The third day of our road trip took us from Cortez, CO to Flagstaff, AZ. The focal point of the day was our stop at Petrified Forest National Park. Jane and I passed this point of interest several times in our rush to reach Phoenix, but we never exited Interstate 40 to explore. Our son made a southwest road trip in June 2015 with a pair of friends, and they reported that Petrified Forest was a worthwhile sightseeing destination.
We spent the morning driving south from Cortez through the northwest corner of New Mexico, and then we headed west into Arizona. We exited Interstate 40 at exit 311 and immediately headed north to the Painted Desert area. Tawa Point was our first stop after the Visitor Center, and we peered from a high ridge into the depression below. The landscape was covered by light red-pink mounds and layers of multi-colored ridges and rocks. The view was indeed a painted desert with barely any vegetation visible, or perhaps the striking rock formations and pastel color diverted our attention away from the mundane details of plant life.
After snapping a few photos we proceeded to the Chinde Point picnic area, as it was now 1PM, and we were feeling repressed hunger pangs. The picnic area consisted of five ramadas arranged in a semicircle along the base of a vertical rock wall. We moved our cooler and food bin to a table and prepared our lunches. We packed lunch and breakfast essentials to save money for lodging and a daily splurge for dinner at a restaurant. As we slowly ate our lunches in the shade of the metal overhead roof, two large ravens circled and landed on some rock ledges on the wall behind our lunch spot. It was actually somewhat unnerving, as we both expected one of them to speak at any moment. In actuality they were scanning our actions carefully in case of an opportunistic dropped crumb. We actually did them one better, as we tossed a few bread crusts their way. I was certain that this action evaded their scrutiny, but as we gathered our belongings to return to the car, one of the scavengers swooped to the ground and snarfed the food morsel from its resting place.
After lunch we circled around a curve and passed a series of lookouts. Just before passing under the interstate, we stopped at a roadside marker in front of an old rusted carcass of an automobile. The marker contained a Route 66 highway image carved into concrete, and text explained that we were at the former location of the famous highway before it was decommissioned in 1985. A rusty Studemaker remains as a memorial to the once bustling highway through northern Arizona.
Our first stop on the south side of Interstate 40 was Puerco Pueblo, where we hiked to the top of a knoll that contained the remains of a pueblo built by Hopi native Americans. Here we viewed a few petroglyphs etched in the black coating on natural rocks. We then stopped briefly at Newspaper Rock, a large jumble of angular rocks with numerous petroglyphs providing accounts of early North American life.
At the Blue Mesa area we parked and hiked a one mile loop through a desolate badlands that contained many examples of petrified wood. When I looked at several chunks along the trail, I reached down to touch them thinking they were logs that washed up during heavy thunderstorms. I was surprised to learn that my fingers felt the smooth hard surface of rock instead of the softer feel of bark or rotting wood.
The last major stop was the Long Logs area and Agate House. By this time it was late afternoon, and we were uncertain we had enough time to do the 2.6 mile loop that enabled us to view petrified logs and Agate House. We decided to do the shorter Long Logs trail and then decide on the longer spur when we encountered that junction. The trail was fairly easy, and we made good time, so we covered the combined trail. This area contained the greatest concentration of large petrified logs as well as many rock hard stumps. The stumps would make great coffee tables, but the park is justifiably protective of its natural wonders, and removal of any natural or geologic features is against the law.
Our last stop was Agate House, which is a seven room pueblo reconstructed from petrified wood which are bound together using adobe mud as mortar. Can you imagine having a petrified wood wall in your home? It would certainly be a conversation piece.
Our last adventure on Thursday was finding lodging in Flagstaff. As I drove west into the setting sun, Jane attempted to get a jump on the night’s stay by using her iPhone to search the options. When we planned the trip, we decided to improvise the lodging after Montrose and Cortez, because we were traveling mainly during weekdays. Retirement entitled us to ad lib, and we wanted to avoid a tight preset schedule that obligated us to be at certain locations at defined times. Unfortunately Jane discovered that the timing of our road trip and our hope for carefree travel neglected to account for some obstacles. The third week of March apparently is prime spring break time, and Flagstaff is a popular jumping off point for tourists heading to the Grand Canyon.
Jane grew frustrated with the lack of rooms and the prices of the options that remained until she finally quit in despair. I suggested that she halt efforts, and we then decided to exit before Flagstaff and seek a room in person. We followed this plan and took the first exit off the interstate that advertised hotel chains. Little did we know, that this exit connected with Route 89, which is the main highway north to the Grand Canyon. Nevertheless we persisted and followed the signs that pointed us toward a Days Inn and Country Inn and Suites. We had our eye on the Country Inn and Suites, as it showed a price of $129/night, and I recalled that the quality was comparable to a Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn. The price was actually higher than we expected, but it was getting late and options were vanishing.
When we walked up to the check in counter, two women were ahead of us, and they were staying at the Days Inn and reserving rooms at the Country Inn for the weekend. The young lady behind the counter offered them a room at $100/night, so when I approached, I announced I would take that rate for tonight if an acceptable room was available. Fortunately we got a decent room at that rate, and as we paid, the clerk received a call and rented the last room available. Whew, we were very happy to fall into our hard earned beds on Thursday night in Flagstaff, AZ.