I woke up about 6:30 Wednesday morning, September 4th. I slept for almost 9 hours. I must have been tired. Outside, the pre-dawn air was cool and crisp. I knew it wouldn’t last. The Sonoran Desert would see to that. I really spent the night at the Bagdad Café. The manager saw me from the front door and waved me over when it was open. I did a quick wash from my canteen and put on a clean shirt before going inside.
I was the first customer of the day, so I took the empty booth in the corner. The TV had news about a kidnapper that hung himself in prison. The cook pondered, “I wonder how he got the step ladder through the bars..?” I ordered hot tea, and treated myself to a big breakfast: bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns and toast (with butter and jelly), and it was still under $10. When I took a picture of my breakfast, the cook laughed, “Uh, oh, a food critic!”
A barrel-chested guy came in and sat at the next table. Out of the blue, he said, “Tell me a story,” so I told him about the first girl that ever broke my heart. He seemed genuinely moved by my tale. I never got his name. He traveled around the country in a truck. When he got tired, he would pull off down some side road and go to sleep. He said in all the years he camped out in deserts, he never saw a snake or a scorpion-- “Except for that one time I woke up drunk and found a coyote sniffing me.” He chased the coyote off by yelling, “I’m not dead!” and the coyote casually loped off into the brush… as if to say, I can wait. I asked the cook where the bathrooms were, and he said, “Under John Wayne.” --And they were. A portrait of Wayne hung over the door to the restrooms. Some German tourists came in as I finished eating. Fast service, good food,reasonable prices, and they let me camp for free -- you can't do much better than that. I left a big tip. In the parking lot, a couple of dogs barked at me until I said, “Hey, I’m a customer!” They shut up and left me alone.
It was straight up 8 AM when I left the Bagdad Café. Down Route 66, I passed the RV park I almost stopped at, and almost missed the turn to get on the interstate. It wasn’t until I was back on I-40 that I realized I needed to stop for gas. There was a gas station way back at Exit 18 but I didn’t think about that. I figured I had enough to get me to the next town. The Sun was bright as I headed east. The landscape was littered with lots of volcanic rocks. Eleven miles from Ludlow I passed a big lava field. I made it to Ludlow, and spent $30 on some outrageously priced gas. The breeze felt nice in the shade. Down the road, the hills were scattered with vegetation. Millions of years of evolution had produced plants that could survive and flourish in the unforgiving Sonoran Desert. As scattered as the plants were, the vistas were so vast that the valleys looked lush in perspective. Dark, jagged mountains lay to the north. I found a Mexican channel, and got to hear the news in Spanish. I could tell it was the news because of the theme music. Two people on a 3-wheeled motorcycle passed me.
The shutter lag on my digital camera frustrated me. There were so many pictures I knew I’d have to delete once I got home. I crossed Fearless Wash and saw more volcanic rocks. The John Wayne Safety Rest Area was closed for repairs. Road signs were in miles and kilometers. At Mile Marker 126, I came over a ridge and saw a vast valley down below. Signs warned truckers to downshift. At Exit 133, I-40 makes a turn to the southeast. It was right after 10 AM when I got to Needles, California. I stopped for some more outrageously priced gas and left as soon as I could.
Just before 10:30, I-40 turned east again and crossed the Colorado River. Except for not going where I wanted to go, I was making good time. It was three hours to Flagstaff. I passed the exit for Lake Havasu and London Bridge, where I visited years past. Colorful mountains lined up to the north. The Black Mountains of Arizona were why Interstate 40 made it's little dip to the south. If it weren't for their craggy peaks, I-40 would go straight from Needles to Flagstaff. The highway steadily climbed in elevation once I was on the Arizona side. It was interesting to watch the changes in vegetation along the road. The scenery changed from desert to wooded mountains. It was a pretty day. White clouds lounged across a sharp blue sky. Ahead, the clouds looked darker. The weather application on my smartphone predicted isolated thunderstorms in Flagstaff. As noon approached, I saw cows grazing in brilliant green fields. A hundred miles past Needles I’d  climbed almost 5,000 feet.
Big drops of rain splattered my windshield for a minute. I decided to stop in Seligman to get gas. I was not having any luck finding cheap gasoline that day. The sky became overcast. Lush, green pastures separated gently rolling hills. At Exit 144, I passed the hilltop RV park I missed headed west one year. The air was very cool rolling into Williams. Someone from Desert Rose called my cellphone to see about my visit. It seems I was there so briefly, arriving late and leaving early, they weren’t sure I ever showed up. It was rude of me to leave without saying goodbye, I realized, and promised it wouldn’t happen again.
I kept seeing cars that looked like they came from Burning Man. Up ahead, there was a car loaded down with bicycles. I watched as it slowly swerved over to the left, then swerved over to the right, and then swerved all the way over into the inside lane—right in front of a speeding semi truck. The truck slammed on its brakes, the rig moaning at the strain, wheels screeching, the air thick with the smell of burning rubber. I braked and jerked over to the shoulder, certain the truck was going to plow into that car, but at the very last moment the truck managed to slow down enough to avoid a collision …But then, the car did nothing. It was like the driver never noticed the doom that missed his back bumper by inches. The truck was right on top of the car, and when the trucker blared his horn, it must have sounded like a chorus of archangels at that distance. The car swerved back to the outside lane and then pulled over to the shoulder. Black smoke billowed from the truck as it zoomed on down the road. I glanced over at the car when I passed it. The driver had a stunned look on his face. He was lucky to have an alive look on his face.
