Painted Desert Trading Post

Painted Desert Trading Post

Jul 20th 2023

Standing alone along an abandoned section of Route 66’s original 1926 alignment is the Painted Desert Trading Post.

2026 will mark the 100th anniversary of U.S. Route 66. Living in Arizona, the upcoming centennial is a big deal. Arizona is home to 250 miles of state-maintained road, including 158 miles of uninterrupted original highway. That said, Arizona also has sections of the abandoned road that are still assessable.

One of these sections is a five-mile stretch of the original 1926 alignment. Not only can you drive on the actual road, but you have the opportunity to visit the 1940 Painted Desert Trading Post.

Painted Desert Trading Post

The Painted Desert Trading Post is truly a rare gem in the desert. Unlike many Route 66 relics that are either abandoned and decaying over time or still in commercial operation, the Painted Desert Trading Post is a structure restored solely to help preserve the rich history of Route 66 and the many stories along the way.

Driving Route 66

Traveling along the old road, you find yourself driving through the open desert terrain of the Sonoran Desert within the Navajo Nation. Characterized by rocky outcrops, sandy soil, and scattered shrubs, you get the true nature of what it was like to go on this stretch of Route 66 in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.. 

Heading West on Old Road

Time is taking its toll on the road, and there are sections where you can still see the highway markings, but the old pavement is breaking up into small granules similar to gravel.

After 2 miles, the Painted Desert Trading Post comes into view. It stands alone, with its white walls contrasting against the surrounding landscape.

As a hot breeze blows across the desert, I can imagine the smiles of hot and thirsty traveling families traveling through the desert in the days before cars had air conditioners when they spotted the words “Cold Drinks” painted prominently on the side of the building.

Standing in front of the trading post and looking west, you can see the road dropping down to the bridge over the Dead River and continuing along the contour of the land on its way to the Petrified Forest National Park.

Road to Petrified Forest

Why is it here?

In the early 1900s, the Santa Fe Railway started promoting the region’s incredible natural beauty. However, most visitors to this area were limited to wealthy tourists who could afford a cross-country train ticket. This all changed with the opening of Route 66. By 1938 the entire 2.448 miles between Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California, was paved. With Route 66 featured in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath and the 1940 movie of the same name, Route 66 was now in the American lexicon.

The Painted Desert Trading Post was built in 1940 by Dotch Windsor, a local cattle rancher who wanted to capitalize on the ever-increasing car traffic passing by his ranch. Dotch offered souvenirs such as petrified wood, Navajo-made rugs and jewelry, cold drinks, and sundries, and he also sold Gulf Oil Gas. And it appears that his gambit paid off. That is until the summer of 1958.

This section of Route 66 was paved in 1928, and by the 1950s, the road was showing its age. As part of a Route 66 upgrade project in 1958, the alignment was shifted a mile to the south and is the basis of the current route of 1-40. This new alignment left the trading post and this section of Route 66 abandoned. Making it even worse for Dotch, due to the lay of the land, the trading post is not visible from the new alignment. Without traffic or customers, Dotch was forced to close and soon moved to Holbrook, Arizona.


Over the years, like many of the Route 66 relics, the trading post was slowly falling apart. In 2018 the property came to the attention of “Roamin’ Rich” Dinkela. Dinkela recruited several like-minded Route 66 enthusiasts and founded the Route 66 Co-Op. The co-op purchased the trading post and started the painstaking restoration process. After thousands of dollars and countless hours, they restored the trading post to its original glory.

As part of our exploration, we were pleasantly surprised to find the gate and front door to the trading post unlocked. Stepping inside, you find new flooring and interior walls proudly displaying the Trading Post’s complete history and the rebuilding effort.

Getting There

The Painted Desert Trading Post is located within the Navajo Indian Reservation just west of Chambers, Arizona.

Note: Google Maps still show Route 66, now called Pinta Road, connecting Petrified Forest National Park to the Painted Desert Trading Post location. The road still exists; however, Pinta Road is closed to the public within the national park. 

To access the old road, you leave 1-40 on exit 320/Pinta Road. After taking this exit, you head north on Pinta Road; shortly after you take the exit, the road converts to a well-maintained dirt road. After following Pinta Road for one mile, you will find yourself at a gate.   

See the Before You Go section below to gain access to the road. After going through the gate, turn left and head west until you arrive at the trading post. 

Before You Go

As the old road is now on private land managed by Route 66 Co-op, you must request the lock combination to open the gate. To receive the code, send a text message to 314-369-4366. The code is only valid for 24 hours, so you must plan a bit before going.

Thanks to the efforts of the Route 66 Co-Op, we can have a unique, authentic Route 66 experience.


Route 66 Co-Op