What kid doesn't harbor fantasies of sleeping in a teepee? It's like a tent, but cooler! Many of us even tried to build them ourselves at the height of our Native American fantasies, but their structural flaws showed up easily, leaving us with blankets on our heads and a yearning in our hearts. Little did we know there was a way to fill that teepee-shaped hole in our hearts. Somewhere in Arizona (the town of Holbrook, to be exact), the Wigwam Motel #6 is waiting for you.
As the name suggests, this motel is not the only one of its kind. The original Wigwam Motel was founded in Cave City, Kentucky in 1936 by a man named Frank Redford. Two years after it opened, it received a visit from Chester E. Lewis who was so thoroughly smitten by the novelty of the place and saw such a great market for it that he entered into a partnership with Redford and turned it into a franchise, eventually founding seven Wigwam Motels along great American motorways.
Today, three of the original motels are still standing and welcoming road trippers from all over, the original in Cave City, one in Rialto, CA, and the especially notable one in Holbrook, Arizona. The last two are located along Historic Route 66, that fabled trail that took American family cars from Chicago to Los Angeles and back again.
Also called “The Main Street of America” and dubbed “The Mother Road” by John Steinbeck in his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the now defunct interstate route reached the zenith of its popularity in the 1950s and to this day, the Lewis family, who continue to run the motel in Holbrook, keep their parking lot stocked with classic cars, to aid in your time travel.
Kitsch value aside, I think it's important to take a sobering moment to remember just whose culture we are appropriating when we step into one of the motel's many teepee (not wigwam, that's actually a misnomer) shaped rooms. From the inside, the teepees look like your standard motel room, with fully equipped beds, television, carpet, AC, and bathrooms with running water (no outhouses for the modern “native” American). The real difference is seen from the outside, and in a few extra interior angles.
Step even further away from the comfort of your twin bed and into the land of the Painted Desert. The town of Holbrook is actually the county seat for Navajo County, which contains reservations for the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache tribes. While you are sleeping in a white man's rendering of the way the land's natives used to live, remember that you are an easy distance from their modern reality and consider stopping by to say “thanks!” RS