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Joseph City

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Oldest Mormon settlement in Arizona

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Joseph City is Arizona's Oldest Mormon Settlement; visit two Route 66 icons: Howdy Hanks and Ella's Frontier Trading Post on Main Street and drive 6 miles west to Visit the Jack Rabbit Trading Post,with its famous "Here it is!" billboard.

Joseph City AZ

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About Joseph City, Arizona

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation 5,043 ft (1.537 m). Population 1,386 (2010).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) no DST⁄ PDT (UTC-7).

Joseph City is a small town in Navajo county in central-eastern Arizona, on Route 66. See a Map of Joseph City.

Here it Is Billboard by the Jack Rabbit Trading Post Route 66

Here it is! Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Route 66, Joseph City, Arizona
Here it is! billboard at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Route 66, Joseph City, AZ.

Arizona has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years, but the natives that now live in the area are of a more recent origin. The Ancestral Puebloans or Anasazi, who were an agricultural society, lived on the Colorado Plateau (between the Colorado, Little Colorado, Puerco and Rio Grande Rivers to the south, and Southern Utah and Colorado to the north). They flourished between 700 and 1150 AD, but drought and war pushed them into New Mexico around 1300 AD, originating the Pueblo people.

The hunter gatherer Navajo (Diné) people occupied the territory and later adopted farming which they learned from the Pueblo Indians.

In 1539 a Spanish expedition under Francisco Vazques de Coronado reached the area and sent a group of men led by García López de Cárdenas to reconnoiter Arizona. They discovered the Colorado River and became the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon. Their path took them by Joseph City.

The Spanish included Arizona within their province of Nueva Mejico which they established in 1597, nor did Mexico who succeeded Spain in 1821. After the U.S. defeated Mexico in the 1846-48 War, and annexed the region, it explored it and pacified the bellicose Navajos.

Billboard at the entrance to Joseph City, AZ. Route 66

The best thing in Joseph City: its people; Joseph City, AZ. Route 66
Billboard "The best thing is the people"
Joseph City, AZ,

The U.S. Army established Fort Defiance in 1851 and by 1868 had defeated the Navajo and settled them in a very large reservation, the current Navajo Nation. In the meantime Arizona had become a separate territory (1863) from New Mexico.

In 1857 Lt. Edward Fitzgerald "Ned" Beale (1822 - 1893) surveyed the wagon road from Ft. Smith Arkansas to California, and he followed a route that roughly lined up with what is now Route 66.

His expedition followed the Little Colorado River in this area, passing through the site where Winslow is now located. Beale employed camels, imported from Africa as pack animals. Although they were hardier than mules the Army declined to use them in the future because the camels scared both horses and mules.

In 1870 a small fort was established at Holbrook and soon after, the Mormons from Utah moved south into Arizona, they used a trail which was later known as the Honeymoon trail

Honeymoon Trail

The Mormon settlers in Arizona had to go back to Utah to marry because the closest temple was in St. George, Utah. To do so they took the "Mormon Wagon Road", which linked Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River with Sunset Crossing near where Winslow is today.

Arizona Historian Will Barnes christened this route as the "Honeymoon Trail" in an article he wrote in 1934 in the Arizona Highways Magaine. The name stuck.

The first Mormon settlement was esablished in March 1876, 3 miles to the east of the current townsite of Joseph City. It was named Allen City or Allens camp, after their leader, William C. Allen. They soon discovered a better location and before the end of 1876 had founded "Saint Joseph".

The post office opened in 1878, the Santa Fe Star Mail passed through the fledgling village. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which later became part of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway reached the area in 1883 and established a station.

In 1900, the town moved another 2 miles to the SW, but at that time the railway renamed the station "Joseph City" to avoid confusion with another station named St. Joseph along the AT & SF railway. The town would adopt that same name in 1923.

The other three Mormon settlements (Brigham City, Sunset, and Obed) along the lower Little Colorado River disappeared as the floods made it difficult for farmers to irrigate their crops.


