Friday, May 18, 2007

Trip to Great Southwest - AZ National Parks

A sleep-in day on Friday! I had the advantage of another time-zone difference, since AZ does not do Daylight Savings time, so was in no real hurry to pack up and leave Gallup NM. When I did finally leave the motel at 8:30, the parking lot was empty, the Run for the Wall group obviously getting an earlier start than I was.

I hopped on to I-40 and headed west, my next stop Petrified Forest National Park. Not being too sure about the gas situation, and knowing I needed to enter the park with a reasonably full tank, I started looking for a suitable exit. By suitable, I mean a gas station that looked like it might have fresh gas in holding tanks that didn't have 50 years' worth of crap accumulated in them. It seemed like every exit had a derelict gas station attached to a tacky "indian" souvenir shop. I wanted big, and new, and clean. Eventually, well into AZ, I saw a Conoco sign sticking up in the air, and the complex looked relatively new and busy.

About 20 miles later, I saw my exit for the park. It was around 8:45 MST, and I had all morning, so I entered the park with the mind-set to really linger, take all the turnouts, snap lots of photos. First stop was the visitor center up on my riding gear. Her advice was to be sure to stop at the Desert Inn overlook and the Blue Mesa side loop. She said that many of the turnouts I would be able to see the view from the motorcycle, something I could appreciate, since hauling off helmet, gloves, jacket at each stop gets tiresome. With my passport book stamped, I went back out to the bike and headed toward the entrance station. The female ranger manning the booth is a rider, and of course we had to talk about riding!!
Before I rode to the visitor center, I had stopped at the entrance to get a photo of my bike and the park sign. As I was doing this, a rider on a BMW GS rode by and I never did see him again inside the park. He didn't stop at the visitor center so I had to wonder if he was an employee. What a way to commute and what a job to commute to!

I spent several hours in this park, pulling over at nearly every overlook, getting photos, wandering down paths, and just generally flower sniffing! The various sections of the park were each slightly different in look and color. South of I-40 the domes were more like lava mounds, and the colors were more blues, purples, violets, while the north side of I-40 the desert was painted in bright reds and oranges. The ranger was absolutely correct about the blue mesa turn-off. I spent alot of time up on the top, taking photos and reading the plaques.

The last stop inside the park was the Rainbow Forest Museum, where I got more stamps and walked outside behind the building, where a path winds among large pieces of petrified wood, an opportunity to see them up close. A newer building nearby houses a gift shop and snack bar, so I took a break and had a cold drink and a pastry (breakfast!). While sitting there I heard several different languages spoken, though the park was not crowded at all.

So, leaving the park at the south end, I had a 20 mile ride up to Holbrook and I-40, where I was faced with possibly the most boring stretch of this trip. It was 80 miles to my next stop, Walnut Canyon National Monument, just east of Flagstaff. Flat, featureless, desolate. These words describe this part of AZ, and the state police were in abundance along this stretch. The temptation to go fast, given the boredom of the road, must make the state some good revenue, because these boys were busy!

The terrain just east of Flagstaff changes abruptly from flat to mountainous, and as I rode across the state, there were elevation signs on the side of the road that let me know that I had ascended through 5,000 ft, then 6,000 ft, then 7,000 ft at Walnut Canyon. The road into the national park was beautiful. Winding and forested, it was a sharp contrast to what I had just seen two hours ago at Painted Desert. I parked the bike at the visitor center and went inside to talk to the rangers and learn what the park was all about. There are two trails, the easier, 0.7 mile one on the rim of the canyon, and the more difficult 0.9 mile trek down into the canyon where the cliff dwellings are. That was an easy decision for me. I walked back to the bike, slipped out of my riding gear, put on my running shoes and ball cap, grabbed the camera and a bottle of water, and headed toward the trek down into the canyon. I wanted to see those cliff dwellings up close!

Access to the canyon is down a steep 0.5 mile switch-back flight of stairs that take you literally down the side wall of the canyon. The further down I got, the hotter it got. I was glad for the coolmax short-sleeved t-shirt and shorts I was wearing. But the up-close access to the cliff dwellings was well worth the effort to get down there. The views were just spectacular from that vantage point. A loop trail took us around a sort of "island" formation in the canyon, the walls of which were filled with the little cubby-hole dwellings. Signs along the route told the story of these indians who farmed and hunted this land 1400 years ago.

The loop completed, I was now faced with climbing those stairs straight up...and the elevation here is over 7,000 feet! My body knew that there was much less oxygen in that air than it was used to in Houston! A couple of rest breaks on the way back up, but I made it relatively okay. I was mightily impressed with what I had seen, with the views (I couldn't stop taking photos!!) and with the beauty of this area.

Getting geared back up and onto the bike, I now had only a relatively short ride to Williams AZ and my destination.

No comments:

Post a Comment