Wednesday 15th June 1983
We have a long way to go today so we get off to an early start. We drive along in silence, each of us in our own thoughts. Being in the company of only one other person 24 hours a day is a new experience and we have run out of things to say. The silence is giving us a break.
By late morning we have travelled out of "cactus land" and enter the canyons. We drive through Salt River Canyon, a scenic route, stopping at the view point to take photographs. The drive follows a dramatic, twisting road, with big bends, steep drops and big scenary; the gorge carved by the river, the rocks, the wide valley. I know my photos will not do it justice.
We stop for lunch in a town called Show Low. We both eat salad, still not really chatting much and afterwards do some shopping and fill the car with fuel. We set off for the Petrified Forest.
Through the rear view mirror I see a policeman on a motor bike pulls out from under a tree, my heart misses a beat but he speeds past us. We hadn't seen him. He stops the car which, clearly driving much faster than the 55mph speed limit, had overtaken us a few moments before. It reminds me of the cartoon image of a large policeman and his very big bike hiding behind a very thin tree then jumping out on unsuspecting motorists.
We comment on the scene and speculate on the reasons for the low speed limit. Is it because they are preserving fuel, reducing air pollution or trying to save lives. Certainly on the twisting roads with sharp bends and steep drops 55mph is plenty. We wonder whether they like having one speed limit and 55mph is a compromise.
At last we arrive at the southern entrance to the Petrified Forrest National Park. It is 3:30pm. We hadn't expected to be so late. The entrance fee is $1 each and we are asked to keep a look out for anyone picking up or helping themselves to pieces of the pertrified wood. If we see anyone we are asked to fill in a report card! Interesting technique for instructing us not to nick the stone wood.
We spend our time on numerous short trails: The Giant Logs and the Agate House, the Long Logs, the Blue Mesa and the "teepees: and then finally the Painted Desert loop. The petrified wood is a result of the fallen trees lying in water full of silicates and other minerals. The mineral water permeates the wood and take on the form of the wood. Amazingly some peices of the pertified rock still retain the cell walls of the wood. Most of the logs we see are similar sized pieces and the theory is that earthquakes which had caused them to surface had also fractured them.
The Agate house is very impressive. It is built from pieces of the pertified wood and has been dated as 700 years old (the house not the wood) although there was some reconstruction about 50 years ago.
The Blue Mesa and the "teepees" are interesting land forms. Probably they would be more interesting if I knew something about geology, it would have been an a useful subject to study properly. I had done geology as complementary studies while at university but it had been all about copper mining. It didn't really help me understand the landscapes I could see.
At Newspaper Rock we don't study the "writing" or try to decipher messages, we simply take photographs. I think I will try reading the "newspaper" when the pictures are developed. The hieroglyphs are well preserved and I wonder how old they are. By the time we reach the Painted Dessert it is after 6:00pm and the sky has clouded over. It is disappointing as I'm sure that earlier in the day in the bright sun light the colours would have been much better.
As we leave the park the warden stops us and asks if we have collected any petrified wood or rock. We say "no" and she lets us out. I wonder if we just look trust worthy or whether it is easy to smuggle out the exhibits.
It is still a long way to Albuquerque, New Mexico and we need somewhere to stay. We are driving along US Highway 40 and decide to stop when we find somewhere suitable. After a while we see a sign to a Motel, camping and restaurant in Navajo, a short drive north off our route. That will do. The diversion is not far. We choose the motel, we are tired and will save the camping for the Rockies, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. The motel is cheap but adequate.
As I am writing these notes I try to evaluate what I think of this trip so far. My previous holidays have been more about people and culture, this one is mainly scenery. OK, there is the Indian culture but mostly we are seeing what it was like in the past and not what it is like today. Modern American culture is presented wall to wall on TV, even in the UK so a lot feels familiar even though I've never been here before. On the other hand there are differences: the tips, the speed limit, the size, scale and emptiness of the place. I knew about it but never got a feel for it from the TV.
I decide the big, grand moment hasn't arrived yet. That, I promise myself, will be the Grand Canyon towards the end of the trip. In the meantime, I admit to myself that the problem is being here without Andy, and it isn't Stewart's fault he isn't Andy nor Arizona's fault for being so big. I decide to try to be more relaxed and put more effort into sharing our experiences, chat about what we have seen and what I liked most. I know it will make it more enjoyable and more memorable for me.