Monday, September 18, 2006

Awesome Arizona

"Who shot at you?" was the first question we were asked when we stopped at Canyon de Chelly. Two Canadians, looking somewhat distraught, were staring at the bullet holes in the Land Rovers’ side window. We were in the real "wild west" country. Most of it, 27 million acres in the Northeast sector of Arizona, was Navajo Tribal Trust Land.

The "bullet holes" were TH’s idea of a joke. While they looked quite realistic, they were stick-on fakes. It was surprising how many people they fooled.

Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "shay") National Monument is one of the longest continuously inhabited areas of North America. Before the Navajo, were the Anasazi pueblo peoples. They had carved out stone houses on the impossibly small ledges, which jutted out from the steep canyon walls.

The land surrounding the canyon was dry and scrubby, but we were told that the canyon floor stays green and fertile all year round, protected by the tall rocky walls of the canyon. Apart from perching on a cliff edge, I could see this would have been an attractive place to live.

The living Navajo community maintains this culturally significant area in partnership with the American National Parks Service.

We had driven up from the Petrified Forest National Park, following Big Joe Petrillo’s recommended route. I loved the colour contrast of the red cliffs and the sage-green coloured bushes. However, the "spoiler" was the large numbers of empty alcohol bottles and cans, thrown from cars as they sped past. We’d seen the same thing in Nevada.

We continued north to Monument Valley. John Wayne country. The land of many Western movies, where isolated buttes and mesa thrust up from the empty, sandy desert.

The valley is not really a valley, but a wide flat, desolate landscape, interrupted by these crumbling formations rising hundreds of feet into the air, the last remnants of red, sandstone layers that once covered the entire region.

I’d seen these views in so many "ride into the sunset" movie endings - the darkened outcrops silhouetted against the dying sun, the "heroes" galloping away into small dots, while the melancholy, accompanying theme tune plays on into the fade out. I wondered which movie cliché character I was. The Good? The Bad? Or The Ugly. Maybe all three?

There was no question about what Monument Valley was. It was "The Fabulous", with its deep, rich, iron oxide red colours.

By now it was getting late into the day, and we needed our own "fade out" place to spend the night. Camping in Navajo Land was restricted and, distracted by all this majestic beauty around us, we had missed the fact that the only camping ground (amongst the 27 million acres) was back at Canyon de Chelly.

We huddled over the map. The next "biggish" town was Shiprock in New Mexico and we headed in that direction. TH spied a "dry weather road" just out of Lukachukai. If we could get through, it would get us to Shiprock before nightfall.

Avid blog fans will know that this road petered out into a muddy, impassable track. On it we encountered some very drunk men who thought we were married twins from Nooo Zeeeeeeland. (Refer blog entry for Friday 22 July 2005, entitled: "Shoes and Clothes – What more does a gal need?"). Check out:

We high tailed it, back down the dry weather road, and continued on to Shiprock, by the conventional highway.

As it got dark, a chill wind blew up, hurling dust and tumbleweeds across the road. In the pale light from our meagre headlights, the tumbleweeds looked like wild, hairy monsters screaming along in front of us.

Shiprock did not have a campsite. We grabbed some dinner and pressed on to Farmington. We pulled into "Mom and Pop’s RV Campground" at 8:30 that night. We had driven 350 miles over a 12-hour day. The friendly owner looked rather sympathetically at us - two cold, tired, dusty, dishevelled strangers with funny accents, and who had blown into his camp, along with a now icy wind.

He said he didn’t get many campers at this time of year and the camp was mainly for RV’s. However, he let us pitch our tent in the sheltered side of his camp store. Close by was the camp’s excellent, heated amenity building with plenty of hot water for showers. We had long, wonderful showers, clambered into our thermals, zipped ourselves into our tent and then our hooded sleeping bags.

During the night I heard the strangest soft, squidgy sounds. Like someone was kissing the outside of the tent. I woke the long-suffering TH. He peered out and said, "It’s snow. Snow falling on the tent."