The settlers had to deal with the Little Colorado River and its summer seasonal floods. They built a dam in 1876 which was followed by another 10 dams until the one built in 1894 proved tough enough to stand up to the floods.

The severe 1923 flood destroyed it and a new one, that is still in place, was built to replace it.

Lake Cholla, actually Cholla Cooling Pond Dam is a reservoir with a surface of 380 acres that is a water storage facility for the nearby power plant.

The name: Joseph City

It was initially called St. Joseph, after Joseph Smith, the prophet who revealed the Mormon faith. Later renamed Joseph City.

Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805 - 1844) was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement.

The National Old Trails Road reached Joseph City in 1913, and it was incorporated into US Highway 66 when it was aligned along its Main Street in 1926.

The Interstate highway I-40 bypassed the town in the 1960s and business declined along the Main Street but the town still preserves some iconic places of the old Mother Road.

Where to Stay

There is lodging on Route 66 very close to Joseph City itself

>> Book your Hotels in Holbrook or in Winslow

Lodging Near Joseph City along Route 66

Heading East.... Accommodation in Arizona

East... Hotels in New Mexico

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Heading West: Motels and Hotels in....

>> There are RV campgrounds in Joseph City, and nearby in Holbrook

Weather in Joseph City

Latest Joseph City, Arizona weather
Route 66: Joseph City, Arizona location map
Location of Joseph City on Route 66

Joseph City has a dry and semi-arid climate with hot summers and cold winters. The day-to-night temperature swing is considerable throughout the year due to the low relative humidity; this means that Summer nights are pleasant and cool, but winter nights are quite cold.

Average Summer high (Jul) 95.4°F (35.2°C) and the low is around 59.8°F (15.4°C). Average Winter high (Jan) 50.6°F (10.3°C)and the low is about 20.9°F -below freezing ( -6.2°C).

Rainfall is 9.2 in. per year (234 mm) and roughl half of it is concentrated between July and October (4.9 in 125 mm), there are about 50 days with precipitation per year. Snowfall is a scanty 2.8 inches per year (7.1 cm) and falls between Nov. and April.

Tornado risk

There is almost zero tornado risk in Joseph City: Navajo County has no Tornado watches. The area west of the Rocky Mountains has virtually no tornado events at all.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.

Getting to Joseph City

To the east is Holbrook (11 miles), Chambers and Houck. West are Winslow (22 miles) and Flagstaff (80 miles).

Map of Route 66 through Joseph City Arizona

Static Map showing Route 66 alignment through Joseph City, AZ

Map of US 66 in Joseph City AZ
Map showing Route 66 in Joseph City, AZ.

Map of Route 66 in Joseph City, AZ

Check out Joseph City on our Route 66 Map of Arizona, with the complete alignment and all the towns along it.

Joseph City Map

Map with the alignment of Route 66 through Joseph City

Click on this link > > US 66 alignment in Joseph City

Route 66's alignment in Arizona: the Historic Route 66 through Joseph City

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across Arizona

Historic U.S. highway 66, "Route 66" has been designated as an All-American Road and National Scenic Byway in the state of Arizona.

Click on the following link for a Full description of Route 66 across the state of Arizona.

Below is more information on the different Route 66's alignments through Joseph City (they are shown in the Map above)

Sights and Attractions in Joseph City

What to Do, Places to See

Joseph City, Arizona, its Sights and Attractions

Things to Do and Places to See

Mormon Town

Joseph City is the oldest Mormon settlement on Route 66 in Arizona, it is well known for the "Here it Is!" Jack Rabbit Trading Post and the Howdy Hank's and Ella's Frontier Trading Post too.

Jack DeVere Rittenhouse in his "A Guide Book to Highway 66" published in 1946 informs that Joseph City had a population of 308. He also mentioned two motels (or "auto courts") the Hopi Village and the Oasis. It lacked a ca´ but had gas and a garage.

Surprisingly, the Hopi Village was also the name of a Trading Post (now known as Howdy Hanks).

The town has some interesting sights, we detail them below:

Historic Bridge

Obed Rd. and Little Colorado River. 4.4 mi. SE of the town.Map and directions.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

The bridge is made with riveted Pony trusses, steel stringers, timber deck concrete-filled steel cylinder piers and timber pile approaches. Using steel rol ed by Illinois and Ladkawanna, ftnaha fabricated the medium-span trusses and erected them the following spring The St Joseph Bridge was complete by June 1917. It has functioned as county bridge since. See a Street View of the bridge.

Howdy Hank's

Main Street, west of Joseph City.

The old store is on the north side of the road; this is the Map with exact location of Howdy Hank's.

Click for a Photo of Howdy Hank's.

It began operating under the name "Hopi Village" in 1950 (or maybe earlier in the mid 1940s) as a trading post cum motel, and Route 66 souvenir store. Then Howdy sold the store to V.P. Richards who in turn sold it again, to Max Ortega. Ortega renamed it "Sitting Bull's Indian Store".

Business waned when Route 66 ceased to be the main thorughfare of town and the store was reonverted to an animal feed store.

Its main feature is the teepee with a legless horse placed on its tip.

A view of the wall of the Jack Rabbit Trading Post Route 66

Wall at Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Route 66, Joseph City, Arizona
Wall of the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Route 66, Joseph City, AZ.

Ella's Frontier Trading Post

Main Street, west of Joseph City Matchbox advertising Ella's Frontier

Matches advertising Ella's Frontier.

It is 1.8 miles west of the downtown area (Map with directions).

The remains of the trading post are on the south side of the road, a dead end which at one time was Route 66. See this Map with location of the old store and, click for a Photo of Ella's Frontier Trading Post.


The post was set up by Frederick "San Diego" Rawson (See a photo of him in 1931), who had lived as a child, captive among the Indians. Rescued by the US Cavalry, he worked as Indian scout, trapper, wagon freighter, circus clown, prospector and cowboy. He was even a recognized poet; the "Poet of the Rockies", well known for his "Tales of the Range". He opened a museum to exhibit his collection of Wild West artifacts in Joseph City after Route 66 was created but closed it to set up his "Frontier Days Trading Post".

The building, according to Edward Haduck Peplow in his 1958 "History of Arizona" (pp. 152) was: "established in 1873... originally built by the early Mormon pioneers.".

Some versions however say that he built it with telephone poles to resemble an "Old West" log cabin. He later renamed it "San Diego's Old Frontier". In 1947 later he sold it to Ramon Hubbell who in turn sold it to Ray Meany in 1951.

Freddie "San Diego" Rawson's ideal daily routine:

"A little work and a little smile,
A little cheer and a little guile,
A little 'bull' (as the boys would say)
And you've laid out your perfect day!"

Ray Meany (1906-1987), former sailor and later composer of Hawaiian music "Aloha songs" ran the Golden Gate Publishers with over 400 copyrights and owned a steel guitar school in Oakland California. He was the owner of the Hopi House in Leupp Corner (1944 - 1951) and also acquired the "Old Frontier" from Hubbell.

Ella’s Trading Post; Joseph City, AZ. Route 66
Ella's Trading Post
Joseph City, AZ, (from: Rubber snakes and rocks: Souvenirs and memories on the first superhighway, Chicago Tribune 22, May 1983 p. 3 Sec. 11.

Later, in 1955, he sold his stake when he divorced his wife Ella Blackwell (1906-1984); as he put it: "My wife was jealous, so I gave up the music business to keep my wife. But she didn't like Indians, either, so we separated." He later owned hotels in Miami, Sasabe, San Diego, Twentynine Palms and Tucson.

Ella changed its name to "Ella's Frontier" and operated it until her death in 1984. She had studied music at Julliard and had a piano in the Trading Post. She also believed that it had been built by the Mormons, and therefore advertised it as "the oldest trading post on Route 66".

