Fort Courage used to be a tourist trap along Interstate 40 (Old US 66) in eastern Arizona. As of my visit in 2014, it’s closed — but there are still some interesting things to photograph in the area.
Do you remember the TV show F-Troop? If you’re a fan of 1960’s sitcoms, maybe it rings a bell. It was only on for two seasons, and only 65 episodes were made — about half in black and white, the rest in color. As classic TV shows go, this is a fairly obscure one. Which is why I was surprised to find that the show was used as the basis for a tourist-trap gift shop along I-40. I was less surprised to discover that it had gone out of business.
Fort Courage was the name of the fort in the old F-Troop show, which was set in the western frontier in the 1860’s. I’m willing to bet that, when it came to its representation of Native Americans, it wouldn’t hold up to the rigors of 21st century political correctness. Maybe that’s why I’ve never stumbled over any reruns.
The Fort Courage Trading Post is in the background of this photo. Back when it was open, you could browse through rows of typical gift-shop junk, and perhaps some authentic local Native American crafts. There were also a couple of observation towers. The fort itself was never used in the TV show, but there were some authentic props from the show inside.
As a photographer, I was less interested in the fort, and more intrigued by the oddest-looking Pancake House on earth. The demise of Fort Courage appeared to be fairly recent, while the Pancake House appeared to have been closed for somewhat longer. Neither building was in very good shape.
There is also a gas station on the property, and it, too, is closed.
So why am I even bothering to mention all of this?
I think any Route 66 business, no matter how ridiculous or poorly-conceived, is worth remembering. But even more, I was interested in the billboards in the area.
This sign for the famous El Rancho is at the edge of Fort Courage’s parking area. I also backtracked on the frontage road…
… for a closer look at the signs I had passed on the interstate. Sadly, old billboards like this are quickly deteriorating. These signs are vintage works of art, and they remind me of the road trips of my childhood — trips that required frequent stops for film purchases and postcard-mailing.
Getting close to these signs was a muddy disaster. Heavy rains, just a day or two earlier, left the edges of the frontage road quite soupy. It was worth the effort, though, since they probably won’t be standing the next time I’m there.
I think this was the best one of all. Are we really supposed to believe that Ortega is wearing a chef’s hat in the kitchen, as he whips up some fine food for travelers?
Don’t expect to buy any souvenirs or fill up your tank at Fort Courage. Don’t expect to relive all those great F-Troop memories. Unless someone breathes some new life into this tourist trap, the best you can hope for is to see a small page in Route 66 history.
Fort Courage is located in Houck, Arizona, at exit 348 off Interstate 40.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Holbrook to the New Mexico line: