We left the El Rancho and Gallup behind this morning and headed towards Arizona.
Not too far west of Gallup is the tiny town of Manuelito; although we didn’t do anything in town, we were struck by an amazing vista before us. I should say that Ken was struck by the vista. My attention was on the big bluff to the right, so I didn’t see what was happening on my left. He stopped for a picture, I got pictures of the big rocks on my right, and when he came back to the car, he said, “Aren’t you going to get a picture?” I said okay, and walked to the left of the car. I think my comment was something profound like “Oh WOW!”
The roadway was a ways above the terrain floor, and it was a really gorgeous confluence of the Rio Puerco river bed, the railroad, and the mesas slightly in the distance. Seriously…WOW!
We continued westward, and although there weren’t numerous things of particular note, one neat thing was taking a loop off the main road. This post-1937 route was formerly paved, but is no longer maintained as a paved road. It was in very good shape, and it was a pleasant detour through the arid countryside.
Unfortunately, we spent quite a few miles on I-40 today (compared to what we’ve been used to), because much of old 66 has been obliterated by the Interstate. As I read ahead, I saw that there are some beautiful stretches of “pristine” (according to my guidebook) 2-lane in western Arizona, so that’s going to be a blast!
However, it was okay, because our immediate goal was to get to the Petrified Forest National Park, which includes the Painted Desert. Double wow! It started with a panoramic view of the floor of the area, surrounded by mesas. I’m not sure what to call “the floor,” because some of this was considered short-grass prairie, and some is desert. I’ll leave that to geologists. The reddish hill formations with expanses of whiter rock stretched for some distance. I was struck by the deep blue of the sky and how far I could see, and read later that this is some of the most unpolluted air in the country. One informational sign pointed out the San Francisco peaks (north of Flagstaff) that are 120 miles away. I couldn’t see them clearly, but I could definitely see their outlines.
After that, we headed into the Painted Desert portion of the Park. The Teepees formation and Blue Mesa displayed colors of blue, purple, and grey due to their mineral deposits of manganese and carbon (the reds and oranges are due to iron). The striations were often sharply delineated, with a bright vein of purple running among the grey. Beautiful! We encountered the Puerco Pueblo, dating from 1100-1300, and it was amazing to see the outlines of the rooms, the petroglyphs, and the kiva.
Then we started getting into the petrified forest area. I was fascinated by this. So many of these formations looked just like a fallen tree, and it was hard to get my mind around the fact that they were solid stone, formed by millions of years of nature doing its thing. In one area, we got to take a little stroll among the trees, and you could really get close enough to see the brilliant colors of the deposited minerals in them. Bright red, yellow, orange, blue and purple, grey, white…it was just beautiful. (And let me reassure you that despite my penchant for picking up little stones at various places, or the occasional nail or piece of wood, I removed nothing from this Park. This is one of the most beautiful and amazing places in our country—in the entire world, for that matter—and I take its conservation very seriously.)
I’m not going to go into an explanation of how petrified wood is formed. You can google it, or you might want to check out Ken’s blog, because he may write a little bit about how it happens. I did find this really fascinating, and I said to Ken, “I wonder how the young earth creationists explain THIS?” That would be an interesting thing to hear!
Most of the petrified wood is, of course, either very rough, or only somewhat smoothed by erosion. In the Rainbow Forest Museum at the southern entrance of the Park, they had a piece of the wood that had been cut and polished by a lapidary shop back in the ‘20s (don’t worry, I had to look it up, too!). You could see the beauty of the polished semi-precious gems, including jasper and amethyst. Just gorgeous!
I’m afraid that these pictures just do not give the place or the formations justice. The colors are vibrant, and the vastness of the area is apparent. It takes some effort to imagine that this arid place was once a subtropical forest, but the realization that natural forces have been at work for millions of years in the development of this phenomenon is truly awe-inspiring. Yay, Earth! Nicely done! It also made me realize how precious and fragile our planet is. [A quick comment with blatant political overtones: For those who think that deregulation is perfectly okay, or that “people will take care of things on their own,” let me just point out that this National Park was created by Teddy Roosevelt because people were going in and carting off literally tons of petrified wood; they were blowing up the petrified trees with dynamite to extract the gems. There are far too many people who are greedy bastards and will willfully and joyfully exploit anything to make a buck. If you don’t think that’s the case, you are sadly mistaken.]
We both got a little sunburned today, although nothing too bad. It’s so easy to underestimate the intensity of this sun! We were careful about staying hydrated, though. I’m so used to the humid Midwest that this is really jarring to me. Ken had a nosebleed the other day, and my skin has gotten so dry that I’ve got a mass of hangnails on my fingers, and when I put lotion on my hands today, I could almost hear the slurping sounds as my skin soaked it up! I’m definitely going to have to be more vigilant about the lotion. (It puts the lotion on its skin....) I’ve also noticed that the elevation really gets to me. I think I’d adapt quickly if I lived out here, but this sea level gal has gotten pretty out of breath on occasion!
After our enjoyable afternoon in one of our country’s most beautiful National Parks, we continued on our way to Holbrook. After a quick stop at a neat little place called Mr. Maesta’s (lots of cool old stuff on the walls and hanging from the ceiling…I especially liked the playset oven and sink perched on an old iron stove) for a beverage and a bite to eat (I was parched and starved…I’m not sure when a beer and a BLT has ever tasted so good!), we drove around for a few minutes so I could get some googie pictures. Then it was time to check into our digs for the evening…
THE WIGWAM MOTEL! This was second only to the Blue Swallow on my excite-o-meter about the old motels we are staying at, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a charming little place, with the teepee cabins in a semicircle around the office. The teepee cabin is surprisingly roomy, although the bathroom is still small compared to what you get in motels today. The room has slanted ceilings, and so does the shower! The little window sits low on the wall, on the straight part before the ceiling slopes inward.
It’s clean, the wall air conditioner is noisy but effective, and the wooden furnishings are original to the motel (built in 1950). It is just an adorable place, and it asks the question: Have you slept in a teepee lately?