Of the assortment of things in her shop she said "It took me years to accumulate these things; it just didn'd happen". See for yourself, in this video shot in the 1980s shortly after it closed.

After her death the building began its slow downward spiral of decay, and you can see how it is gradually falling apart.

Historic Marker

Main Street, east of Joseph City.

Historic Marker

The Daughters of Utah Pioneers (, erected their Marker No. 173 on March 22, 1952. It is located about 1⁄2 mile from the city center, on the north side of Main St. Map showing Exact Location of the marker.

It reads:

A group of colonists called by Brigham Young under the leadership of William C. Allen settled here March 24, 1876. They erected a fort of cottonwood logs and mud on this site. It was first known as Allen's camp. In 1878 the name was changed to St. Joseph, in honor of Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet. The people occupied the fort for several years during which time they lived the united order. In 1923 the name of the town was changed to Joseph City. It is the oldest Mormon Community in Arizona.
Navajo County.

The 1915 railroad map shows it as "Saint Joseph", with the station named "Joseph City". Both were unified in 1923 under the same name "Joseph City".

Tours & Itineraries plus outdoor Fun

The nearby Petrified Forest National Park is a great attraction and the old Route 66 alignment to the west of Joseph City also has some icons worth seeing.

Nearby Route 66 Towns

Head east and visit Holbrook, Navajo, Sanders, Houck, Lupton. Go west and Winslow, Barringer Crater, Two Guns, Twin Arrows, Winona and Flagstaff.

The area

To the west of Joseph City the scenery and country side begins to change. You can start to glimpse far away, towards the west, the high snow capped summits of San Francisco Peaks. These are young volcanoes (6-million-years-old). The highest summit is Humphreys Peak, the remains of a stratovolcano, which is the highest point in the state of Arizona (12,633 ft - 3.853 m).

But Route 66 will cross the southern tip of the "Painted Desert", with bright red colored cliffs and grayish - red sands. It extends into Utah and lies between the eastern plateau and the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers.

Visit the Jack Rabbit Trading Post

6 miles west of Joseph City along US 66.

Jack Rittenhouse described this segment in 1946 pointing out that the "towns" of Manila, 3 miles west of Joseph City and Havre (9 miles from Joseph City) were not located on the highway and "[don't] even offer a gas station for the motorist.". They were merely railway sidings.

He did not mention the Jack Rabbit Trading Post because it opened in 1949, three years after he visited the area. Instead he pointed out that the first stop with gas and a cafe was the "Painted Desert Hideaway", 17 miles west of Joseph City and 4 miles east of Winslow.


Very likely named during the Spanish American War of 1898, when the American Navy defeated Spanis forces in Manila Bay (May 1, 1898), and later took the city (August 13, 1898).


The stop was named after the first superintendent of telegraphs of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (which later became the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad). It later changed its name to Havre because there already was a "Hardy" on the Santa Fe. Havre may have been chosen after the French port "Le Havre".

In this area, the Little Colorado Valley widens and on the north side are intersting rocks and pinnacles as well as mesas.

a Jack Rabbit or American desert hare

A Black tailed Jack Rabbit, Jim Harper

Jack Rabbit Trading Post

On Route 66, on the south side of I-40 at Exit 269, 6 miles west of Joseph City.

Icon and Landmark

This is the Map and directions from Joseph City to Jack Rabbit Trading Post.

Texan trader James Taylor opened the Jack Rabbit Trading Post in 1949, after moving to Joseph City from Albuquerque. The building had first belonged to the AT & SF railway. Later it was the Arizona Herpetorium (exhibiting snakes). Jack Taylor set the snakes free and opened the Jack Rabbit Trading Post in 1949.

The Trading Post is still in operation and is a convenience store which sells curios and Route 66 collectibles.

It is named after a hare that is quite common in the area, and all of the Western USA, the Jack Rabbit.

The black-tailed Jack Rabbit (Lepus californicus) or American desert hare is very common in the western U.S.

