After a solid night’s sleep amongst other weary travellers at yet another well maintained American rest stop, you find yourself wondering what exactly the Australian government is thinking. If you tried to sleep overnight in your car in an Australian rest stop, more often than not the police would be on you within an hour, telling you to take a 15 minute power nap then move on. If you’re too tired to do so, they’ll tell you that you should have planned your trip better (this has happened to use before). For a country plagued by fatigued driver fatalities, long country roads and huge drives between major cities, you’d think they’d be more in line with the US school of thought, providing safe facilities for people to get some shuteye without having to fork out for a hotel room.
Getting out of there early we again headed east until we arrived at National Park number 19, the Petrified Forest. Now I know we’ve said this a lot, but as far as US National Parks go, they don’t get much more unique than this one. It’s actually the largest concentration of petrified wood on the planet. So, we hear you ask, what the hell is a petrified forest and how did it get in the middle of the Arizona desert?
In a nutshell, when the earth was made up of super continent Pangaea, this part of the world was near the equator with a sub-tropical climate. Streams from nearby mountains and plains distributed sediment, fallen trees and other plants and animals. These were then covered quickly in mud, sand or volcanic ash, preventing them from decaying quickly. Water seeping through the mud and sand penetrated the logs, filling the empty cells with mineral matter, slowly turning the tree to stone. There are several notable minerals which give the wood it’s colouring – iron gives the various reds, yellows and browns, copper (more rare) blues and greens, manganese and carbon added black and quartz, the white or grey. The most notable trees here date from about 225 million years ago. There are roughly 9 species of tree which have been identified, all of which are extinct.
An enlightening film reminds you that good old Teddy Roosevelt played a huge part in listening to the concerns of his people, moving to protect the natural beauty of their country and creating five National Park, including this one. After checking out some fossils and dinosaur skeletons at the Visitor Centre, a short walk takes you through some of the spectacular examples of Mother Nature again showing you her creative side. Seriously, gradually turning 225 million year old trees into pieces of crystal and precious stone art is seriously mind blowing.
You can drive the length of the park in around an hour, making several short stops to view overlooks or take short strolls, or you could take longer walks through some sections and spend a full day here. One stop worth making is the petroglyphs. There’s some free binoculars for you to get a close up view of some ancient graffiti, including a pretty awesome attempt at a mountain lion.
Having had our fill of look but no touch, we made our way to nearby Holbrook to visit the famous Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. This isn’t just any old shop full of rocks. A huge glassed off section contains fossils and other bits and pieces of interesting shit, including the main attraction Wild Bill, a 2.9 million year old fossilised alligator. You can spend a lot of time browsing this place, which we did, narrowing down our choice for the perfect ancient decorative piece. We opted to skip the piece that bared an uncanny resemblance to the Australian continent, instead choosing a piece that still has the bark details and tree rings visible so you can easily tell it was once a tree. On the way out of town we passed the famous Wigwam Village Motel from Route 66 days of old. You can still sleep in a concrete teepee just like the good old days.
Back on the 66 we blitzed back westbound for another famous musical stop. The small town of Winslow never had much going for it prior to 1977, when rock and roll band ‘The Eagles’ immortilised it with the line ‘Well I was standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona, what a fine sight to see’ in their song Take it Easy. So what else would you do in Winslow these days but, well, stand on the corner! The town has jumped right on board with it’s new found fame, attracting loads of visitors a year who come to simply stand on the corner. They’ve created a park named Standing On The Corner Park, and have even installed a brass statue to give you somebody to stand on the corner with. Whilst you’re standing there you can listen to the shop across the road playing nonstop Eagles tunes.
With another hour to go before reaching Flagstaff, our home for the night, we tuned in to some talk back radio to pass the time. NPR radio has some interesting talk back in these here parts of the southwest, including a science segment that enlightened us to the fact that after 20 years of research, scientists had finally come to the conclusion of what a comet smells like. Get ready for it guys, the foregone conclusion after 20 years of research is, and we quote….’It stinks’. Happy with our new found knowledge, we pulled off the interstate to visit a nearby 1 mile wide, 550ft deep meteor crater. If you’re inclined to part with $18 each you can visit the viewing platforms. Instead we drove up to the outside to find it’s completely fenced off, forcing you to pay the entry fee…which we didn’t. $36 to look at a giant hole is a bit steep. There’s a full service RV park on site, but if you’re looking for a free place the Meteor Rest Area was perfect.
We rocked up to Flagstaff and found a quite back street to park on, just up the road from the Lumberyard Brewing Co. The place was heaving on a Friday afternoon, and we were issued a giant laminated waiting card, served a couple of beers and ushered outside to wait by a fire pit. The ‘east meets west’ edamame hummus and black bean dip is a winner here, it comes presented like a yin yang and is a filling snack for two. A few beers and some blog later we took a walk around the corner and discovered quaint little Altitude Bar, decorated inside with walls full of skis and snowboards, and tables covered with local ski maps. We couldn’t pass up a quick beer, over which we cried about our mates back in London currently organising the next group snowboarding trip somewhere in Europe, which for the first time in years we wouldn’t be part of. You guys know who you are!
As the bar started to pack out and a huge buffet was being erected in the back, we were informed that it was actually homecoming in Flagstaff, and tomorrow was Tequilla Sunrise. Unsure exactly what to expect, we snuck off to our quiet backstreet to await the morning madness.