As a student of the historic Route 66, each time I am able to cruise down the Mother Road nostalgia kicks into high gear. I have the privilege of frequently traveling parts of Route 66 (now mostly replaced by Interstate 40) between Albuquerque and Flagstaff.
Berma Shave style signs were and are popular along Route 66, which are the consecutive billboards that promote upcoming roadside attractions. When combined with store names such as Indian Center or Meteor City Trading Post and promises of Native American pottery, moccasins, rugs and jewelry, this advertising method is highly effective on me!
My dream is to someday stop at every one of these trading posts that line the “Main Street of America” — similar to the hopes of mountaineers who want to climb every 14er in Colorado (did you know there are 53?) or RVers who plot out to drive through each state in the union. While my aspiration isn’t so much of a well-planned effort, I have been lucky enough to stop and peruse through a couple of these historic curio shops. Thankfully, many are strategically located near fueling stations providing for gas, snacks and potties.
Each trading post stop is like a treasure hunt. After you pass by the magnets, shot glasses and plastic tomahawks, you’ll likely discover intricately-painted pottery or hand-woven rugs made by local Native artisans. Start up a conversation with the shopkeep to learn about the authenticity of the Southwest artwork and you’ll also likely hear stories of the the local area and its people.
My most recent expedition included a stop at “The” Indian Art Center just east of Winslow, Arizona. In addition to the billboard signs, I was drawn into the building as it was so brightly painted. Inside, we were greeted by the friendly store owner from behind the counter who was polishing some beautifully-crafted knives (inlayed with turquoise and other stones). He was was proud to tell us about his artisans who are Hopi (a pueblo of 20,000) and Navajo (a nation of about 150,000).
Of course, I was most interested in the jewelry. He showed me a couple of necklaces that he just received from a Navajo artist. Of course, I tried on a couple and decided to take home a unique piece with silver, white and turquoise beads. Oh, and I bought some purple beaded earrings too!
With my turquoise hankering quickly satisfied, we were back on the road again headed for home. I am looking forward to our next trip West. This time, my list of must-visit trading posts is better defined. Stay tuned for the report.