The time passed much faster this time than in my last trip out west. Or it seemed like it did, and not just because I could only spend so much time in the Wigwam Motel, a Route 66 classic, on my first night. My first night of the trip!
The main reason: People. Unlike in December, when I traveled to largely desert or at least especially dry parts of California, Nevada, and Utah via, on the way out, I saw more of them. There were far more people at the Jackson airport for sure. And though I went through the Hobby Airport in Houston for a connecting flight this time rather than Atlanta, I presume the former’s crowds meant that ATL was similarly crowded. Last time the latter’s trams were practically deserted at noon on a Tuesday.
While I engaged in only one really extended conversation with anyone, however, the latest trip was a more detailed small talk-intensive venture. And I chatted with people with masks off, in commercial settings galore, in lines, crowded shuttle buses, and packed aircraft. I waited on food inside restaurants. Some people I know had been doing the same for months, but not me. My trip was a heavy dose of interaction with strangers, engagement of a sort I hadn’t experienced in months.
At the same time, though, having more stops planned, and more hours in the day to see things, also probably helped push the time along, in a sense. I mean, as soon as I could get out of the Albuquerque Int’l Sunport rental car center, with a rental company’s 1980s dot matrix printer (no app-driven Silvercar rental available this time, alas) and a 15-minute wait at an exit and such, I was set out to explore. An hour-and-a-half later, I was on a scenic route starting from an exit near Grants NM, headed toward the second-largest natural arch in the state–La Ventana, part of the surrounding El Malpais National Conservation Area.
A Melted Earth Turned Blue: Petrified Forest NP
After that, I headed as quickly as I could to Petrified Forest National Park, about another two hours west of Grant. Getting there soon was essential, given that the park closes to traffic in the evening, due to the threat of the theft of crystallized wood. I knew that much, and that the park contains a section of the Painted Desert and a National Register building, the Painted Desert Inn, by architect and designer Mary Colter (more on her in a later entry). Otherwise, I had no idea what to expect.
The Painted Desert? Loved it, took 15 gazillion photos. And I almost started off on a hike into it, below the Painted Desert Inn. I stopped myself only because I feared staying past closing time, then headed to the southern part of the park, below I-40 (which follows old Route 66, part of which is in the park). A good 20 minutes or so later, it looked like the earth had melted and turned different shades of blue.
Do stop here if you’re ever driving I-40 out west. The crowds were not as thin as I expected, but I never felt hemmed in or overwhelmed by people. There is more variety here than you’d expect, and I barely had time to explore that much of the park. I barely stopped, say, at trail full of crystallized petrified wood.
A Bucket of Blood, and So Much More (Say, Dinos)
Next stop: The nearest town, Holbrook, a place chock-a-block with old Route 66 color, kitsch, and a bit of Old West history–like, say, the Bucket of Blood Saloon story and street.
I wish I could slow down the days, except for the parts where I’m dealing with heat, traffic, and such, and spend more time in, say, the Mexican place from which I took the above. The moments were all too fleeting, after all the planning, or so it seemed this time. I’ll always have the photos and memories of the Wigwam Motel–a Route 66 classic–and environs, though. Maybe I’ll put a few on the wall, extend the tour in my head.
A couple more of those Wigwam shots. Why not?