“It feels like we just did all of the Southwest in one day.”
Dear readers, I sit now in room 133 of the Red Roof Inn in Gallup, New Mexico. We were in room 117 until a “drip” the size of a small flood starting pouring through our bathroom ceiling and into the bathtub. Now we have two queen beds, an overly-talkative A/C, but nary a leaky ceiling to be found!
All that aside, today was the crowning glory of the past ten days, which have gone by in such a whirlwind that I haven’t gotten a chance to post about any of it. Not to fear – I have notes on our happenings and will recap that time in the coming days.
This morning I woke up at 4:00am inside a dark tent at the Grand Canyon. My first though was, “Nope. I’m not getting back to sleep.” While that might seem terribly unpleasant, I was brightened by the fact that I was up well before the sun was set to rise. Seeing the sunrise was something I had thought would be awesome, but hadn’t promised myself I would do. I had watched a slow, beautiful sunset with Tim last night and had intended to get an exceptional night of sleep. Now that Plan A was shot, Plan B sounded pretty damn good.
Leaving Tim quietly snoozing in the tent I made my way to the Grand Canyon rim. The skies brightening each minute as I journeyed over, I worried I would miss the rising sun crest over the horizon. Jogging the last bit past a little herd of breakfasting mule deer, Japanese tourists and German photographers, I found that I’d made it with time to spare. Not only that – it was as though the canyon had saved the perfect seat for me on a little rocky ledge. Ok, maybe it was just an oversight by the other visitors. In truth, I believe that had I been sitting anywhere along the canyon rim, I would have witnessed the same serene beauty that came with this morning’s sunrise. As the sun broke over the eastern horizon, this jewel of the Southwest slid out of the dark purples and blue-blacks of the wee hours and into a fiery red-orange layer cake of incredible majesty.
Hard to top that, right?
Well after breaking camp this morning Tim and I embarked on a 300-mile, 10-hour tour of Arizona through landscapes that blew this California girl’s mind. The path south to Flagstaff traversed Arizona’s geographical spectrum, from rusty rocky plains straight out of an old Western to densely forested snow-capped mountains cloaked in swaths of bright purple.
Down I-40 east of Flagstaff we checked out the famous Meteor Crater, another high impact (ha!) natural feature of the Colorado Plateau. More of that in a future post. Continuing east, sometimes on I-40, sometimes on patches of old Route 66, we arrived at the Petrified Forest National Park.
While the Petrified Forest was very cool for its exceptional display of the ancient natural world, it wasn’t as personal as the Grand Canyon. There was no interaction, no direct observation of the animal fossils about which we’d read so eagerly in the visitor’s center. So it paled in comparison to what came next. The entire day – hell, the entire road trip thus far, including the Grand Canyon – had been leading up to the one thing I had been dying to see: the Painted Desert.
This land…Artists struggle to recreate it. My photos can’t do it justice (maybe Tim’s can). After using words like “majesty” and “jewel of the Southwest” to describe the Grand Canyon I’m not sure how to impart upon you just how visually and emotionally magical the Painted Desert is. Imagine an enormous paintbrush and palette in the sky. Sky Brush dips itself into a giant glob of burnt umber and paints a line across hundreds of miles of the rolling, softly eroded plateau. Then it scoops up a blob of copper red and drags it across the top of the previous layer. Sky Brush continues to do the same with slate blues, violet purples other rich Sky Palette pigment to create beautiful stratified layers of color. The result is the unearthly spectacle aptly named the Painted Desert.
Driving all 28 miles of road through the Petrified Forest National Forest and the Painted Desert, we found ourselves stopping at more vistas and viewpoints than we intended.
“Let’s skip this one.”
(drives up to view point)
“Oh man, we have to stop.”
The visit even included ancient Puebloan ruins complete with amazingly preserved petroglyphs. I cannot recommend this park enough. By the end of the day I felt that my visit to Arizona, while brief, had encompassed the beauty of the Great American Southwest. We rolled into the Land of Enchantment completely bushed but grinning like a couple of idiots. Sitting in this two-bit hotel room in Gallup, beyond exhausted, my partner wondering how the hell I’m still writing this single post, my hair still a mess of tangles from the day’s high winds, I’m still grinning.