A December 1999 trip
to United States by HankFontaine
Quote: In this journal, you will find the story of two broke college kids who drove a $400 car 4,700 miles from Missouri to the Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, Tuzigoot, Homolovi, Montezuma Castle, the Grand Canyon, Wupataki, Lake Mead, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Dinosaur National Monument, and back to Missouri.
A new world of travel was opened to me when I had the fortunate experience of meeting, falling in love with, and marrying a girl from Malaysia. Although I had been many different places and was a bit of a free spirit before I met her, I never had a good travel companion to share it with. She is the first person I can travel with without arguing. We have the same interests in places and never get tired of each other's company.
We met here in the U.S. while she was pursuing her masters degree. We dated for almost 2 years and then got married. It was just the first of three weddings we have had, as we had two more in Malaysia--you can read about that in some of my other journals.
As a kind of pre-honeymoon, we purchased a 1987 Toyota Tercel and proceeded to drive 4,700 miles across the U.S. Southwest. We had no schedule and stopped at every interesting site along the way. We went to Native American ruins wherever possible, went to the Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, Tuzigoot, Homolovi, Montezuma Castle, Grand Canyon, Wupataki, Lake Mead, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Dinosaur National Monument, and several other out-of-the-way places.
We never ate at a chain restaurant and only stayed at one chain hotel. Our only goal was to be in Las Vegas for New Years Eve 1999 for one hell of a millennium celebration.
My family thought we were nuts, driving 4,700 miles in a crappy little car. I just thought it added to the adventure. I would rather take a chance and go then regret not going. Travel is often one of those things--if put it off, you never do it. I figured that, if something went wrong with the car, we could just leave it and take a bus home. This journal may take quite a while to finish, as I have many entries to add, so keep checking back.
Be sure to pick up the hotel coupons at the visitors centers. You can often find them in the entrances to restaurants also. The coupons really did save us quite a bit. I would go in and ask for the best AAA rate at first, and it would always be more than the coupon. Many of the hotel rooms we got were under a night, and all were at least decent.
One huge mistake we made was not buying a national parks pass at the beginning. They have a pass that you pay for, and it allows you into any national park for a year. This is good for everyone you can get in your vehicle. We paid entrance fees at each park we stopped at and spent well over . You can purchase these at any national park office. For an extra on that, you can buy a "Golden Eagle" pass and get into any place managed by the fish and wildlife department. You can find the pass information here:
National Park Pass.
The Petrified Forest was simply AMAZING, and it was also one of the first parks we went to. We spent a full 8-hour day there and had a picnic and a nice, leisurely drive. We had originally only planned on about 4 hours, but honestly, we could have spent 2 days here.
A 28-mile road goes down the center of the park, with several stopping areas in between. This may sound like a few miles to spend 8 hours in, but every mile of it is just fascinating. There are massive amounts of petrified wood here, and the trees are just amazing. They are more crystal than rock, really. You can see the rings of the trees still, but it is literally rings of different-colored crystal. They are everywhere alongside the road, sticking out of hills, laying in valleys, or on hiking trails. You could see thousands of trees from your car window if you didn't want to walk. There are also old ruins and petroglyphs at Petrified Forest, so there is obviously much to see. We spent so much time pointing out things from the car that I am surprised I didn’t hit someone. There are also numerous places to stop and miles and miles of hiking trails for the more adventurous. Bathroom facilities are located at regular intervals, so no worries there, either.
The sheer amount and size of the petrified wood is impossible to describe without being there. It’s also a great park for the physically challenged to visit. Many prime examples are right at the parking lots. You can view the ruins and petroglyphs from several of the parking lots without getting off the pavement, and chances for great photos are everywhere. Be sure to look carefully at all rock faces, though, as I would have missed half the petroglyphs, had my wife not pointed them out.
If you love nature, this is a great park. The size and layout of the park make it seem less busy than it really is. While the park appeared to be fairly busy, we only ran into people at the restrooms and only once on the trails. Oftentimes you will have a whole viewpoint or parking lot to yourselves. Plan at least a full day here and bring lots of film. Also bring some water if you want to hike and good hiking shoes. The trails are improved but often have loose bits of rock or shale on them.
Of all the national parks I have been to, this is very close to the top, if not #1, in my opinion.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 10, 2005
Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona 86028
New Mexico is a state that, on the surface, may not look like much more than barren stretches of desert and scrub. Dig a little deeper and you will find one of the most fascinating places on earth. We spent several days in New Mexico touring national parks and actually could have spent weeks doing it. But there is more than just national parks.
We altered our course a bit to make a side trip into Santa Fe, and I was glad we did. It is a place I remember going to as a child of about 8 years old with my family. It’s a quaint little town, a bit touristy but also a bit artsy. Located 7,000 feet above sea level in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this town has beautiful, crisp air and gets over 300 days of sunshine a year. They have a very Western-looking town square of adobe buildings where Native Americans sell their wares.
There is also an interesting little place called the Loretto Chapel. What makes the chapel interesting is, of all things, a staircase. When the Loretto Chapel was completed, there was no way to access the choir loft 22 feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder, as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small chapel. To find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man showed up at the chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself. The staircase has two 360-degree turns and has no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails - only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers compared to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction. They even have engineering reports from several universities saying the staircase is impossible to build. It is very strong, too, as they have a picture of about 30 choir members on it at the same time. Pictures cannot portray the engineering feat of this staircase. Anyone who has done any carpentry will be amazed.
