The Evolving World
Burning Man 2009
 
When I woke, the stars were gone, and the Sun was preparing to rise in the east. It was 6:05 local time, Saturday, August 29th -- the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. I figure I got about 7 hours of sleep. I found a clean shirt and walked to the bathrooms. Birds were chirping, and a jackrabbit bounded around under the Sunseeker. At some point in the night the Sunseeker folks put rocks under the wheels to balance it out. At the bathrooms, I was able to cram my head far enough into the sink to wash my hair. The toilet had too many ants crawling around for me to relax. Breakfast was a hard-boiled egg and an orange, sitting at the concrete picnic table. I loved the silence of the place. There was hardly any wind. A blue jay flitted by. The Sun began to poke through the trees. It was time to go.

I pulled out of the campsite at straight up 7 AM local time. Back in Santa Rosa, I went back to the Circle-K and filled up Satori with gas. I crossed the Pecos River headed west on Interstate 40 out of town. Near Exit 267, there was a huge hole in the ground off the north side of the highway; was it some kind of sinkhole? I saw a sign advertising the annual Billy the Kid Tombstone Race in Ft. Sumner. Outlaw Billy the Kid is buried in Ft. Sumner, and over the years his tombstone has been stolen 3 times. So, the town now sponsors a race where contestants have to carry an 80-pound stone over a 25-yard course which includes four-foot hurdles. The race has been boosting the local economy for years. The highway seemed to keep sloping up in long, gradual grades. There was a big windmill at Clines Corners, but it wasn’t moving. Forty-four miles from Albuquerque, I started seeing mountains ahead. I was still three hours from Gallup.

As I was going through Moriarty, I saw a sign for the Memorial of Perpetual Tears. I was intrigued, so I pulled over to take a look. There was a fenced-off field of little headstone-shaped markers. The markers were all arranged in rows, like at a national cemetery. I thought it was some veteran's memorial, or maybe an anti-war protest... but no. Perpetual Tears is a memorial to victims of drunk drivers. It was early and the place was locked up, so I climbed over the fence. The place was disturbing on several levels. A sign said the markers each marked a drunk driving victim, but the memorial only counted victims who died in New Mexico, and only for the past five years... and there were dozens and dozens of markers! Each one symbolizing somebody's mother, somebody's father, someone's husband or wife, someone's child, each marker symbolizing a life tragically cut short... The memorial is positioned right next to the interstate, so that anyone going down the highway can see the costs of drunk driving. The sad thing was, there was a big empty space in the memorial—I realized they left room for the inevitable drunk driving victims of the future.

Back on the road, I headed towards Albuquerque. I thought about going to the Balloon Museum there, but I got on the wrong road and decided to save that for the next trip. West of Albuquerque I pulled off the highway and stopped at the Route 66 Casino. They had Chuck Berry booked for a future show. Ahead, some road construction slowed me down. I passed some beautiful lava rock formations near Sky City. At Acoma Pueblo, I stopped and browsed through the native jewelry on sale near the highway. They can’t legally sell stuff on the highway, so their “offices” are right up against the fence. There was some beautiful stuff there. It was just after 11 AM when I passed Grants. Up ahead, I stopped at the Continental Divide for a pit stop, and to look through the gift shops. A girl was alone in one watching a baseball game on the TV behind the counter. I was looking for a shady spot to eat my lunch. The shops at the Continental Divide had tables, but no shade. I got to Gallup just after noon. From the highway, I could see lots of kids gathered around a big soccer complex. About a mile down the road, cars were gathered for a funeral at a tiny cemetery. Three horses were huddled under a roadside billboard, trying to find some shade.

I finally found some shade when I crossed the Arizona border and stopped at the visitor’s center. It was surrounded by picnic tables covered with shade structures. I found a shady spot and had my lunch: a hard boiled egg, beef jerky, and an apple. I watched cars and rtucks as they rolled down the nearby highway. There was a gentle breeze under the trees. Several carloads of fellow travelers stopped as I ate. A guy driving a pickup with a camper shell pulled up and got out to walk his dog. One couple walked by, hand in hand, carrying their lunch in a grocery sack. I finished my second roll of film and loaded my camera with a new roll. At that point, I had already taken over 50 pictures with my digital camera. A blonde lady walked her Scotty dog on a leash. The dog’s name was Cody. A guy eating his lunch got up to say, “I didn’t get to bring my buddy on this trip.” He was on his way to Sedona. As I went to the rest room, something rustled in the bushes. A sign warned of poisonous snakes in the area. It was 2:12 Oklahoma time, but 12:12 Arizona time as I pulled out of the visitor’s center. It was 162 miles to Flagstaff. The temperature climbed as I headed into the planes of eastern Arizona. Just before the exit for Petrified Forest, I saw a guy parked on the side of the road taking photographs. The skies got interesting as clouds moved in. It looked like there might even be some rain ahead. Stewart’s Petrified Wood, with its big concrete dinosaurs, appeared to still be in operation, although the Painted Desert Indian Center just across the highway looked like it was giving Stewart’s some competition. When I passed Holbrook, I could see smoke from some big fire way off on the horizon. The road never got close enough for me to see exactly what it was. Near mile marker 280 I passed the smokestacks of the Cholla coal-fueled power plant, on the dry banks of the Tanner Wash. Down the road, I noticed something smelled bad. I think it was me.

