By Marianna Boyce
New Mexico’s rising sun warmed my face, but the brisk wind chilled me to the bone. This made our morning coffee that much more satisfying. It was the best cup we had since leaving the Palmetto State of South Carolina thirty-six hours earlier.
As our journey continued westward, we crossed the Continental Divide. This is the point where water basins drain into the Pacific Ocean from those that empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Am I the only one thinking this happened at the Mississippi River? Apparently, I am not smarter than a 5th grader.
Several hours after crossing this Great Divide, we reached Northeastern Arizona to visit the Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook. This park is known for fossils of fallen trees dating to the late Triassic Epoch. Although very friendly, the rangers are quite protective of their treasures—for a good reason. With more petrified wood than anywhere else in the world, they have a watchful eye on park visitors. It is forbidden to move anything from its original location due to in-situ experiments being conducted by geologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists. Their research is deemed void of scientific value if any fossil is disturbed.
Those who have found a way to smuggle the 225-million-year-old wood from the park didn’t fare well. “The Curse of the Petrified Forest” is a legend that’s prompted many people to mail it back to the ranger station. This gesture supposedly helps clear their conscience and rid themselves of “streaks of bad luck” they’d experienced since stealing it. A room is dedicated to these “cursed thieves” displaying their “bucket loads of confessions” in the Rainbow Forest Museum at the park. (Facts and quotes provided by Legendsofamerica.com)
We drove through the park getting out only at designated lookout points. There were marked trails to explore so of course, our son walked about a quarter mile into this mysterious realm. Cody is in the blue shirt at the top of the trail in one photo. If you look closely in the other, you can barely see him on the trail. Gerry and I preferred gazing from the lookouts.
As we peered down into the mountainous desert, it was difficult gauging how big or small anything was. From our viewpoint, everything looked distorted because we were situated in a higher elevation. The clouds billowing just above eye-level casts shadows over the Painted Desert creating a mirage. The manner in which these shadows danced across the vast land made the terrain appear as if it were charred by a forest fire. The effect was quite stunning.
The cool morning transitioned to warm rather quickly, so we were happy having clouds move above us. By early lunch, it was scorching hot. The parking lots for all the lookout stations had recently been resurfaced, so the scent of newly poured asphalt filled the air. Standing in one place too long resulted in asphalt sticking to the bottom of your shoe. It happened to me, and proof of it appeared on the floor mat of my car. I prefer thinking of it as bringing home a little piece of Route 66.
About thirty-seven miles east of Flagstaff, there’s a huge hole in the earth created by a meteor impact 50,000 years ago. Along the lengthy road leading to the crater are massive clay-looking boulders strewn over the terrain. I assume these rocks were blasted to where they now permanently remain after this colossal impact. They appear to be out of place, as they don’t match the natural surroundings.
The crater itself measures almost a mile in diameter and 560 feet deep. We climbed the steps to stand close to the rim. The photo taken with people standing on the deck gives a little perspective.
The white center is rubble lying above the bedrock with a life-sized astronaut standing next to an American flag. There is no need to zoom in on the photos. This sight cannot be seen with the naked eye. There are free, mounted binoculars on the rail of the deck to see him. Why this is not a National Park is a mystery to me, but it’s well taken care of by the private landowner.
A few miles down the road from this notable impact site is a famous corner you can stand on in Winslow, Arizona. It’s a fine sight to see. This little dot on the map was made famous by the Eagles, so if you’re not familiar with the song, “Take It Easy,” this information probably makes zero sense to you.
There’s not a lot to see, but they have a red flatbed Ford parked on the side of the road, along with a bronze statue of Glenn Frey holding his acoustic guitar. A small gift shop stands adjacent to the corner, and the largest “Route 66” sign is painted in the middle of the two lane crossroads where this historic highway intersects with Winslow’s main thoroughfare. This stop is meant for people who need to take a break from driving, for those who wish to stand on that famous corner, or of course, for those who merely want to get the t-shirt. (We didn’t get photos this year, so I’m sharing a few from last year’s road trip.)
The closer we got to Flagstaff, the taller the trees stood. Strangely, the terrain resembled that of South Carolina. We were mesmerized by the unobstructed dome of blue sky in Texas and New Mexico, but in northwestern Arizona, the enormity of the western skies disappeared behind the brilliant green cover of leaves.
All we could see was the road in front of us. Little did we know what lay ahead…