I’m happy to report that my second visit to the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona was much more successful than the first. In 2005, I pulled up after dark, hoping to snag a vacant teepee. But, the person who arrived in front of me got the last one. This time, I planned ahead, made a reservation, and successfully spent a night in a teepee.
I arrived and checked in at the Wigwam Motel office. It’s more like someone’s living room, filled with decades of memorabilia. In fact, it is John Lewis’s living room, at least for the hours that he’s manning the front desk. He was enjoying the heat from the stove, and watching TV, when I came in. We were friends almost instantly, which is how I imagine most guests feel. He showed me pictures of the wigwams, and talked about how his father built them, and how he runs the place now without making much of a profit. He told me about the entourage that Oprah Winfrey brought with her to the motel a few months earlier, when taping segments for her show. And, I found out, that one of the wealthiest people in the world (I’ll omit their name, since he didn’t give me permission to tell the story) had stayed in the very same wigwam as mine.
On a side note: I wasn’t pleased at how Oprah portrayed the Wigwam Motel. Her show made it out to be a scary, outdated, rundown place–none of which is true.
I got my key, and went to my room, returning minutes later to ask where I could find the ice machine. There wasn’t one, he explained, then took my bucket into the backroom. I heard old-fashioned ice trays cracking, then he returned with a full container. The ice had time to melt a bit as we struck up another conversation. John explained that some of the flood lights atop the teepees were out, and he’d have to flip the breaker inside wigwam #16 to turn them back on. Since that would mean disturbing the people inside, he told me they would be off for the rest of the night. He also apologized for one neon sign that wasn’t working. Every time it burned out, he said, a guy had to drive up from Phoenix. I got the feeling that it wasn’t easy to run a wigwam motel, yet John had an incredible pride for what he was doing: keeping a family business and a national landmark alive.
After returning my ice to my wigwam (I’ve never said those words before!) I walked around outside, and took a few pictures.
There are 15 wigwams (numbered 1-16, with no number 13) which form three sides of a square, encircling the motel office in the middle. About half the cars belong to visitors, the others are unrestored classic cars that help give a good feeling of what the place looked like, back when 66 was in its heyday.
There’s my wigwam — number 15. John told me it was one of the best, and newly restored. I can’t argue. It looked good on the outside…
… and on the inside. As you walk in through the “flaps” …
… you find the room has almost everything you’d need or want. It’s small, but somehow it seems bigger than you’d expect from the outside. There are two beds and a TV. The heater is right below the television (and behind my luggage). The air conditioner — a huge wall unit that takes up one of the two diamond-shaped windows — is right behind me.
Walk straight back…
… and you’re in the bathroom. This is perhaps the only place inside the teepee that’s a little cramped. The walls of the shower are slanted, and the showerhead is about at eye level, so you’ll have to do some bending.
I’ve heard a couple of complaints from people who spend the night in the wigwam. First, they say that the heater or air conditioner is too loud. I didn’t turn on the a/c, since it was once again in the 20’s outside. The heater was running the entire time, and yes, it is a bit noisy. Another complaint is that the wigwams are no more than about 100 feet from a very busy train track. Yes, trains do come through about every half hour, and you will hear them. One — only one — blew its whistle right as it passed the motel, and it was loud. I barely noticed the rest of the trains, thanks to the white noise from the heater.
Here’s another thing you should know. The Wigwam Motel is just that, a motel, not a hotel or an inn or a lodge. I imagine most folks haven’t stayed in an old fashioned motel in quite a while, so the differences may come as a shock.
There is no shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, or mouthwash in the bathroom. You get a miniature bar of soap, a wash cloth, and a set of towels. That’s it.
There’s no phone, but everyone always uses their cell phone anymore, so that shouldn’t be a big deal.
There’s no ice machine, as I mentioned earlier.
The door has a normal knob, that takes a normal key. If you forget to turn the lock, your door is unlocked.
And, there’s no 24-hour desk. John heads home after everyone has settled in for the night, and you’re on your own. In the morning, the office is closed, so you don’t check out. Instead, you leave your key hanging by the door, lock it, and leave. If you forget something inside, there’s no one there to help you.
As dawn broke, I emerged from my wigwam and took a few more pictures.
The abandoned battery store is next door to the Wigwam Motel. And yes, right behind it is one of the dozens of trains that rumbled by during my stay. Hey, I’m the kind of guy that left my Chicago hotel window open, so I could hear the “L” rattle by all night. A freight train or two is no big deal.
I left just before the sun came over the horizon. I had a lot of ground to cover before mid afternoon, when my flight left from Phoenix.
Note: This trip was first published in 2006.