Two Guns. We miss Jimmy very much. He had told us he felt he had always been a burden to his family. I still have his last letter that he wrote to me from Two Guns. He took his life about eight years ago. There were no more caretakers after Jimmy. If anyone is ever interested, we have many photos taken from inside the Apache Death Cave.

jmhouse said...

Susan, thanks very much for your comment. Your recollections are very interesting indeed. I did not know that the last caretaker committed suicide. Pretty tragic. Two Guns history now seems even more grim.

I would definitely like to see your photos of the cave. You can e-mail me at the address associated with my profile (link above) anytime.

Thanks again, JM

Douglas Sakiestewa said...

My Hopi father and Navajo mother worked at Two Guns is late 1930s. My bro has pictures of our parents outside the house with M....Lions. My parents were hired, then fired. They went to Winslow, then on to Hopi land. I was born in Leupp in 1937. I am writing about my own journey in the Col Plateau. Doug Sakiestewa

jmhouse said...

Douglas, thanks very much for your comment. Hearing about these connections to places I've photographed make doing this website worthwhile. If you ever manage to get a scan of that photo of your parents, please think about sending it this way. We'd love to see it. And let us know when your own recollections are ready to be read. I'm certain many people will find them very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I visit. Two gun regularly and have yet to find the other entrance to the cave can u give me a location to were ill find it

jmhouse said...

I've not been in the cave myself, but I believe it to be at the northeastern edge of the canyon, adjacent to the old resort. There are the remains of a wooden walkway at that point and I think the cave is below that. However, as I mentioned, the cave has partially collapsed and what was once an obvious entrance might now be just a thin fissure you'd have to squeeze through.

By the way, I heard Two Guns is fenced-off and being developed right now. If you go back out, let us know what you see! Thanks for your comment. JM

Mary Jo Simmen-Gray said...

I was on my way to Winslow this past weekend and this caught my eye. On my way back to Phoenix, I stopped to take some pics. It is fenced off however you can navigate around the fence if you turn right directly after crossing the cattle guard as exit toward to gas station type building. I had no idea what I came upon until after I got back to Phoenix and searched the web. I have photos too. Pretty cool find, but it is very eerie there.

jmhouse said...

Yeah, there's certainly quite a bit more to Two Guns than initially meets the eye. I wonder what they're planning on building and if it will actually happen or, like so many other things connected to Two Guns, end in ruin of one sort or another. Thanks for your comment, Mary Jo!

Crystal said...

Fascinating! Visited Two Guns today before knowing this history. The fence is still down, no caretakers in sight. The entire time we were there, my companion said that she had a bad feeling about the place. Boy, was she right!

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the update, Crystal! It sounds like any "construction" work must have come to a halt then. Ah, such is the history of Two Guns. JM

Natasha Lytle said...

I thought it felt kind of strange there..kind of dark. Hah, now I know we weren't just crazy!

jmhouse said...

Natasha, I certainly wouldn't say you were just crazy! The vibe at Two Guns is a little dark even if you don't know its history. Once you know the history,'s even darker!

Thanks for your comment! JM

sherry roberts said...

I stop at 2 guns whenever I am on I40 goin to california ; I drive a truck its been 5 years since iv been there , I misss it, I .feel sometimes like its haunted; anyway iv got hundreds of pictures spanning a 10 year peroid where the old wooden bridge is iv got pictures of the cave opening before it caved in you could go back a little bit but there was a large iron barred door that blocked the entrance (like an old jail cell door) I have photos of it im glad to find stories of the canyon ,Iim from tennessee , in some 70s frontier times magazines an author name maurice kildare wrote of the history of the canyon ; he knew 2 guns well thankyou may 2 guns be here for our kids to see....sherry robberts

jmhouse said...

Thank you for your comment, sherry roberts! You know, if you'd ever like to send any of your photos this way, I'd love to add them to the post. I'm particularly interested in that picture of the iron "jail" door. I had never heard about that.

Nor had I heard of the Maurice Kildare piece. I couldn't find the text on-line, but I did find a reference to it. Do you have it, by chance?

Two Guns is indeed a totally fascinating (and sometimes creepy) place. Long may it remain as-is and undeveloped!

Thanks again! JM

J Grumbo said...

A few notes... Maurice Kildare was another name (one of probably a dozen) for Gladwell Richardson, who wrote the book "Two Guns Arizona" (the text is online here: There is also a chapter or two on Canyon Diablo town.

The Death Cave is accessible (at some risk), though the back (west) entrance in - which was accessible over a wooden bridge and along a winding walkway through some faux ruins - can only be reached by walking in from the canyon now (as the wooden bridge over it has been burned and destroyed in the past few years).

The concrete car bridge was built in 1914, just a few months after the similar one over Padre Canyon (north of current I-40). The National Old Trails highway was its designation at the time before it became Route 66 in 1926. You can find a much less impressive car bridge from the 1937 realignment just west of Two Guns (visible from I-40).

The round building in the "newer" build of Two Guns was a Texaco station that belonged to Rimmy Jim Giddings, who had a more famous station at the crux of Meteor Crater Road and Route 66 long ago. He's worth looking up, quite a character.

jmhouse said...

That is great information, J Grumbo! Thanks for passing it along. Somehow the book by Gladwell Richardson/Maurice Kildare got past me. I might try to track down a physical copy. I found a couple for about $20 on-line.

I also didn't realize that the concrete bridge was built in 1914. That's older than I would've guessed. Pretty cool!

I hope to get into the right Apache Death Cave next time I'm through. I roamed around a much smaller cave last trip thinking there must've been a cave-in that was blocking me from going farther back, but I was in the wrong place. Alas.

Anyway, thanks again for your comment. It's much appreciated! JM

J Grumbo said...

The main part of the cave is accessible, and directly below what remains of the wooden bridge heading in. The cave-in is visible too, opposite the current entrance. If you walk around to the west side (above the cave in), you'll see the now collapsed wooden bridge that led along a winding path through some more of the faux ruins. From this vantage point, you can see the small western entryway in. There is a small room there that was essentially cut off from the rest in the collapse. (Looping around toward this, an apparent open "passageway" where I believe the Apaches must have been able to lead their horses down into the caves) This was the one I went into years ago, thinking that's all there was.

There is a bridge along Padre Canyon now that predates Two Guns' 1914 bridge by a few months. It's just north of I-40, not visible unless you follow the abandoned stretch of Route 66 from Winona (where it parallels the railroad tracks for a while). This old alignment goes past the bridge maybe 1/2 mile before it disappears, but it used to wind itself over to Two Guns ("Canyon Lodge" in those days).

Glad if any of this helped.

jmhouse said...

J Grumbo, I think, like your first attempt, I went into the small room that was cut-off by the collapse and figured that was all I'd be able to see. But I know exactly where that wooden bridge is, so I believe the third time will be the charm. Although maybe it's strange to refer to a charm when you're talking about going into the Apache Death Cave at Two Guns!

Thanks for the info. That does help! JM