It can grow to weigh 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) and measure 2 feet (61 cm) long. It eats the local grasses, shrubs and trees. It does not hibernate. Coyote, foxes, wild cats and raptors prey on it.

Scary Jack Rabbit

A stark hare-like statue in the 1950s. R. A. Hird.

Ride the Jack Rabbit

In front of the store is a large "man-sized" Jack Rabbit with a saddle which can be mounted by those passing by for a funny pictures.

The rabbit itself has mutated over the years, from a disquieting looking hare to the modern reinforced fiberglass smiling bunny-like statue. See for yourself below.

Taylor had the original rabbit custom made. It had a wood frame and was covered in tough horsehide, padded with straw.

Just like many cartoon characters of the 1930s softened their images during the 1960s becoming cuter (think Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Mickey Mouse), so did the menacing-looking Jack Rabbit at the trading post.

Stephen Jay Gould pointed this out 35 years ago: "Humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features: large eyes, bulging craniums, retreating chins. Small-eyed, long-snouted animals do not elicit the same response."

Ride the jack rabbit at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post

A smiling cute hare in the 2000s. Austin Whittall

And the modern Jack Rabbit despite its long snout and ears, has some of the features of youth such as a large head, big rounded paws, large low lying eyes, bulging cheeks, short (due to the crouching posture) thick legs and a charming smile.

Riding Rabbits

Rabbit riding is indeed ancient; The terracota statue shown below, depicts a young man riding a rabbit. It was discovered in Apulia, Italy and dates back to the Greek colonies in southern Italy, during the 3rd century B.C.

In Greco-Roman myth the hare represented romantic love, lust, abundance, and fecundity. Hare meat was believed to be a cure for sterility (they had the "gift of Aphrodite" or fertility). They were a symbol of the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

So during the days of ancient Greece and Rome, "riding a rabbit" probably had to do with propitiating fertility.

Rabbits are still considered good luck symbols ("lucky rabbit's foot") but "riding a rabbit" is not actually something commonplace outside the realm of fairy tales.

ancient Greek rabbit rider statue

Youth riding rabbit, a 3rd Century BC Greek statue, Christies

However it can be found in this Finnish idiom: "ei olla jäniksen selässä", which means "not to be riding a rabbit" and is used to express that one is not in an immediate hurry. Funny considering that hares are a symbol of speed (Aesop's hare and tortoise fable).

American Wild West and Rabbit riding

During the 1930s, it was quite common to see very similar humorous postcards from Texas, Dakota and Nebraska. They all depicted a cowboy or "cowpuncher" tending cattle but instead of mounting a horse, he was riding a giant saddled Jack Rabbit.

One of these is shown below, it was posted in 1939, and says on the front: "Texas cowboy riding a Jack Rabbit", and on the back: "Punching Cattle on a Jack Rabbit. And out here in the West they do punch cattle. Some of them do on Broncs and, even as you can see, some of them do on the lowly Jack Rabbit."

It probably had to do with the "everything is bigger in Texas".

Notice how similar the Jack Rabbit in the postcard is to the 1950s statue shown further up, the posture is the same too, standing on all four legs.

The Jackalope

Vintage postcard with cowboy riding a Jack Rabbit

Vintage postcard of a cowboy mounting a Jack Rabbit.

The Jackalope, is the mythical relative of the Jack Rabbit. A "horned" variety of jackrabbit, with deer-like antlers (like an Antelope, hence the name Jackalope).

It has been reported in South Dakota and Wyoming. Actually you can ride a giant Jackalope at the Wall Drug store in Wall, South Dakota. The Jackalope statue in Wall is very similar to the Jack Rabbit statue in St. Joseph (except for the antlers): smiling, friendly looking creature.

As most myths have some basis in reality, it is likely that rabbits infected with papilloma virus may have horn-like tumors growing on their head. These would surely explain the origin of the Jackalope myth. Similar horned beings (rabbits and squirrels) form part of Bavarian and Austrian mythology.

Notice how the upper part of the billboard has tiny black rabbit silhouettes one beside the other.

