|Photo- The northern edge of Tonto National Forest.|
As I headed east the landscape of Tonto National Forest changed from tall cactus to tall pines on bluffs. There were forest spotted mountains off in the distance. The road started to climb and I found myself in mountainous country of the Sitgreaves National Forest in an area called the Mongolian Rim. It’s a HUGE valley area but I didn’t really have a viewpoint off the side of the highway as I headed first east. It was amazingly beautiful but I could risk taking photos and keeping the road on the climbing curvy roads; sorry. But I’ll tell you it was an amazing view.
Before the town of Heber-Overgaard I came upon a prescribed fire. Yes, the forest service burns on purpose so as to kill some of the undergrowth that can lead to more dangerous situations if a real forest fire raged. This one did appear to be under control. The traffic slowed. There were fire trucks and police vehicles on both sides of the road with their lights flashing. Men with yellow vests were running around with shovels in hand while the smoke just sat around the road. There was no wind and that’s a good thing in this case.
|Photo- The precribed burn area I drove through.|
As I entered into Heber-Overgaard, I turned right onto Hwy 277 to head north. I was tempted to go straight. There was a Wild Girl’s Saloon advertised that sounded like a good place for me to stop for lunch; I figured I just might fit in too! But it was a little early for lunch yet so I pressed on. Seven miles later, I came to “T” in the road and turned left onto Hwy 377. Shortly after that I saw the sign that I was leaving the Sitgreaves National Forest. The landscape changed drastically to a very arid land with short juniper trees and golden wheat colored grasses. Another 30 miles later and a quick left and I was in Holbrook just off of Interstate 40.
Next was the Petrified Forest that was just off of I-40 another 25 miles down the way. The park wasn’t busy. In fact, I asked the gal if there was a film to watch at the visitor’s center and she said yes, and she could put it on just for me if I wanted it. I was the only one in the room as the film played. The film gave the history of what the area was like and how the petrified trees got to where they are today. It also stressed that nothing in the park was to leave the park unless it was purchased from a gift shop. This is probably the most erosion that occurs at this National Park; visitors take part of the park home with them and little by little the park disappears. They also warned that they do inspections and it’s a crime to take anything from the park. It was repeated a couple of times in the film and I was told by the national park employee again just before I left the building. Okay, I think I got it.
|Photo- My first sighting of the Painted Desert.|
I drove north from the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center to the Tiponi Point where I got my first real view of the Painted Desert. You know, I’ve seen some photos of it and some artist renditions but I just thought that they had played up the colors and nothing could be like that in real life. Boy was I wrong. In front of me stood the small grooved hills with lined layers of bright vibrant colors. I could see why they called it the Painted Desert. I stopped and took a few photos and hoped that they would begin to do justice to what I was really seeing.
|Photo- The dining room area of the Painted Desert Inn.|
I was excited to get to the Painted Desert Inn; a National Historic Landmark that in the 1950’s was in its heyday of a stop along Route 66. Yes, I’ll admit I knowingly stumbled upon another section of that famous highway. There used to be a popular restaurant and soda fountain bar inside. Now all that was operational was a book shop.
I parked the car, took a couple pictures of the outside and then went in. Wow! The vibrant blue paint against the adobe jumped out at you. The murals in the dining area had been restored for me and future generations to see. They were wonderful. The area of the fountain bar with the stools stood gleaming. A glass paneled ceiling area was above the stairs where symbols of the Zuni and Pueblo people were stamped on the glass and painted. It was all so colorful and vibrant. I had seen black and white photos and a few small colored photos but none did it all justice.
|Photo- The Route 66 stop in the Petrified Forest Nat'l Park.|
I had just mainly planned to drive through the park and visit when my interest was sparked. I drove along the road in the park and stopped at a couple more overlook points. The road moved away from the Painted Desert areas and became flat filled with scrub brush. Then there was a Route 66 area just before the park road went over I-40. There was a great deal of visitors there; so I decided I would stop on the way back. I drove on.
The road continued on for almost 5 more miles with the scrub brush land. Then off in the distance on my left I could see the same hills of the Painted Desert only this time the hills were gray with thin layers of black and burgundy. The road turned and dipped. There was a bridge area with a wash filled with bright golden trees against a barren flat land. I thought it was wonderful scenery and probably the only one. I stopped to take a picture. I thought it was like Fall in the desert and in its starkness I saw beauty.
|Photo- One of the roacks at Newspaper Rock.|
As I drove along, I saw a sign that said Newspaper Rock. I swung my car down the road and parked. I walked over to a cement lookout point and saw a jumble of rocks. But upon closer inspection there were petroglyphs on the sides. It was kind of hard to see with the naked eye and there was an eye piece that helped you zoom into see them. All the signs stated to stay on the platform. This was as close as you got; which was a bit disappointing. I continued on.
|Photo- A gray version of the Painted Desert.|
Next, it was the area called the Tepees. The Painted Desert hills had more of tall upright shape here. I guess you could call them tepee shaped. I drove on and pulled into the Agate Bridge. Now this was a total disappointment. The Agate Bridge was being held up by a bridge of formed concrete. Whose bright idea was this? I found it disturbing that I was in a national park that should be preserved and there’s formed concrete holding up a natural bridge. I would rather have the natural bridge not be than to witness the bridge being supported by formed concrete. I read a sign nearby and they installed the concrete bridge back in the 1950’s.
|Photo- A log of Petried wood in the Crystal Forest.|
Shortly after that I arrived at the Crystal Forest area. All signs said to stay on the path but two older women were not on the path and taking close up photos of petrified logs near the parking lot area. I guess they didn’t understand the leaving no foot print idea of a national park and I ended up seeing three other people doing this too as I continued on the path. I found it very frustrating; because in this day and age there is a thing called zoom on most cameras and there were logs that were very close to the paths too. The whole area seemed like a forest of downed short cut up logs against a gray landscape. Some of the logs had the most amazing colors in the centers of them. I walked along the path and drank in the interesting landscape with the quietness.
|Photo- The Crystal Forest.|
Next, I drove towards the south of the park where there was the Rainbow Forest Museum. There was more traffic here. I decided I needed to turn around before the park closed. The parks hours go till 5pm and I wanted to make sure I was by the north entrance before then. I swung by the Route 66 stop on the way back. There was an old car, a cement formed bench that had car tail lights on one side, and a sign with information about Route 66. Route 66 in this area had been torn up when they built I-40.
As I approached the north entrance there were signs about stopping for a mandatory inspection. I wasn’t worried but was wondering how far they would inspect my loaded down car. They might be a while. I stopped at the stop sign but there was no one there. I drove past the visitors center and on to I-40 heading east onto Gallup which was about 70 miles away.
The landscape changed from the barren flat scrub lands to towering colored rocks. The road climbed up and then went down but in general it was all a gain in elevation. I watched the sun climb up the sides of the towering rock as I drove east. The sky in front of me had hues of chalky pink and lavender. It was a wonderful view with the edges of the towered colored rock gaining more red hues as the sun descended. It was a disappointment when the sun did finally set.
|Photo- The sun starting to set on the towering colored rock landscape.|
I got checked into the hotel and ended up in the north area of Gallup at a local Italian place for dinner called Fratelli’s Bistro. It was a casual easy going place where I instantly felt at ease. I had the Vodka Sausage Rustica, which had a wonderful creamy vodka tomato sauce with pieces of spicy sausage over a bed of farfalle ribbon pasta and a glass of wine. For dessert I could pass up their homemade gelato which they had 12 different flavor selections to choose from. My server told me that when the owner’s wife was pregnant they made a pickle flavored gelato for her. Pickle?!?? I think I’ll past on that one.
I watched the election results starting to come in on TV, while I enjoyed my gelato. This would be the first time since I was 18 that I didn’t vote. It felt rather strange but at the same time I really wasn’t enthused about either candidate.