Published: October 16th 2010October 16th 2010
(Once again, the blog I started has vanished. I hope I can keep this one alive)
We toured Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. All were wonderful in their own ways.
Then, craving a break from the weeks of red scenery, we drove to Payson, Az, on the Mogollon Rim and saw lots of pines and green.
Now we are in Flagstaff, a city which we have found especially attractive to us on past visits.
Our strangest adventure of the week occurred on our drive to the Mogollon Rim. We pulled over to check a map. Well, print on maps has grown increasingly small to us, so we use a magnifying glass from time to time. As John studied the map, I started smelling smoke and wondered if there were a forest fire. But...our map was smoking! The magnifying glass was catching the sun at exactly the wrong angle. We put the smoke out, and are now more careful about protecting the glass from the sun's rays.
Monument Valley was very special, almost mystical with its immense rock growths. And it echoes with scenes from old westerns. I loved watching westerns on TV when I was quite young, and John Wayne was a special favorite. At the area where we stayed, you can tour the cabin where Wayne stayed when his films were being shot.
We had a full-day tour of the area with a Navajo guide; with him, we were allowed into Mystery Valley, where ordinary (non-paying...) tourists may not go. The size of the rocks is even more awesome, up close. We bounced along over very rutted red dirt roads, and I am still puzzled/amazed that Navajo kids are picked up back there by school buses!
And later, as we continued our travel through the huge Navajo reservation that occupies northeast Arizona, I continued to wonder how kids got to school. Their "driveways" were so long that the houses were the size of Monopoly houses (and the sheep were the size of grains of rice).
Speaking of sheep, we went to a local grocery store and the meat section contained mostly lamb and mutton, and parts of them I am unfamiliar with.
Canyon de Chelly is lovely. We drove along the rim (you must hire a Navajo guide to go into the valley of the canyon) and enjoyed stopping at the overlooks. In the valley, the land is surprisingly green (a river runs through it) and there are still Navajos farming or grazing flocks down there. To me, it felt surprisingly mild compared to some of the more awesome scenery we had been experiencing.
We camped in Holbrook AZ for a few nights. Holbrook contains some of old Route 66, and we find the old buildings along that route fun to see. One day, we drove (through a stretch of land that seemed quite empty, and endless) to the Petrified Forest. We were looking at parts of trees that were 250 million years old! That is pretty hard to grasp. The slices that have been polished are multicolored and very beautiful. Of course, a sad part is that until the park was put off limits, thousands of pieces of the wood were stolen as souvenirs. They even have a booth as you leave the park where they would inspect your car if they suspected that you had picked up any of the wood. The Painted Desert portion of the park is also lovely, but we have just about seen our fill of gorgeous striped red cliffs.
The next day, we headed for green. It was kind of a neat drive, starting with endless, flat empty space, then shrubs gradually appeared, then a few trees, and then the trees turned into thick forests. The forests are fairly flat, and suddenly you come to the downhill portion of the road, the Mogollon Rim, with thousand foot sheer cliffs and forests covering rolling hills. (Fortunately, the road was four-lane and the zigzags were wide and not scary.) John had been curious about Payson, AZ, but we found it did not have that charming sort of downtown to which you could stroll for a cup of coffee - that seems to be our definition of the best kind of place to live, if we ever wanted to relocate.
In Payson, we were surprised to see school-age children all over, walking and playing, on a Wednesday morning and noon. We then spotted a sign in front of an elementary school: Fall Break, October 4 - 15. Interesting....
Payson also has a Zane Gray cabin for tourists to visit. Before falling in love with the West and writing lots of westerns, Zane as a youth left Zanesville, Ohio, went to the University of Pennsylvania to become a dentist, and ran a dental practice in New York City. (deja vu, Jennie?)
That day ended deliciously (literally) at a small Italian restaurant in Holbrook, Mesa Italiano. Since she discovered veal saltimbocca in a San Francisco restaurant on her other trip West, in 1961, it has been a special delight for Linda when it is on a menu, and it was a special that night at Mesa. What a treat!
We need to run the generator occasionally, so we decided to park at a Walmart overnight (the price is right...) and run it, in Winslow, AZ. And, yes, we did go into the town on Route 66 and have our photo taken with the statue "standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona." The nearby souvenir stores play Eagles songs all day long.
And then, on to Flagstaff. We were parked by noon, so decided to do some sightseeing in the afternoon. The Mountain Botanical Gardens sounded nice; we could walk the trails and get some much-needed exercise. The best laid plans of mice and men...... The last five miles of the road to that site are dirt, continuously rutted, like a washboard. I guess we continued on the road because we thought it must get better. It didn't. We arrived at the Gardens at the same time as huge gray clouds and spitting rain. So we ate our picnic lunch in the car, and drove back out those miserable miles. (Linda's neck stiffened up badly, especially during the night, and the most likely source of the pain was mild whiplash.) We have had few disappointing experiences on this trip, but that adventure was surely one.
Of course, soon after we got back into town the sun came out. We visited the Visitor Center in, as they often are, an old railroad station. John was delighted to watch trains go by; the freight trains out here are really huge. And frequent. The Southwest Chief passenger train comes through here at 5 AM and 10 PM, so we probably won't see them. We walked around the town, then had a beer in the sun, watching trains and students (Northern Arizona University) and other locals.