Such a fine sight to see: A Canyon, a Volcano, and A Forest

We traveled essentially all of Route 66, from Southern california to central Illinois.

The purpose of driving all the way down California was not to see our relatives, though I enjoyed seeing them quite a lot, but to reach the Grand Canyon. It is a place my father has always wanted to see, and it isn’t every day you are driving across the country (unless you are a trucker) so it was worth taking a 2000 mile detour to see. Little did we know we would see the canyon at the dawn of a full moon.

We camped out in a campground there, made ourselves a little fire, and actually kept pretty warm despite temperatures in the lows 30’s. It isn’t every day you get to go camping with your dad either. We woke up around 5, intent on viewing the sunrise over the canyon. We had been told to catch a
bus, so we hustled to the stop nearest our eventual destination and waited. And waited.  Then, as it started to get light, a bus came…and went. Without stopping.

Five AM fuming, I watched as it turned down the “Bus Only” path, followed by two cars. So I yelled at my dad to get in the car, because we’re breakin’ the law, park law that is. I was not about to miss the sunrise because of a regulation nobody seemed to follow anyway. Sure enough, past the “Authorized vehicles only” sign was a fullsize parking lot full of cars. The moral of the story is, sometimes rules really are made for no reason, and if you follow them without making an objective decision based on the evidence, you end up losing out.

The moon at sunrise.

We didn’t this time though, and got to see our sunrise. After a quick breakfast of motel muffins and bananas, we decided that the rim was no way to really experience the Grand Canyon. So my 69 year old dad and I hiked a half mile down a mix of perilous cliffs and man-made staircases to reach a point “Ooh, Ahh! Point” to be exact, deep within the canyon. The canyon is an incredible place, and to imagine it formed by a comparatively tiny river is a testament to the impact of nature’s power (and consequently ours) to change our environment dramatically.

A series of steep ramps we hiked. Mildly precarious.

After hiking back up, we drove along the rim, stopping at lookouts along the way. We should have been moving faster though, since we had something else to get to that day.

The tower at the parks easternmost ridge.

And part of its view.

With the Canyon behind us, we drove south to meet up with the old route 66 near Flagstaff, Arizona. As a pair of peaks rose before us, we pulled into Sunset Volcano National Park. The park is the site of a thousand year old volcano, but more interesting than the crater itself (closed to the public due to tourist-caused erosion) is the surrounding landscape. Lava and cinder cover the earth while spiraling, twisted trees try and root themselves in the rocky landscape. The hardened lava juts out to form ledges, create caves, and replace once thriving forest with holey rocks of red and black.

Traversing a landscape entirely different from that of any I’d ever seen, I decided to scale the smaller and much older volcano nearby. The mile hike straight up hill at 7000 feet has more difficult than I expected, but hours of driving gave me energy, so I ran it. At the top was not a crater at all, but a mesa covered in tiny cinderocks connected by glistening spider webs.

The volanco turned the earth black and grey with basalt cinder.

The craggy lava fields.

This tree appears to have grown from the dead tree, but in doing so bubbled at the bottom, angled out, and shot up, creating a regal natural chair.

By the time I ran back down, the sun had given way to the still bright moon, and sunset was coming soon. We drove on, eventually coming to rest for a night in Winslow, Arizona.

It was not a fine sight to see. No girls in flatbed fords, and nobody seemed like they had the luxury of taking it easy. As we searched for a place to eat, we found only a Chinese restaurant. The town that sprung up, like so many did, from Route 66, was being kept alive by a lyric in a song.

“Well, I’m a standing on a corner in
Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see It’s a girl, my Lord, in a
flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.”

In the morning, all we found was a statue and a gift shop.

Standin' on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Our travels then took us to the Petrified Forest, a dry region of hardened clay, fossilized dinosaurs, and petrified wood. We were supposed to be in Santa Fe, New Mexico by five, and had gotten up early to make it, so we had a couple hours to spare. It’s hard to describe how much more amazing petrified wood is than it sounds. The wood—now a rock—is heavy. Its once strong fibers have been replaced by agate of every imaginable color, from gold, to royal blue, to hot pink. Take a look.

After wandering around the “forest” we heard about some fossils a mile out from the road. In retrospect, why would a park ranger tell tourists where to find fossils? They wouldn’t, but our trusting selves hiked through a landscape of hills made from toe sized balls of clay and canyons made by the rains. Not a single fossil was found that day, but it was worth it to get off the path and explore the park without all the people.

These are some of the treasures that the southwest has to offer, most of which I didn’t know existed. If you ever travel to the Grand Canyon, missing the nearby Sunset Volcano would be a sin, and if you are traveling by car, experiencing the perplexing beauty of fossilized trees is unmissable. Both are right along the route. Sadly, unless you are a devout fan of The Eagles or want to support a degenerating American town, you can skip Winslow, Arizona.


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