Holbrook, AZ: The town whose dinosaurs saved it from extinction
Holbrook, Arizona is a town that’s managed to defy extinction, in more ways than one. For starters, it’s one of the rare Route 66 towns that’s managed to scrape by, even after the route was decommissioned. Like many of these towns, Holbrook is steeped in retro vibes and remains filled with “touristy” kitsch, for better or worse. The fact that it’s the closest town to Petrified Forest National Park has certainly helped the town survive.
Holbrook is also an area that’s filled with fossils, the preserved remains of plants and animals from the Triassic Period, which is known to some scientists as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs”. Petrified Forest is a prime example of fossilized oddities; not only is the park’s signature petrified wood an incredible example of the fossils to be found here, the remains of extinct beasts like Phytosaurs and Allokotosaurs (kind of like precursors to dinosaurs) have been found in Petrified Forest as well. Which is why it’s so strange that, to this day, Holbrook is overrun by dinosaurs. Well, dinosaur statues, that is.
Most of the statues came from Holbrook’s former “International Petrified Forest and Painted Desert”. While the name is suspiciously close to that of “Petrified Forest National Park”, it was actually a roadside stop/dinosaur park displaying logs of petrified wood and a whole bunch of concrete dinosaur statues, among other things. When it closed in 2007, many of the statues were relocated to various rock shops and tourist attractions across Holbrook, like Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. and the Hopi Travel Plaza, among others.
In town, the largest collection of dinosaurs happens to be in front of the Rainbow Rock Shop which, funnily enough, didn’t get its dinos from the International Petrified Forest. The owner built the 7 concrete dinos himself over 20 years. The owners charge a few cents to pose for photos with the herd, which helps keep the business afloat. Another dinosaur not from the International Petrified Forest is the bronze dino in the park on Hopi Drive. As the story goes, a wealthy Arizona family purchased the piece with the intention to turn it into a shower for their outdoor pool, but when that didn’t end up working out, they donated the figure to Holbrook.
You’ll notice that most of the dinos are now used to attract visitors to Holbrook’s rock shops and souvenir stands, of which there are many. People often buy samples of petrified wood after a visit to Petrified Forest (specifically after since it’s illegal to take samples of wood from the park!) It seems like a lot of the shops are trying to out-kitsch one another, so if you’re into that kind of thing, it actually might be worth it for you to visit them all.
Whether you’re trying to find the best deal on gemstones and souvenirs, or you’re in search of as many dinosaur statues as possible, Holbrook is a town worth exploring. It’s an Old Route 66 gem. It also happens to be home to Wigwam Village Motel No. 6, so you can spend the night in authentic old-school kitsch. In the morning, wake up and grab a breakfast burrito smothered in red or green chile from Joe and Aggie’s Cafe to round out the experience.
If all of these concrete dinos have you wondering about *actual* ancient beasts, the Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park features “paleontological exhibits complete with skeleton displays of prehistoric animals”. You’ll get a chance to see what the prehistoric beasts who roamed the area really looked like… you might wind up surprised!
More Route 66 roadside kitsch….