Musings & Meditations

Getting My Kicks

Posted in Travel by Pam Keesey on May 25, 2008

Day 2: Photostream
Sunday morning started bright and early with a 5:30 a.m. departure for Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument. The sunrise over Flagstaff was lovely, and I was looking forward to getting back on the road.

Sunset Crater was fascinating, not so much for the dormant volcano itself as for the long petrified and still very present Bonito Lava Flow. One thousand years later, and it still looks like it happened only recently, which, in geological terms, I suppose it did.

Wupatki National Monument, the site of ruins of the Wupatki pueblos that arose in the area just after the eruption of Sunset Crater, is amazing, an experience made even more compelling by the early morning sun and the dearth of tourists at that hour. Wandering the monument on my own, taking in the red rock buildings and imagining what it must have been like all of those years ago to live there; I spent much longer at Wupatki than I had intended to, I was so taken with the site.

From Wupatki, it was back through Flagstaff to old Route 66, and just a hop, skip, and a jump to Walnut Canyon National Monument, the site of ancient cave dwellings dating back to around 1300. The Island Trail down to and around the cave dwellings was closed due to a rock slide, but the pueblos could still be seen from the top of the canyon on the Rim Trail. There were more people at Walnut Canyon, as it was already much later in the morning, but not so crowded that the three deer frolicking in the parking lot felt any need to move on. By the time I returned from the upper trail, however, more people had arrived and the deer had long since disappeared.

Back on Route 66, I saw a sign for Two Arrows, a name I recognized from my Route 66 reading. What I hadn’t realized is that the now derelict gas station and diner with its signature twin steel arrows was all there was to Twin Arrows. An interesting site, definitely, and another sign that even the classic Route 66 sites that are easily accessible from I-40 are being lost to the ebb and flow of time.

From Twin Arrows, I continued my journey down I-40 toward Meteor Crater. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of a stone wall with the words “Mountain Lions” painted on it off to the side of the road. Driving too quickly down the highway with nary an exit in sight, I decided that I’d continue on to Meteor Crater and perhaps double back to see what I had missed.

Meteor Crater doesn’t appear to be much until you’re right at the top looking down. I can’t even imagine what the first people who saw the crater must have thought: seven hundred feet down and four thousand feet across, a perfect bowl in the earth with upended boulders the size of houses. I’m sure it’s places like these that reinforced and perpetuated early beliefs in gods and extraterrestrials.

My original plan was to carry on to the Homolovi Ruins State Park to see the petroglyphs, but that stone wall was still calling to me. I climbed back into the car, and retraced the few miles that took me to what’s left of Two Guns, Arizona, an attraction built in the 1920s, now a crumbling monument that is as much a ruin as any of the pueblos I had seen.

Two guns was originally just north of Route 66, and sits just south of I-40 along Diablo Canyon. The stone buildings were all that was left of an attraction built in the 1920s, when an enterprising couple opened a zoo featuring local wildlife, including, of course, mountain lions. At various stages, the site apparently also included a reproduction Native American cave dwelling, a “Hopi House,” a curio shop, restaurant, and other roadside attractions.

The zoo was discontinued at some point before 1950, but other attractions were built and attracted tourist for several years afterward, including a campground and twin water tanks featuring two old west gunfighters, one with two guns (of course). As with Wupatki, I spent more time and hiked much further around this site than I had intended, but it was so worth the time and the effort.

Like its kitschy counterparts in other parts of the country — South of the Border and Treasure City, for example — Meteor City turned out to be a geodesic dome by the side of the road that has a vast array of thing to purchase that you really don’t want or need. A photograph of the world’s largest map of Route 66 seemed worthwhile, and there were enough cars in the lot that I thought there might be something more of interest once I got inside. What wasn’t apparent until I got up close is that most of the cars in the parking lot had flat tires, and clearly hadn’t been anywhere other than the parking lot for years.

From Meteor City, I drove toward Winslow, whose claim to fame isn’t not only the section of Route 66 that passes through town, but also “Standing on the Corner” Park, a tribute to the Eagles song “Take It Easy,” with the lyrical passage “standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see….” No girls in flatbed Fords, but apparently there was a biker rally, and everyone had stopped for their own photo opportunity.

There’s not much left of the old Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, but I did take the exit just to view the old sign and get a picture of the famous jackrabbit before continuing on to Holbrook.

The Holbrook stretch of Route 66 is probably most famous for the Wigwam Motel — one of several “teepee” themed hotels along the old route — and for Rainbow Rocks, which was closed when I passed by. I should have stopped and asked to see inside one of the wigwams, but it didn’t occur to me until I was back on the road. Seeing them up close, even from the outside, was a treat, however, after having seen them referenced so many times in pop culture history books and travel guides.

From Holbrook, it was off to see the Petrified Forest National Park, a 28-mile stretch that covers much of what used to be woodlands in what is now the Arizona desert. I took the trail up to the petrified wood pueblo ruins before driving the length of the park, stopping along the way to see the designated sites, including a petrified log bridge and a stretch of Route 66 which is now overgrown and indicated only by a belt of now decaying telephone poles that stretch along the desert.

The Petrified Forest National Park road leads into the Painted Desert, which I had seen that morning at a distance from the top of one of the Wupatki ruin sites. The vast expanse of desert, and the layers of color — red, ochre, yellow, brown — which could be seen for miles was breathtaking. I also took a few minutes to stop by the Painted Desert Inn, once a functioning inn, and now a vistors center, designed by renowned southwest architect Mary Colter.

From the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, it was off to Gallup, New Mexico. There were a handful of sites I wanted to see there, but the most compelling was the Navajo Restaurant I had located online. Sadly, the restaurant had long closed. In the end, it was dinner at The Ranch Kitchen, which serves a range of American, Mexican, and Navajo favorites, including the delicious lamb stew and fry bread that comprised my meal that night.

My stop in Gallup also included a stop at the El Rancho Motel, “Home of the Movie Stars.” Built by D.W. Griffith’s brother, the motel has seen its share of famous guests, as many of the old Hollywood westerns were filmed in the area.

From Gallup, it was off to Albuquerque without a stop, as I still needed to get to Tucumcari for the evening. I watched the sunset through the rearview mirror as I headed east toward Albuquerque, realizing that with the extra time and all the hiking I had done, I wasn’t going to arrive in Tucumcari to get my night shots of classic neon signs. But still, the time at Wupatki and Two Guns more than made up for the disappointment. As I continued on, I tried to follow a few of the Route 66 alignments along I-40, but realized that there wasn’t much to see along certain stretches, and especially not in the dark, so stayed on I-40 for much of the way. I passed through Santa Rosa and finally found myself nearing Tucumcari, the now familiar “Historic Route 66” signs ahead.

I had called and let the proprietors of the Blue Swallow know that I’d be arriving late, and they left the key in the door for me. I pulled up in front of Room #1, and noticed that all the other rooms had motorcycles parked in front. Another bike rally, it seemed.

As I settled in for the night and reflected on my day, I knew that this trip was already good for me. Distracted by my day’s activities, it was the drive after dark that was the most reflective period, and more than a few tears were shed as I thought of the events of the last few years and this last year in particular. And, as with the day before, the radio brought back memories and lent a certain synchronicity to the events unfolding before me.

Song for the day: “Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane

Life is a highway,
I want to ride it all night long.
If you’re going my way,
I want to drive it all night long.

Highways & Byways
Day 1: Friends, Family, and the Open Road (Photostream)
Day 3: Yesterday’s Gone (Photostream)
Day 4: Communing (Photostream)

My Route 66 @ Flickr.com

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