It was a quarter to 2 when I got to Flagstaff. Gas prices were a lot better than California’s. I stopped to top off the tank. That was when the Sun came out. It was still cloudy, and storms lurked on the horizon. It was an hour to Winslow, but I wasn’t going to Winslow just yet. It was just after 2 PM when I took the turnoff for Walnut Canyon. There was a rich scent of pine in the air. The visitor center was on the edge of the canyon. I parked in the parking lot, changed into my boots and went inside. One of the trails was closed, but most of the Island Trail was open. At the top of the trail, signs reminded visitors they were at 6,690 feet elevation. It was a 1-mile trail with 240 steps descending 185 feet. “Whoa! Pace yourself!” a signed warned. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
About a thousand years ago, a volcano erupted north of what is now Flagstaff, Arizona. (Sunset Crater is what's left of the volcano.) Shortly thereafter, local natives began building homes in the terraced walls of Walnut Canyon. The natives who built homes into the walls of the canyon only lived here for a hundred years or so before moving on. The dwellings lay pretty much undisturbed until the late 19th century. Before the area was protected, tourists looted and destroyed ruins looking for souvenirs. Priceless artifacts that could’ve enhanced our knowledge of ancient peoples probably ended up collecting dust on some day tripper’s mantle, only to be thrown away as junk by unknowing grandchildren. In 1915, Walnut Canyon was finally declared a national monument.
I was struck by the utter silence of the canyon. There was almost no breeze. A couple of guys had me take their picture. I stayed close to the cliffs as I walked down the steps. I could see ruins built into the rocks of the opposite cliffs. Even though it was a steep drop, the ruins seemed close enough to recognize faces. It wouldn’t have been hard for neighbors to call out to each other. The 240 steps took you to a landing, where there were more steps down. The trail goes by a rocky overhang where a dwelling used to be.

Further on, some solid walls remained intact. Down more steps, the trail curved around to the “sunny” side of the island, where desert plants flourished. Across the canyon, Ponderosa pines grew thick on the “shady” side of the canyon. More steps led down to more ruins. A sign explained little windows at the top of the walls helped with circulation. Out of respect, I didn’t go inside the ruins, but I could see the interiors varied from kitchenette size to the area of a 2-car garage. I could tell I would’ve bumped my head on the low ceilings. You could still see scorch marks where the natives had their cooking fires. The rest of the trail was closed so I had to backtrack.
The sheer drops into the canyon took my breath away. It must have been no big thing for the people who lived here. I guess the first thing everyone learned was to watch your step. On the way back, I passed a family of four taking pictures inside a ruin. I passed a British family, and then spoke with two guys resting on a bench. They said it was a pretty day, and I said the thunder earlier concerned me. “You’re from Oklahoma – you know what thunder sounds like,” one said. I got some stuff in the gift shop. The clerk said she grew up in Arizona, but didn’t visit the Grand Canyon until she was 20 years old. She said, “Never in your own back yard, huh?”

It was going on 4 PM when I got back on the interstate. I drove out of the Coconino National Forest just before Twin Arrows. One more mile, and all the trees and brush were left behind for scrubby prairie. Winds rocked the van. Down the road, I passed the rest area where I lost my toothbrush one year. At 4:26, I passed Meteor City, but it did not look open. The long fence that had a map of Route 66 was blown over. Twelve minutes later, I pulled over into Winslow. The downtown area was clean and busy. The motels seemed to be doing a brisk business. The two steel girders from the World Trade Center had been relocated to a tidy rest area closer to town. I stopped for supplies, then followed Highway 87 out of town and over the interstate to Homolovi Ruins State Park.
Camping was $18 a night. I found a site right next to the restrooms. Grasshoppers were everywhere. I set up my stove and cooked supper: tomato soup, followed by a can of fruit cocktail. There was a water faucet at my site so it was easy to clean up. A park ranger stopped by and gave me a park brochure. “Have a pleasant evening,” he said. The water in the showers was very hot. It was breezy out. I got out my last working camp chair and sat in the shade. I could see trucks on the interstate, but I was too far away to hear them. Nearby, two guys worked under the hood of a car. There were about a half dozen other campers in the park, some with big land yachts. The Sun went down, and the stars came out. I drove 401 miles that day. I still had miles to go. 
Prologue  Aug. 21  Aug. 22  Aug. 23  Aug. 24 
Sunday  Monday  Tuesday  Wednesday  Thursday  Friday  Saturday  Sunday  Monday 
Sept. 3  Sept. 4  Sept. 5  Sept. 6 & Epilogue
 BurningClam.Com        Original material (c)opyright 2013 by Tim Frayser     tapestry01@yahoo.com 
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LINKS: Walnut Canyon  Homolovi Ruins State Park 
Last updated: September, 2013