Santa Claus, Arizona is a desolate ghost town, once home to the Christmas Tree Inn, a holiday-themed amusement park that now sits abandoned and decaying.
Santa Claus was founded in 1937 by Nina Talbot, a real estate agent from Los Angeles. She must have had a good sense of humor because she proclaimed herself to be the “biggest real estate agent in California”, not because of her success in the business, but because she weighed over 300 pounds.
Hoping to create a Christmas-themed resort town in the middle of the desert, Talbot built the Santa’s Land tourist attraction and put the surrounding parcels of land up for sale. Despite her efforts, the parcels did not sell, and the town’s only residents were those who worked there. Talbot ended up selling the entire place in 1949.
Santa Claus, Arizona received positive attention from a few major celebrities. Duncan Hines, a prominent restaurant critic whose name is now attached to cake mixes and other food products, bolstered the town’s popularity when he gave the Christmas Tree Inn a highly favorable review.
Scifi writer Robert Heinlein once ate at the Christmas Tree Inn, and enjoyed it so much that he featured the town in the 1950 short story “Cliff and the Calories (A New Puddin’ Story).” In 1954 Actress Jane Russell later threw a dinner party there.
Santa Claus succeeded in becoming a tourist destination where kids could visit Santa year-round. Its post office was important because it received children’s letters addressed to Santa, and replies were sent out with a Santa Claus postmark.
In the 1970s the town became less popular and fell into disrepair. In 1983, owner Tony Wilcox put the town up for sale but was unable to find a buyer at the asking price. The last remaining business closed in 1995.
I was glad to discover that the main building had a creepy little basement. I absolutely love basements.
I also love attics, and it had one of those too! I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning.
It looked like Santa Claus threw one hell of a party before he moved out.
Full up with holiday cheer, I set out eastward toward Flagstaff, hoping to see another site or two before dark.
The increase in elevation made for a much harsher climate, a fact that really hit home when I stopped in the town of Williams for gas. It was freezing cold and the ground was covered in snow.
Dark clouds looked on the horizon, and I knew I was in for a rough night.
Halfway from Williams to Flagstaff I stopped to check out a neat old farmhouse. Unfortunately it was very dark out by that time, so none of the pictures turned out very well.
It started snowing as I drove the rest of the way to Flagstaff. I ventured out into the cold and grabbed a beer and a bite to eat at a local bar. On the way, a careless driver skidded through an intersection, nearly hitting a pedestrian.
I went back to the car and was about to go to sleep when I had a nagging feeling that I should check the street signage. I’m glad I did because it said I couldn’t park there between 2 and 5am. Turns out that rule applies to most of the streets in Flagstaff. It’s also important to note, in case any of you have RVs and are thinking of vacationing in Flagstaff, the city has rules against parking RVs overnight pretty much anywhere. But there is a rest stop about 30 min east of the city, where you can park.
I drove around until I found a nice neighborhood. It was snowing pretty hard and most of the cars on the street were covered in snow. I figured I’d be able to sleep there without any of the neighbors noticing the presence of an unfamiliar car since it would be covered in snow pretty quickly. Fortunately, I was right. I bundled myself up in about 5 blankets and fell fast asleep.
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