The chapel is located right off the main square and is hard to miss. They are open from 9am to 6pm during the summer and from 9am to 5pm in the winter. There is a small entrance fee and a neat little gift shop - it’s a fun little attraction.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 11, 2005
207 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
Driving up to Dinosaur Monument was an experience. It is a bit off the highway, if you could even call what we were on a highway, and there was 8 inches of snow on the ground and more was falling. We were wondering if anyone would even be at the place to let us in. We arrived and lo and behold there were several National Parks workers there. They were a bit surprised to see us in out little beat up car, perhaps thinking I was a bit crazy. They all had four-wheel drives and said they didn't expect anyone there that day. They were very helpful, though, and let us wander around and admire the place at our leisure. I am sure glad they have the place roofed in as it was quite cold outside, and the snow would have covered up any of the bones.
The park itself is simply amazing. I think most people from ages 3-103 will be fascinated by this place. From the outside it looks just like a large building. But once inside you realize that that building is covering a huge rock wall that is literally filled with exposed dinosaur bones. I imagine it is the only place in the world where you can see such a large display of fossils still in the rocks. They have a few examples that they allow people to touch and several bones on display that were pulled from the rocks.
The park itself is really in the middle of nowhere--it’s about 3 hours from Salt Lake City but is really worth the drive. The price, if you don’t have a park pass, is only $10 per car. There are several driving routes through the park, but they are closed in wintertime, due to snow. The main quarry area is open year-round, though. There is a small little bookstore/gift shop on the premises, so souvenir hunters should be pleased. You can find the parks website at
Dinosaur National Monument .
If you have the time, this park is a must-see. You may never have the chance to see a dinosaur dig in progress again.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on February 11, 2005
Dinosaur National Monument
U.S. State Highway 149
There are many fantastic national parks in the US that you don’t hear about often. This can be good for you if you can find out about them. If you can come across these gems, you can avoid crowds, feel less rushed, examine things more thoroughly, and have a more relaxing experience.
Tuzigoot National Monument is one of these places, and it is definitely worth seeing. The park itself is located within easy access of both Phoenix and Flagstaff and ideal for people driving between the two. Also, the entrance fees for this great park are a really low, $3, and kids under 16 are free. You just can’t beat those prices.
The park itself is based around an old pueblo built in 1,000 AD. Considering its age, the walls are still amazingly intact. I was really surprised this site didn’t get more visitors. On the day we went there was only one other family there, and they were leaving as we were arriving. To me, this is a much better place than the extremely packed and non-interactive Montezuma’s Castle.
The pueblo itself sits atop a hill and commands quite a view and must have been a formidable defensive position in its day. There were, at its peak, over 110 rooms in this community, and it dates back to 1,000 AD. Since it is located on a hill, there will some incline walking involved. The trails are good and mostly paved, but it’s something that should be considered.
What makes this park so great is the interactive aspect of it. You can actually walk around and touch or examine the pueblo itself. We were really amazed that you could get this close to such an ancient building. It was also humbling to think that a community of this size was here so long ago and that they left their mark with this building. It’s amazing to think that people of so long ago could build such immense and lasting structures with primitive materials and tools.
You can fine their website with more information below.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 11, 2005
Tuzigoot National Monument
P.O. Box 219
Camp Verde, Arizona 86322
Attraction | "Meteor Crater"
The Meteor Crater Park is one that just about everyone has heard about. It’s a highly publicized and crowded park that really wasn’t that impressive. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a place everyone should see once, but once is more than enough. Also, don’t expect to spend a lot of time here unless you are a meteor buff. It's interesting to note that it is privately owned and not a "national" park, so your park pass won't work here.
The park itself is located just 35 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, and it's easy to get to. For those who aren’t familiar with the site, it consists of a fairly large meteor crater and a visitor center. Around 50,000 years ago, a 150-foot (in diameter) meteor hit the desert here. The crater is now 550 feet deep and 4,000 feet across.
Now, all this sounds pretty interesting, but basically it turns out to be a large hole in the ground that you can’t explore. You can only walk around about a fourth of the rim and can’t go down into the crater itself. These are this site's major drawbacks. Just seeing the carter itself and taking a few photos can take no longer than 30 minutes. There are a few telescopes on the viewing platform, but you still don’t get immersed in the experience. It would be an awesome place if they would let you explore the crater itself, but as it is set up now, it’s hard to give it a whole-hearted recommendation. The admission is also very high for what you get - $12 per person. The visitor center is pretty nice, though, and you can expect to spend more time in there than seeing the crater itself.
It’s much more touristy than many comparable parks, but it is still worth seeing. It’s one of those things to go to just to say you have been and then you never have to go back. The crater itself is impressive, but you don’t get to really experience it.
A plus is that it is very easy for the physically challenged and elderly to view. It’s also easy to keep track of your family here. There is a decent gift shop and a Subway sandwich place on the premises, so souvenirs and food are easy to get. I would recommend going there and getting some Subway, then viewing the crater. This should extend your experience a bit and make it seem like a picnic. Just don’t expect to spend all day here.
You can find their website here:
Meteor Crater (Barringer Crater)
Interstate 40, Exit 233
Winslow, Arizona 86047