Although I did, in fact, stand on the corner for a moment, just to be able to say I’d done it, right now I’m sittin’ in a Denny’s in Winslow, Arizona. Let Glenn Frey write about _that_…
Embarrassingly enough, this is not the first time Denny’s has come to my culinary salvation. I suppose it’s not so odd, they’re always within spitting distance of the interstate, and they always have parking lots designed to accomodate semis, so I can wheel the RV around pretty good. I think I’m going to stray away from my safe, secure, roast turkey dinner, though, and try the pork chops. If this ever gets posted, I survived the experience.
My lips are chapped and my neck is sunburned, because I spent the sunny part of the day wandering around Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Once again, I fear I’m about to be humbled and frustrated at the limited extent of my ability to describe the day.
First things first. If you enter the park (it’s two, two national parks in one) from the 40, you’ll go through Painted Desert first. Now, I had an idea what to expect, the name pretty much says it all. And besides, I had already been through some incredible scenery all the way through New Mexico. So I expected the same, but on a grander scale. I expected reds and pinks and browns of every description, towering, tumbling, and stretching all over the landscape. What I didn’t expect was blue and purple. There was white, too, but that was less shocking. After all, you leave just about anything out in the Arizona sun for long enough and it’ll turn white (except, of course, my face and neck, which opted for red).
A quick interjection: Don’t bother with the Mozzarella Sticks at Denny’s.
Back to blues and whites. I shot more than three rolls of film today, and was kicking myself for not bringing more. Yes, yes, there’s more in the RV, but I parked that at the entrance and unhooked little Geo (’cause little Geo is a friend of mine… we get some money and we buy a cheap wi-ine…) to navigate the park. I’m glad I did, too, although there were a lot of motor homes going through, I felt more comfortable in the Geo. So anyway, I grabbed my camera bag, which had the film in the camera and three more rolls, and, like I said, I shot all of it. At first I was cranky I hadn’t brough more, but then I realized that any finite amount of film would not have been enough. It’s the kind of place where everything you see is the most incredible thing you’ve seen. Whatever I just took a picture, just let me turn one more corner, and bam, there was something bigger deeper wider clearer, and with more colors, to boot.
If you’re ever out this way, the park is basically a 28 or so mile long road, between I-40 and some state highway (180, maybe?). Going east to west, you can go through the park one way, then get on the state highway going west which comes back around to the 40. Not knowing about this little feature (and, besides, I really did prefer driving the Geo in the park), I had parked, unhooked, loaded the Geo and paid to get in when they handed me a map. Not wanting to have the long drive back through the park to the parking lot without any stops on the way, I did something I do when I killing time in a mall… I only turned right. With the scenic overlooks and trails pretty evenly spread out left to right, I’d have to drive less than eight minutes at any one time without stopping to see something cool.
NOTE: my turkey dinner is here. Yes, yes, I know what I said, but I changed my mind right as the server was standing over me. So sue me.
Biggest disappointment in the park: Agate bridge. A petrified tree fell across a sandstone plain that became a wash. The soft sandstone eroded far more quickly than the hard agatized tree, leaving what apparently was once (according to the plaque there) a one-hundred and ten foot span. These days, the span looks more like forty feet (they might have built up around one end of the span to provide the walkway and railing), and, even worse, it’s now supported by a concrete construct about twice as bulky as the tree itself.
This kind of “preservation” really sorta pisses me off. I mean, from a preservation standpoint, what precisely is it they’re preserving at this point? It’s not a natural wonder anymore, the natural wonder would be whatever beautiful things nature would show us as she tore the tree down. From a conservation standpoint, there are signs everywhere warning you not to stray from the path because we’ve got a fragile ecosystem, here, and the damage you might do will be multiplied over the eons. Well, what the hell effect will a fifty foot slab of concrete have? For that matter, what effect does _paving_ the trails have? There were several places where the trails were eroding away, tumbling down the inclines to rest beside million year old fossil trees. Let future archeologists puzzle _that_ one out.
You get the feeling that the only thing they’re really “preserving” here is their ability to sell “Agate Bridge” t-shirts for $19.95 plus applicable sales taxes.
The highlight of the park was the area called Tepees. Apparently, I was more impressed with them than most people, because there was no where to pull over and park and marvel or take pictures. (Note: my mother and Bill [who owns the Geo] are not permitted to read the next sentence) I ended up taking pictures out the window as I drove past. Hopefully, they’ll turn out okay.
As you might expect, the Tepees are conical rock formations. But it was the colors. Brick red at the top, fading to white in the middle, which darkened to an incredible slate blue at the bottom. Fantastically beautiful, and patriotic to boot.
The Tepees weren’t the most impressive thing at the park, but I absolutely wasn’t expecting anything like them. The Crystal Forest and the Badlands were the most eye-popping and awe-inspiring, which is precisely waht I expected.
Badlands is a generic terms for areas where erosion behaved more like a vandal than a force of nature. You can imagine what the Painted Desert Badlands looked like, and you’d be right, but you still can’t prepare yourself for the sight of them.
The Crystal Forest is the area where most of the petrified trees were agatized in such a way that the quartz is very pure, almost a milky translucent. I tried to get a couple pictures of this effect; I’m afraid they won’t come close to capturing the essence.
But I’m okay with that, and I’m becoming more comfortable with my inability to adequately describe in words what at first seems to be a viewing experience, but, on closer inspection, turns out to be a spiritual one. No one could have described Painted Desert, or Petrified Forest, to me in a way that captured the effect of seeing them, of being in that place. And, ultimately, that’s as it should be. The wonder in not in the spectacle, but in the spectator.
I guess the best way for me to describe the experience is to say this:
You really should go.