on October 25, 2011
After two exhilarating days in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon and a not so memorable experience at a hotel, we were happy to be on the road heading to New Mexico. We got back on Interstate 40 heading east and within twenty miles; the landscape seemed to go from mountainous terrain to flat land. Visibility stretched for miles in the distance and rain pockets could be clearly seen on the horizon. At times, we seemed to be racing the various Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) trains that ran parallel to the Interstate. Just fifteen miles from Flagstaff, Interstate 40 skirts the small town of Winona, which was mentioned in the classic road song, "Get Your Kicks on Route 66." It wasn’t mentioned because of its importance, but because Bobby Troup needed a town that rhymed with Arizona. Whatever it took, Winona is now on the map. Further down Interstate 40 near the town of Winslow is one of the best preserved meteor craters. It was declared a National Natural Landmark. The crater is located on privately owned land and because of the entrance fee; we decided to forgo a visit. A little over an hour away from Flagstaff, we entered the town of Holbrook. Another famous town on the Mother Road, it is also the largest town near the Petrified Forest National Park. As we headed to the park, we drove down Route 66 and I immediately felt transported back to another era. It may have had something do with the Wigwam Motel. The Wigwams are teepee style motel rooms which were popular during the 1930’s through the 50’s. There were only seven Wigwam villages built and today there are only three left. Two of those are still on Route 66 and the other one is in Cave City, Kentucky. The parking lot was filled with classic Chevrolets, Fords, and Plymouths, and it was almost like it was a prerequisite to have a classic car in order to stay there. A few miles outside of town, we stopped at Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Company. It’s located near the intersection of Hwy 77 and Hwy 180. About twenty miles on Hwy 180 takes you to the entrance of Petrified Forest National Park. The name says it all. They sell everything related to Petrified Wood. They have everything from small decorative pieces such as bookends to tables and chairs. They also have a large outdoor section to decorate your yard. They do their own cutting and polishing. Since only twenty percent of the wood is strong enough to withstand the finishing process, the price can be expensive. There was a coffee table for $13000 or a chair for $9000. After gawking at all of the beautiful items and wishing we could take most of it home, we settled on a nice pair of bookends. We entered the Petrified Forest National Park. Upon entry, you are notified that there are hefty fines for anyone removing petrified wood out of the park. Park rangers are constantly on patrol for violators. Places such as Jim Gray’s legally obtain their petrified wood from areas not protected by the National Park Service. We stopped in at the Rainbow Forest Museum Visitor Center to get a map of the park. A 28 mile road connects the two visitor centers, the other being the Painted Desert Visitor Center. The road takes you through the massive 146 mile square park with large deposits of petrified wood and beautiful colored badlands. There is also a 3.5 mile loop at Blue Mesa that offers excellent views of the badlands. We crossed over Interstate 40, which there is no access. You must exit out of the park which is about six miles further down. As we crossed over the interstate, I noticed an old rusted out 1931 Studebaker sitting on the side of the road. This vehicle commemorates Route 66, which at one time went through the park until Interstate 40 was built. That section of Route 66 is now grassland, but the telephone poles that line up next to I-40, marks the original section of the road. The northern section of the park preserves a small area of the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert is a section of badlands stretching from the Grand Canyon with most of it located on the Navajo Reservation. Besides the visitor center, another place worth stopping is the Painted Desert Inn. Originally built in the late 1930’s, it was slated to be demolished but was halted amid protests. It now operates as a bookstore and museum. As we exited the park, we were asked if we had taken anything. I imagine it’s a standard question for anyone visiting the park. After we told the park ranger that we had not taken anything, we were allowed on our way back to the Interstate. Had I thought about it sooner, my answer to her question might have been different. We did take something away from the park, memories of an excellent vacation.
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