A gentle breeze passes over a vast landscape of pinon-juniper woodlands and native shrubs like low-lying desert rabbit brush. Chunks of red sandstone disrupt the serene and vast landscape 24 miles west of Flagstaff on Interstate 40.
Also jutting up from the earth here at Exit 219 is the dramatic profile of the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, which celebrated its second anniversary of business in May.
Perhaps as a birthday present to itself, the resort will unveil a new spa, trucker’s lounge and buffet during the next few months. The second anniversary celebration follows two years of successful partnerships with other Navajo Nation enterprises and operational expansions. The facility, conveniently located at the lower tip of the Navajo Nation, has also received a number of accolades, including being named the Top Native American Casino Facility at the Global Gaming Expo in October 2013 and being designated a Four Diamond resort and casino by the Arizona Automobile Association in June 2014.
This current expansion comes on the heels of previous expansions like the addition of 110 more rooms in May 2014, making a total of 200 well-appointed guest rooms.
“The expansions allow us to better serve a wider variety of guests and generate even more revenue and jobs for Flagstaff, the region and the reservation,” said Derrick Watchman, CEO of The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise.
After the Navajo people voted in favor of gaming in November 2004, the Navajo Nation created the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (Navajo Gaming) in 2006.
Between 2008 and 2012, Navajo Gaming opened three New Mexico casinos – Fire Rock, Flowing Water and Northern Edge. The positive economic impact of Navajo Gaming, including at Twin Arrows, has already been felt.
Since 2006, Navajo Gaming has been able to pay out $173,164,947 in wages and benefits to its employees, half of which are employed at Twin Arrows, according to a resort press release.
Also, Navajo Gaming has begun paying back its loan to the Navajo Nation, to date, totaling more than $10.2 million in principal and $64.9 million in interest.
“The three expansion projects follow our long-term strategic growth plan,” Watchman added. “Not only will they attract additional guests and a wider variety of guests, but they will provide a strong return on investment.”
Speaker LoRenzo Bates of the Navajo Nation Council, said he is also continually monitoring “the financial progress of Navajo Gaming as their capital was provided by Navajo Nation resources, and they [Navajo Gaming] are growing and returning on the Navajo Nation’s investment.”
The new state-of-the-art spa will include treatment rooms, massages and various pampering services for guests. In addition, an existing fitness center will be located adjacent to the spa with six cardiovascular machines and complete weight sets.
The luxurious heated swimming pool will continue to be located in the main building.
The new spa, fitness center and the trucker’s lounge will all be located inside the second tower, a multi-story unit that was built in 2014 during the expansion of hotel accommodations.
The Trucker Lounge is considered to be a vital and much-welcomed addition the Twin Arrows facilities.
“It will provide a great place to relax with computers, coffee and showers,” Watchman said. “Admission will be based on the trucker’s level of play at the casino, but will help us better serve truckers, which make up 50 percent of freeway traffic.”
The lounge will also provide an 80-inch TV and free Wi-Fi and workstations for truckers.
Curb cutting and other improvements are also being made to increase to 125 the number of parking spaces for trucks.
The Twin Arrows casino complex is located on 500 acres directly to the north of the iconic Twin Arrows Trading Post, now closed but long popular among Old Route 66 aficionados.
The new Twin Arrows destination is making a big name for itself, rivaling that of the old trading post.
“Twin Arrows for us is our centerpiece for our gaming industry for our Navajo Nation,” said Russell Begaye, the newly elected Navajo Nation president. “As such, it’s one that we feel as far as location could have a greater impact on the economy, especially in Flagstaff and Winslow.” A positive impact has also been noted in chapters in the surrounding areas on the reservation, like Leupp, Bird Springs and Dilkon, he added. The casino offers live entertainment and more than 1,000 slot machines, table games, Poker, live Keno and Bingo.
In addition, the resort showcases Navajo culture and features more than $500,000 in original commissioned paintings and other artwork by Navajo artists.
The culinary experience includes six distinct dining concepts that offer a variety of food choices and highlight traditional Navajo cuisine. The third stage in the upcoming expansion project will see the current food court inside the casino remodeled and converted into a true casino-style buffet area, with three so-called “action stations” added for pizza, pasta and grilling. Seating will also be increased from about 140 to 210 seats for diners.
Work on the food court remodel is scheduled to begin in the fall, after the busy summer season.
“These strategic business expansions solidify Twin Arrows as an economic engine in Northern Arizona and allow us to showcase Navajo art, cuisine and culture to a greater audience,” Watchman explained.
The full-scale master plan for Twin Arrows includes housing, shopping centers, a bowling alley, theater and gas station by 2020, according to the marketing department at the resort.
The goal is to provide an all-encompassing destination for adults and families, including strategic alliances with festivals and other events in Flagstaff, Winslow and Williams.
“You’ll see activity soon,” said Begaye, about the current expansion. “We have the tribally-owned enterprises that will be the driving force in this development. It has to be phased in. We’re leaving it up to the team enterprise leaders. They’ve done well across the Navajo Nation with building projects, so we’re following their lead.”
President Begaye noted future development plans include building a paved road from the Twin Arrows complex out to the Grand Canyon to give travelers to the Canyon “an opportunity to better access Twin Arrows.” FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN