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  • A Fly in the Amber:Route 66 Architecture at Petrified Forest National Monument
  • Lillian Makeda (bio)

Located in eastern Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is renowned for its spectacular geography and outstanding paleontological resources. The area was set aside as one of the first national monuments created by President Theodore Roosevelt after the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906.1 Living trees are few and far between in the rolling landscape of this bleak and desolate region, where the remains of ancient forests endure as some of the most important deposits of petrified wood in the world (Figure 1).

The arrival of sightseers by way of the Thirty-Fifth Parallel Transcontinental Railroad Line and the National Old Trails Road (later to become Route 66) prompted both the National Park Service and private enterprise to develop architecture that would frame the touristic experience of Petrified Forest. Diverging objectives produced sharply contrasting designs for buildings. The National Park Service favored the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style from 1929 to 1942, and the International Style from 1958 through 1965.2 Private enterprise, along Route 66, built commercial vernacular buildings that epitomized the "flamboyant hucksterism" often found in contemporary roadside architecture.3 The Park Service at Petrified Forest viewed these types of ventures as "undesirable" and worked assiduously to remove them from the landscape. The most contentious business site was known as the Painted Desert Park or, alternatively, the Lion Farm, a small operation that sold gasoline, souvenirs, and snacks. Between the late 1950s and mid-1960s, archetypal examples of each of these three styles—Spanish-Pueblo Revival, the International Style, and commercial vernacular—comprised the only buildings on a plateau overlooking the Painted Desert in the northern part of the monument and were located a short distance from each other (Figure 2). This striking architectural juxtaposition would have been further heightened by the area's flat, barren terrain.

In 1930, the National Park Service embarked on a lengthy campaign to take control of the architecture in and around Petrified Forest and eliminate the Lion Farm. The built environment of the park as it appears today reflects a plan conceived exclusively by the Park Service, which finally triumphed after a protracted battle that pitted federal and state governments against small-scale entrepreneurs who sought to make a living near the Painted Desert. The conflict at Petrified Forest represents only one instance of what has been an ongoing endeavor to assert government influence over the property within and around national parks and monuments. On a national level, these efforts have met with varying degrees of success, but when it came to Petrified Forest, the Park Service ultimately prevailed.

Petrified Forest National Monument

Accounts of petrified wood in eastern Arizona began to receive wide distribution after the completion of the Atlantic and Pacific railway line in 1883.4 The railroad furnished the primary means of approach for over thirty years, and the area became one of several attractions that would be packaged by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe as "the American Southwest." Charles Lummis, famous for Mesa, Cañon, and Pueblo and other publications describing his travels in the region, [End Page 53]

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Figure 1.

Petrified Forest National Monument, 1946. From 1906 to 1932, the boundaries of Petrified Forest National Monument were located south of the Thirty-fifth Parallel Transcontinental Railway Line; most visitors disembarked at Adamana or Holbrook. The development of Route 66 was followed by the addition of the Painted Desert to the monument in 1932. Detail from a map located in the Petrified Forest National Park Archives.

[End Page 54]

helped popularize the beauty of Petrified Forest National Monument. A 1912 article published in Santa Fe Employee's Magazine exclaimed:

And the sight of them! The Titan trunks lying as they were felled by some unknown cataclysm, their chameleon chips paving an area half the size of the state of Rhode Island and shimmering at sunrise or at sunset as Sinbad never saw; their broken cross sections so radiant, bark and fiber, as no man ever before beheld outside his dreams!5

Tourism at Petrified Forest steadily increased during the early twentieth century as automobile...


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