This morning we burst out of Chinle and the Navajo Nation like caged animals. Wow, the food was bad!
We arrived at Petrified Forest NP from
the northern entrance and were immediately greeted with sweeping pink and rust vistas of the painted desert.
These badlands formations are common enough in North America. I’ve seen them before while driving desert roads in Texas and Arizona. The Painted Desert, however, is a different story. The expanse of gorgeous scenery is absurd, and the opportunity to look down upon these areas from great heights makes for a much more fulfilling experience than just driving by the sand dune mountains.
The park itself is small, a north-south running road approximately 30 miles long. It is primarily a point and shoot park, with numerous stops for photo opportunities, but few hikes and no camping opportunities. That’s ok. I don’t relish hiking or camping in ‘badlands’.
Beyond the painted desert, the park becomes an ever-changing Willy Wonka wonderland of insanely unique and weird scenery, littered with petrified logs. I don’t believe the petrified forest would have been protected if it wasn’t for the oddness of the Blue Mesa and Jasper Forest land coloration and formations. The rock trees become secondary, an embellishment.
Then, the coincidences began. The motorcyclists common in any national park made me think of my father, who often talked about road trips on motorcycles.
It was just a passing reminder of him, but soon after, a man asked me to take a photograph of him and his son. Both of them were on motorcycles. The father was so obviously proud. Tears welled, but I moved on.
Then, while standing over a particularly gorgeous view, I began to think of my first visit to the Painted Desert. I was about a year old, and my parents made the trip with me and my grandmother who was visiting from Ireland. I wondered what granny said and thought about these magnificent views, so different from anything in Ireland.
Within minutes, I came across a park graphic detailing the tradition of generations of families visiting the park. I felt a weird echo of my own thoughts. It was like the park was stalking my silent musings.
Finally, we came to historic Route 66. The parking area was full, and swarming with people.
I read a few travel books about Arizona in preparation for this trip over the last six months. I’m sure I read about Route 66 in and around Petrified Forest NP and Holbrook, but it slipped through the cracks of my mind.
I’ve had a small obsession with Route 66 and desert kitsch since I was a child, mostly due to my father’s stories. My father and I had talked about an historic Route 66 road trip for years, but we never got to do it.
I had just finished telling my partner this exact same thing, and was all but skipping in the road at my delight that here I was, finally seeing the Mother Road, when a raven, one of my favorite birds in the world, landed beside me, and just stared.
The area was now empty of visitors, and the raven and I stared at each other. Then, softly, the raven called, and I began to cry with an overwhelming feeling that somehow, through some of that Jesus and magic and nature and mystic hippie fairies, ghosts, and spiritualism I doggedly believe in just as much as I did when I was seven, there was my dad, and he wasn’t about to let me see Route 66 without him. And it was wonderful.
The feeling ended soon enough and the world, surreal as it is, came back to reality, and I gave my parking lot beggar raven some banana. Is that wrong? Technically yes. Whether or not I cared is a different story.
What a great day for memories, new and old.
Here’s some kitsch for you, courtesy of Holbrook, Arizona.