Highway History: From Navajo Route 1 to US 160

Highway History: From Navajo Route 1 to US 160

By David Rookhuyzen / ADOT Communications
January 28, 2020

Let's take a trip to Four Corners.

Sounds simple enough, right? All you need is some gas in the car, a GPS, maybe some road trip music and snacks, and you are good to go. More than likely we'll be cruising down the entire length of US 160 to get there.

But if we went back in time 60 years, the act of the Arizona Highway Department getting someone to the Four Corners involved congressional funding, multiple contracts and some convoluted highway numbering. 

At that time, there was no US 160 in Arizona. That highway ran through Colorado and ended at Crescent Junction in Utah. But in late 1958, Congress approved funding for "Navajo Route 1," which would extend from US 89 north of Flagstaff, through Tuba City and then head northeast. A news release from the Bureau of Indian Affairs dated July 3, 1959, announced that the C. R. Davis Contracting Co. of Albuquerque, New Mexico, had won a $393,202 contract to build 9 miles heading northeast from Tuba City.

"This nine-mile section is the first project on Navajo Route 1 to be constructed [f]or immediate takeover by the State of Arizona after the Bureau of Indian Affairs contract is complete," the release says.

Another release in December 1960 touts the contract for another 10-mile stretch being added to the road, which would make "a total of approximately 70 miles of paved highway from US 89 north of Flagstaff, extending northeast through Tuba City toward Kayenta."

Westbound terminus of US 160
By 1962, the state and local businesses celebrated the opening of the so-called "Navajo Trail" connecting Flagstaff with Tuba City, Kayenta and the Four Corners region. The dedication of the road, which now ran all the way to Cortez, Colorado, coincided with the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs pouring an elevated concrete pad around the 1931 brass marker at the Four Corners Monument. 

Our exhaustive 2011 report, Arizona Transportation History, points out that the route "was built not just to facilitate tourism, but also to improve access to oil, coal, and uranium deposits then being developed on the Navajo Indian Reservation."

After becoming part of the state highway system, the road was not designated as US 160, which still went into Utah, but US 164. However, that designation would only last until 1970, when a  realignment of highway numberings in the greater Four Corners area took place. The US 160 designation was routed southwestward through Colorado and into Arizona on the relatively new road, eliminating the US 164 numbering and setting the new westerward terminus of US 160 at US 89 west of Tuba City.

So ... that helped pass a few minutes of our trip. What do you want to do now? Maybe play the license plate game?