Day 5 – Holbrook to Santa Fe
As we were pulling into Holbrook, I googled the town and the first two news stories were about “a five-hour standoff between law enforcement and a man suspected of involvement in two homicides” and a woman who’d stabbed her boyfriend at the Economy Motel across the street from the wigwams.
Perhaps there was a glorious age for Route 66, but it doesn’t take carbon dating to determine how long ago that ended; you need only do a passing inspection of the decrepit dinosaur statues along the side of the road. Wikipedia that puts the death of Route 66 at 1985, when the Interstate Highway System eventually bypassed it.
The interior of the teepee looked a bit like we expected: Motel 6 shoved inside an aging concrete cone. But we turned it into a proper home-on-the-plains for the night. We heated up beans on the NuWave that the Uber Chef gave me a few years back and ate tacos for dinner. Then, after a failed attempt to find a bar by walking around town – an adventure that reinforced the feeling that another stabbing or stand-off might be in progress nearby – we returned to our wigwam and snuggled up to watch the movie, Ant-man. When I took off my socks, I thought at first there was dirt on the sheets, then realized they were just worn and pilled.
The next day we made our roundabout way, past several businesses dedicated solely to propane and signs advertising Indian jewelry and “Free petrified wood” to the Petrified Forest National Park.
We drove first along a road with several turnouts and views of the Painted Desert, then we headed south, stopped off at the 600-year-old remains of a pueblo, where we looked out on ancient petroglyphs, one of which was called the “Migration Symbol,” which looks like two sets of identical stairs. “We should adopt this as the symbol for our trip,” I said to Greg, and he agreed.
Our last stop was the Crystal Forest. At first we thought of the Petrified Forest as a possibly interesting stop-off, but we were impressed – primarily by the immenseness of time. With less than 10 inches of average rainfall a year, the land here is deserted and barren. Yet the fallen remains of these 140-foot tall trees are proof that a completely different landscape existed here in the late Triassic, 225 million years ago, a subtropical forest with giant reptiles and early dinosaurs.
A photo taken by John Muir at the Jasper Forest stop-off showed a section of the park in 1905 and a photo of that same section a few years ago and they looked identical – as if no stone was unturned. I found this reassuring. Perhaps we humans aren’t as hard on things as we think – or at the very least, perhaps the efforts of the national parks to preserve natural wonders like this actually work.
As we walked among the fallen stone-trees, I overheard a man in an Arizona sweatshirt tell his wife, bedecked in turquoise jewelry, that if they came this way a second time, he would want to see it all over again. I felt the same way. And when I return, in ten or twenty years, I hope there’s another, new photo that looks just like the one John Muir took.
We bought a few pieces of agate at the gift shop and then drove on, past Albuquerque, where the moon was rising over the city and the Sandia mountains, and on to Santa Fe where we stayed overnight with an old friend of mine from graduate school.
Molly and I made dinner together, chicken shawarma and couscous with feta and olives. I marveled at her kids, who were little when I saw them last, and we caught up, talked about work and writing, and reminisced about the people we knew. