Arizona Day 4 – Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest

Before the sun had started to rise I was out running around the streets of Flagstaff. It was cold out there though – I was in brief shorts and a t-shirt which was not ideal for sub-zero temperatures. I kept the run short and slow as at 7,000 feet above sea level I decided it would probably become hard work. As I got back to the Super 8 motel, the sun was rising on another day of adventure.

Today’s journey would have us stop along various parts of Route 66, the historical road which runs from Los Angeles to Chicago, and drive almost 200 miles of the road before leaving it to travel through New Mexico into Colorado. First though we had breakfast – a very basic breakfast where the choices were oatmeal, cinnamon roll, toast, apple or orange juice, and tea or coffee. There wasn’t even enough seating for everyone as it was in the lobby.

Our first stop along historic Route 66 was the Meteor Crater – a meteorite impact site which is more formerly known as the Barringer crater. Although it’s far from unique, this 1 mile wide crater dates back 50,000 years meaning it’s one of the youngest known impact sites.

The entry here was $18 but does have an optional guided tour available. We didn’t bother with this but didn’t realise that this would be the only way to go out on one side of the rim. Our reasoning for not bothering with it was that we were short on time so quickly looked around the museum area and went outside onto the part of the rim that didn’t require a guide.

There’re various viewing points along this that let you look down into the crater. In the centre of the crater you can also see where previously there had been mineshafts sunk into the crater for mining precious rocks. This was an unsuccessful mine however as Barringer never found the iron ore that Roosevelt had allowed his company to dig for. Unlike some craters such as Ngorongoro, this one has no wildlife and no trees inside giving this a very different look and feel.

We spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop there – I bought an amethyst and quartz sphere, a goniatite fossil, and a Kachina figure. The kachina figure is a replica of the sort of doll that the Pueblo cultures would give to children and were the personifications of spirits. The one I bought represented a Zuni rain priest.

As we left here I took over the driving and got us to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert visitor centre. There we picked up a map of the trails and paid the $20 entrance fee – this was a per-vehicle charge, rather than per-person as other places had been.

The first part of the drive is for the painted desert – there’s quite a few stops, but we stopped at all of them. At one we left the car behind and walked for about a mile along the cliff face, looking down at the different shades of the painted desert. We could see someone walking along a trail down there when we reached the end of the trail, but we decided we didn’t have time to go down there ourselves.

After we’d done all of the stops for the painted desert we headed back to the visitor centre to get some lunch. There was a massive queue there though and my friend decided the food wasn’t very good so after I’d bought a piece of petrified wood we moved on. From there I drove 15 miles down the road to Navajo where they’d got a Subway at the services. I got a 6” steak and cheese sub on Italian bread, and two cookies. Though it didn’t seem the best of subways as they managed to get the orders wrong too. We also took the opportunity to (almost) fill up the gas tank as well.

After eating we drove back to the visitor centre and this time drove straight through the painted desert drive until we’d crossed Route 66 and had reached the first of the Petrified Forest view points. The first couple of stops offered us views of petroglyphs from 650 to 2,000 years ago, some of which at Puerco Pueblo are near to some ruins.

A couple of the places need you to do a couple of miles driving off the main road, and some offer long walks. We didn’t have time to do the walks, and in all honesty we didn’t really have time to do all of the viewpoints either – but we still stopped at every one. One of these, Crystal Forest, also allowed us to walk up close to the petrified wood so we could get some photographs.

After a quick stop at the museum to use it’s facilities, we swapped over drivers and left the Petrified Forest at round 16:30. We were two hours behind schedule by this point so we knew we’d be getting into Colorado long after sunset.

Eventually we made it back onto the interstate and drove along it until we’d crossed the border into New Mexico and reached the city of Gallup. As we’d crossed the border the sun had set and it had started to get dark – we’d also changed time zones so we were now an hour later than before. By the time we left civilisation behind and started travelling north it was completely dark – there weren’t even any street lights.

Time passed, and we hit 22 miles of roadworks where the speed limit varied between 45 mph and just 25 mph. It was slow progress, but my friend did well to stay focussed on the drive. With about 2 hours left to go we made a stop at a gas station to top back up and to see if they knew where the nearest food place was. Apparently the nearest food place was in Shiprock which was just over an hour’s drive away. It was almost 20:00 in Mountain time, so we were weary that a lot of food places might be starting to close by the time we got there.

When we reached Shiprock we soon found a place to eat – McDonalds. I’ve not eaten there for around 7 years, if not more, as I’m not particularly fond of their food. By this point though it had just turned 21:00 so we didn’t really have a choice. We found that the White Eagle Inn we’d be staying in overnight had called us during the drive so we had to call them back to let them know we were running late and wouldn’t be getting in until about 22:30.

In McDonalds I had some fries and 10 pieces of chicken nuggets – enough to keep me going until morning. It wasn’t long after leaving here that we crossed the border into Colorado and soon found ourselves arriving at the hotel in Cortez – by this time it was 22:15 and we were exhausted.

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