Just before 2 PM, it sure looked like rain ahead. There must have been construction on the highway, because I completely missed Winslow, Arizona. I always try to visit. About 40 miles west of Holbrook I saw buffalo grazing on a dry, red plain. At the Leupp Corner exit, a policeman sat underneath an overpass, his red lights flashing, like he’d forgotten to turn them off. Clouds obscured the Sun, and I picked up a tough headwind, but it didn’t feel any cooler out. Near the Meteor Crater, sprinkles hit my windshield. Rain started falling, stirring up red dust on the service roads alongside the highway. Minutes later I drove into a curtain of rain as the van was assaulted with gusty winds. It was around here that Satori clicked over 240,000 miles. Minutes later, the rain stopped and the winds died down, but the skies remained unsettled.

As I got closer to Flagstaff, I had to make a decision. I wanted to visit the Wupatki ruins, which were about a half hour north of town, but I also wanted to see Walnut Canyon, which looked to be just south of the highway. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I still had miles to go before I slept, so I decided to go for Wupatki. If I had time, I figured, I’d swing by Walnut Canyon on my way back. I pulled off the interstate following highway 89, and just then the winds really gusted, almost blowing me off the road. 
I followed the highway through Flagstaff and northward out of town. I wasn’t sure I was headed the right way and was checking my map when a sign appeared: Sunset Crater. The Sunset Crater volcano was associated with Wupatki, so I pulled through there. I drove through some tall trees. Entering a clearing, Sunset Crater appeared, and the sight was just beautiful. Wild flowers bloomed in wide, green fields. I was pulling into the visitor’s center when—my glasses broke! Grrr! It was the left hinge, again, the one I got fixed just a couple of months past. That was annoying. I managed to get them together again with some sport tape. Driving past the visitor’s center, I saw the camping area, already halfway full. A sign ahead pointed me to the lava flows. Having just visited Hawaii, I thought I’d seen lava flows, but holy heck! The black lava was everywhere. I stopped to look over the scorched earth. Vegetation had started to come back, but it was weird to see trees with absolutely no undergrowth—no grass, nothing, like they’d poked up through holes in black paper.
The further I got from Sunset Crater, the more the land had recovered. Grass and bushes appeared. I pulled over to an overlook from which you could marvel at the colors of the Painted Desert, miles away on the horizon. A road goes cross-country from Sunset Crater to the Wupatki ruins. Admission to one got you into both. I didn’t see anything but rolling, rocky hills when I pulled up the visitor center. Inside, it was blissfully cool. I went out the back and followed the path up a short hill. Ahead, I could see the top of a rock wall. I thought, oh, a rock wall. That’s all it is. And then I came over the top of the hill.
Oh my God. The place was huge! At one time, Wupatki had a hundred rooms. There were ball courts and a “blow hole” that actually blew cold air up from some underground cavern. Families lived their whole lives in this isolated place. I took all the film pictures I had in my camera, and then went back for the digital camera. The shifting clouds and moving shadows made photographs tricky. I was in awe. I thought, Why does Mesa Verde get all the press when Wupatki is just as impressive?
In no time at all, it was late in the afternoon, and I had to get going. I ended up getting stuck behind an RV for a long drive back to the highway, going through a sparse juniper forest. I finally made it back to the highway, and drove a long, steep grade to a 7,276-foot summit before it started back downhill, right near the entrance to Sunset Crater. It was a quarter to 6 when I made it back to Interstate 40. It was about 100 miles to Kingman, and I figured I had about an hour of sunlight left. I got some gasoline at a truck stop. I would’ve gotten a sandwich from the Subway there if the two guys in front of me hadn’t been so talkative. So, I got a Big Mac from the McDonald’s next door and ate it on the road.

The Sun was blinding as I headed west. Right as the Sun set, I spotted an RV park perched on the side of a hill. I was tempted to stop and hang it up for the night, but decided to continue towards my destination. It was long after dark when I pulled into Kingman. I was exhausted. The RV park I’d planned to stay at was on the far side of town. I followed the directions I’d downloaded from the Internet, turned off the highway, and found… nothing. Not only was there no RV park, there wasn’t even a street—the pavement abruptly ended after 100 feet. That was frustrating. I returned to Kingman and stopped at a convenience store to ask about any other RV parks in the area. The clerk didn’t live around there, however, and had no idea what I was talking about.

Desperate, I pulled into a dinky, run-down motel that advertised rooms for $19 a night and checked in. Inside, the room wasn’t all that bad. The light bulbs were exposed, the place needed a coat of paint and I was never sure the door completely locked, but the water in the shower was hot, the air conditioning worked, and the bed was surprisingly comfortable. The room looked like the old motel in “No Country for Old Men.” I put the chances of being murdered in my sleep about 50/50. I showered the day’s grime off me and tried to fix my glasses. I figured I’d traveled 690 miles that day, driving for about 15 hours. I remembered previous 16-hour days driving cross-country and telling myself I wouldn’t push myself like that anymore, but... there I was. I thought about planning my next trip by mapping out all the possible campsites along the way, and wherever I was when I got tired, that would be where I camped for the night. I turned on the little TV in the room and watched an episode of “NCIS.” Before going to bed, I checked the Weather Channel. They were predicting a high of 107 degrees in Las Vegas the next day! I finally fell asleep about midnight.
 
  
 
LINKS 
Wupatki National Monument 
Sunset Crater 
Acoma Pueblo 
Ft. Sumner 
Memorial of Perpetual Tears 
All original content copyright 2009 by Tim Frayser. If your image appears on this site, and you'd rather it didn't, drop me a line and I'll remove it. Pictures appearing on this website are for personal use and are not for sale. 
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Introduction  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3 
Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday 
Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Epilogue