American Southwest 2007

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

We left Los Angeles and headed for Barstow, where we picked up I-40. I laughed when I saw the sign showing 2,554 miles to Wilmington, North Carolina. As Charles Kuralt said when this highway was completed, "Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything." Actually, we saw a lot of sand, rocks and cactus. Somewhere in the California desert everything came to a complete stop for about half an hour while a traffic accident was cleared. Later, we stopped at a spot called Fenner, where gasoline was selling for $4.50 a gallon. (This was at a time when prices still hadn't reached $3.50 elsewhere in the state.) Ah, the joy of being the only game in town! Like everyone else there, we weren't sure we could make it to the next stop with what we had in the tank. So we spent $5.00 and kept on going.

In the true spirit of a semi-spontaneous, traditional family car trip, we did not have any hotel reservations. After consulting the map, we decided we'd spend the night in Flagstaff, Arizona. We had our Auto Club book, which listed towns, attractions, restaurants, and hotels, so it was a simple matter to pick a hotel and make a call from the road to secure a room for the night. (This technique worked very well for the rest of the trip.)

Arriving in the Flagstaff area in the late afternoon, we headed for Sunset Crater National Monument. This is the site of a volcano that last erupted about 1000 years ago. We took the self-guided tour and snapped a few pictures. It was too late in the day to drive further to see the Wupatki National Monument, site of ancient pueblos, but we knew we would have the opportunity to see other archaeological sites later in the trip.

Sunset Crater Volcano

This volcano first erupted about 1000 years ago and was active for around 200 years. The volcano's name comes from the reddish tint around the cone, enhanced by the light of the setting sun

Vegetation is still sparse over most of the lava flow.

Trees have grown where smaller plants have trouble, but not all of them survive.

Differences in the mineral content of the lava flows resulted in contrasting red and black areas.

Wednesday, June 6

Originally, we hadn't intended to go to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. People kept telling us the North Rim was better, so we thought we'd just go there on the return loop of our trip. But the South Rim is so close to Flagstaff that we couldn't resist. We reserved a second night at the hotel and headed for the canyon. This proved to be an excellent decision.

Although there were plenty of tourists there, it was still early enough in the season that the place wasn't unbearably crowded. The day was a bit cold and windy (I regretted not having a hat or scarf), but still bright, sunny, and beautiful. From the moment we parked the car near the visitor center, we were treated to spectacular views. Of course, we had seen beautiful photographs and films of this place. But none of that could properly convey what it's really like to stand there, seeing and feeling this incredible landscape.

We had an early lunch at one of the lodges, then took the shuttle trip along the scenic "Hermit's Rest" route, getting off at all the stops. Everywhere we looked were amazing views. At one spot we could see some dark birds circling at a distance. I was incredulous when someone said they were condors. My expectation had been that these rare birds would be extremely hard to find. There are only about 63 of them in Arizona. But they like the Grand Canyon and are not afraid of human activity, so this is actually a good place to look for them. Later, when we stopped to get ice cream at one of the lodges, we saw more of them much closer, and managed to get a little bit of video footage.

We took the scenic route (180) back to Flagstaff. Both nights we spent there we had excellent dinners, the first at Josephine's and the second at Pasto. Although it's a relatively small town, Flagstaff is modern and sophisticated, with dining, shopping, arts and nightlife. Because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon, it is always busy with visitors from all over the country and the world.

It really isn't possible to take a snapshot that's big enough

Rocks can get into interesting positions

Just to put it into perspective, here's a long shot of that same rock formation. Notice the tourists on the left.


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