The movie Cars and the "Here it Is" billboard

The famous billboard Pictured above at the top of this page is an eye catcher on the old alignment of US 66.

Cars Movie billboard Here it Is

Cars Movie billboard inspired in the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. A. Whittall

The animated movie "Cars" (2006) shows in one of its scenes a yellow billboard with the silhouette of a Model T Ford, it says "HERE IT IS", a clear allusion to the outline of a rabbit and the same phrase on the original Jack Rabbit Trading Post billboard.

Like the original, the upper edge of the billboard has a series of black outlined Ford T cars.

The Movie, in its credits, acknowledged the historic trading post, and gave:

"A Special Thanks To Those Who Inspire Us On Route 66, "The Mother Road"... Arizona ... Antonio & Cindy Jaquez, Jack Rabbit Trading Post, "Home Of The 'Here It Is' Sign", Near Joseph City, AZ."

Hare it Is!

Another Route 66 classic, the Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton, IL, is owned by Rich and Linda Henry. It has Route 66 collectibles and deals with higway and trucking memorabilia. The signs it uses are very similar but with a twist to the slogan: "HARE IT IS".

Click to see the Street View of the Sign, at the Jack Rabbit Trading Post.

The Alignment of Old Route 66 near Joseph City

route 66 shield Arizona

From Holbrook to Joseph City

The old alignment of Route 66 between Holbrook and Joseph City is now mostly lost under the roadbed of I-40. Fortunately there still are some short segments that can be driven of the original 1926 alignment:

Head west out of Holbrook along US 180 - Bus. 40. (W. Hopi DR.), and access I-40 westbound at Exit 285. Leave the Interstate at the next exit (283) and head west along the North Frontage Road, Boise Rd. The old alignment begins at the exit and runs west for only 1.1. mile. It ends in a dead end. Backtrack and return to I-40. This is the Map of the Boise Rd. segment.

The original alignment continues west but it is now closed. I-40 crosses its roadbed twice, leaving it first to the south and then to the north; at Exit 280 the old road is overlaid by I-40 and continues like that all the way to Cholla Lake.

It reappears on the south side of I-40 from Cholla Lake and runs for 2 miles to a point just west of Exit 277. You can reach it from the southeast at Exit 280 via South Frontage Rd. or at Exit 277. It ends at a dead end just south of Joseph City's eastern tip. You will have to backtrack to Exit 277 and drive in to the town along its Main Street to follow it westwards again. You have reached Joseph City. This is the Map from Lake Cholla to Joseph City segment.

West from Joseph City

The old road ran along Main St. but this now ends in a dead end after 3 miles (just past Ella's Frontier Trading Post). Once again you will have to backtrack to cross to the south of I-40 at Exit 274 and then head west along the South Frontage roade to meet the old alignment again. This is the Map through Joseph City.

Keep along this road (as described above in Visit Rabbit Trading Post) for 3.8 miles, all the way to Exit 269, where it ends next to the Trading Post.

See the Map Joseph City to Jack Rabbit Trading Post.

The old road continues on the north side of I-40, where it can be seen but not driven (see this street view of a concrete culvert on the old alignment).

> > See the previous segment Sanders to Holbrook

> > See the next segment Joseph City to Winslow

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National and State Parks

Petrified Forest National Park

Read about this park which we describe in our page on Holbrook: Petrified Forest National Park.


Tucson Daily Citizen, June 14, 1960. Leslie Ernenwein "One-Time Indian Trader Swaps way to Tucson Motel" pp.18

Oren Arnold, March, 1941, "Personality. 'The West Wasn't so Wild,' Says San Diego Rawson". The Desert Magazine V4:5. pp. 9

Stephen Jay Gould. "A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse." Ecotone 4.1 (2008): 333-340. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Jan. 2013.

Original artwork by A. Whittall

Will Croft Barnes, Arizona Place Names, University of Arizona Press, 1988.

Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.

Banner image: Dead Man's Curve, Laguna New Mexico by Perla Eichenblat.