We snuggled back down. It was warm and cosy together and we drifted back to sleep.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, September 11, 2006

Getting our Kicks

Big holes in the ground! We’d seen a lot on this trip. But, meteor crater (Arizona) took my breath way - 4,100 ft (1.2 km) in diameter, 570 ft (174 metres) deep and over three miles (4.8 km) in circumference. It has starred in several movies. NASA astronauts trained there in the 1950’s and 60’s. It certainly still has a "wow" factor. Not bad for something that had smashed into the earth 50,000 years ago.

We had been scooting along the remnants of Route 66 for most of the morning, ducking back onto highway I-40, when Route 66 petered out. It had been fun. While there were no longer the ubiquitous trading posts every second mile, there were wonderful remainders of the golden age of "the mother road".

We had sought out Route 66 near Williams (Arizona), a few miles south of our friendly Red Lake Hostel. Williams was one of the last towns on Route 66 to be bypassed by I-40 in 1984. While other towns had suffered from the by-pass, Williams’ proximity to the Grand Canyon meant it has retained some prosperity. In addition, Williams’ entire downtown business district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Onwards towards Holbrook, we discovered some "ghosts" along Route 66 – old adobe motels, faded billboards, cracked roadways, derelict cars and crumbling gas stations. We did find one trading post still open, The Jackrabbit. While it had souvenir postcards of jackalopes, sand paintings, rubber tomahawks, interesting old stuff and imitation Indian goods made in China (these would have been "Made in Japan" back in the 1950’s), we didn’t find the wonders of an earlier age - packages of rattlesnake eggs, cactus candy and tumbled stones. It didn’t matter - it was still quite a blast having a fossick through everything. We had the freedom to explore as we liked, especially as the area around Route 66 in Arizona also had many natural wonders – Walnut Canyon State Park, Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.

Approximately half way between Flagstaff and Winslow was Meteor Crater.

Imagine our surprise when we pulled into the information centre car park and met F1’s Series I Land Rover coming out. We stopped for a brief chat. They had left Grand Canyon before us the day before and managed to reach Williams before the worst of the snowstorm. They had decided they would head south for warmer weather. F2 told us that there was nothing more to see in Arizona. We gave them a big grin and waved them off.

After "standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona" (from the Eagles song "Take it Easy") we trundled on to Holbrook, where you can still bed down at the Wigwam Hotel.

These motel rooms are large, individual concrete tepees. Fabulous.

The next morning was the 1st April, my birthday. I was 42 years old. I looked myself over in the mirror – I wore no make-up and I hadn’t done so for over a month, I had red lines in my cheeks, chapped lips and dry, cracked hands, thanks to the parched, desert air. I had gone back to chewing my nails and I was also convinced that I had at least one, age-caused "kidney spot". What had happened to the sophisticated businesswoman, I used to be? I guess she was turning into adventure woman.

The motel’s promised breakfast of Danish pastries was delayed for some unknown reason. We had a long day planned of around 300 miles. The proprietor felt sorry that we would have to depart on empty stomachs. She gave us three Oreo cookies each to help us on our way. This was the first time I had eaten these rich, chocolate biscuits. Wow, what a pity I hadn’t grabbed the whole packet.

Petrified Forest National Park was unusual. As we drove into the park, the first thing I noticed was the rolling, Mars-red, hillocks of sand. Then, I saw the "forest". I don’t know what I had expected. Maybe, I thought I’d see trees frozen upright, as still and dead as trolls caught by sunlight. But, it was a lying-down sort of forest. Great logs of wood, petrified into stone, lay flat on the ground.

The remaining stumps jagged out of the ground, like decaying brown teeth. Upheaval in the land, and erosion, had caused the trees to break. When they crashed down, their brittle trunks had scattered into huge chunks and shards across the desert.

The rust-coloured, contoured land rolled on and on. It was a grim graveyard for trees. Later, where there were no more trees, nature had compensated for the devastation, with the Painted Desert. It was aptly named, as brighter white, green and yellow minerals splashed colour into the iron ore red sand, as if dripped from a paint box.

Check out these photos on:

Have a look at these great pictures of some other New Zealanders on their Route 66 adventure in Arizona:

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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