The highway between Kingman and Flagstaff was very picturesque. It climbs into rough, green mountains and winds up beyond 5,000 feet elevation. The air was very dry. The landscape was vibrant with thick wooded areas and fields of yellow wildflowers that stretched off to the horizon. I saw clouds off to the northeast. An hour and a half out of Kingman, I entered the Kaibab National Forest. The trees grew taller, accented with purple and red wildflowers. Clouds gathered overhead, and I wondered if I'd have to skip stopping for pictures again because of cloud cover. Traffic picked up, too. I followed a truck pulling a horse trailer for several miles until I could get around it. Coming into Flagstaff, blue mountains stood tall in the distance. One mile out of town, I cross the Arizona Divide, which rises to 7,335 feet. I passed an exit for Page, Arizona, but I'd already been there that trip. I sent my wife a text message that I'd made it as far as Flagstaff.
The winds picked up as I traveled east and grew fierce. At the abandoned Twin Arrows outpost, I saw one of the arrows had fallen apart. I figured it would only be a matter of time until they both crumbled. East from there, the landscape dramatically flattens out into wide, grassy prairie. I soon turned off the highway to see something I'd been wanting to see for a long time: the Meteor Crater. Off the highway, it's another 6 miles down a narrow 2-lane road to the crater, through empty fields of red rocks and scrub brush. I was amused at a sign that said the "crater closes at 7." The road meanders up a short ridge to the visitor's center. I realized the ridge was actually the rim of the crater. It cost $12 to get in, and then visitors take a long flight of stairs or an elevator ride up to the top. The visitor's center is right on the rim, looking down into the crater. The view itself is tremendous. It was the same crater they used in the movie "Starman," but in the movies it looks a lot bigger than it does in real life. Still, it's one big honking hole in the ground. The wind sounds different as you're looking down into the crater-- it's deeper, mournful, even. I was pleased to see the visitor's center had lots of educational stuff about meteors and craters and exploration. There was a pretty extensive exhibit on space flight, and outside they set up a special Astronaut Wall of Fame, with a plaque for every astronaut in space. I was glad I stopped.
The admission price got me a couple of coupons I could redeem at the nearby gas station, but they were out of regular unleaded. I decided to hold off and get more gas down the road. I passed some construction on a new highway rest area. A sign said the next rest area was 124 miles away. From the crater, it wasn't far to the little Route 66 town of Winslow, Arizona. I'd stopped in Winslow before, and stood on "the corner," but I wanted to get some different pictures. When I got there, however, Standin' on the Corner Park was closed off with a chain link fence. The mural was still on the wall, but the building the wall was part of, the old J.C. Penny Building, burned down in October of 2004. The burned-out husk was a shock. Without the support of the building behind it, the mural wall wasn't sturdy enough to stand on its own. That's why the park was blocked-off. A fund was being collected to add supports to the wall and open the park back up. Despite the damage, the trendy little stores and coffee shops in downtown Winslow seemed to be prospering. I stopped outside of town to get a picture of the September Eleventh memorial.
An hour down the road from Winslow, I pulled off the interstate
at Holbrook, and turned south on Highway 180. Gas was $3.19 a gallon in
Holbrook, a town apparently made famous by all the petrified wood in the
ground. There were several businesses that sold only petrified wood, and
there was even a statue outside of town. I passed the landmark Wigwam Motel
and crossed the Little Colorado River. I found myself on a long, lonely
2-lane road that looked a lot like western Oklahoma. I was an hour from
St. Johns. It was a glorious day, despite being scorching hot out. Part
of the Painted Desert came into view right after I passed the southern
entrance to the Petrified Forest. Here and there, the earth peeled away
to reveal beautiful outcroppings of red, white and purple stone. I was
in rural Arizona, and every mile or so I would pass a gated road leading
off into those gentle, inhospitable rolling hills. I think I even passed
a remote monastery. The hills emptied out onto a high plain of short, stubby
grass. Clouds passed overhead, thick and lively.
As the road turned towards St. John's, a handful of sprinkles appeared on my windshield. Every time I go through Arizona, I get rained on, even if it's just a little. The road took me through the little rural community of St. John's. A feed store had a sign outside: "Take life with a lick of salt." The sky darkened as I headed for Springerville, 29 miles away. I saw more ranch houses, nestled between short, rugged red buttes. A road turned off towards Lyman Lake State Park. I traveled through an area of failed volcanic cones, gentle slopes carpeted in lush emerald green grass. I had no idea southeastern Arizona could be so beautiful. If it wasn't for the traces of black igneous rock here and there, it almost looked like Ireland. I was in an area called "Round Valley." At Springerville, I pulled into a gas station and filled up Satori (at $3.09 a gallon). A kid came into the store while I was paying, but nobody could speak Spanish. He just went back outside, like he was waiting for somebody.
It was 13 miles to the state line. The landscape continued its dramatic, lovely character all the way into New Mexico. The air was cool. I smelled rain. Just then, a bird appeared in the road. He didn't make it when he tried to fly away and went thump against the windshield. Holy Christ, I thought. Did I kill another bird? That sort of thing gets you a reputation. Birds fear me. I am... the birdkiller. About a half hour out of Springerville it started to rain. In Quemado, New Mexico, I saw a sign for gas at $2.95 a gallon, but it might have been an old sign. The sun was setting, and dusky clouds were gathering overhead. Right before Pie Town, I drove down a section of highway sponsored by the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America. It was down that lonely road that I crossed the Continental Divide again. Trees rose all around me as entered the Cibola National Forest; the hills became rugged and dark. I was racing the Sun, and the Sun was winning. I zoomed through the tiny town of Datil, 35 miles from Magdalina. There was more forest, but then, just ahead, the forest abruptly ended. The trees melted away from the road, and like an opening curtain the Plains of San Augustin spread out before me... And far away, round, white specks rose in the distance. It was the giant dish antennas of the Very Large Array! It took ten minutes to drive across the wide, empty plain to the antennas. I stopped for some pictures, then drove down the little road to get a closer look. It was too late in the day for the visitor's center to be open. The land all around the dish antennas is open range, so there were cows just wandering around. It was the same site as in the Jodie Foster movie "Contact," among other movies. I thought I could hear the telemetry bouncing off the dishes. I was really happy I got to see them close-up. From the VLA, it was still another 46 miles to Socorro.
I had my headlights on when I drove through Magdalena, a tiny village that's been inhabited, like, forever. I passed an old, walled hacienda that had a pirate flag flying from a flagpole. The old bank building downtown had been converted into a cafe. Night fell. It was dark when I rolled into Socorro, New Mexico, 619 miles from Las Vegas. I checked into my motel, then picked up some beer and take-out tacos for supper. I called home, and where there was, "no drama, thankfully." I was about to begin the last leg of my trip.
The Very Large Array
Standin' on the Corner Park
Kaibab National Forest
The Petrified Forest
Magdelina, New Mexico
The Hoover Dam Bypass
|Last Updated: February, 2006
All original content (c)opyright 2005 by Tim Frayser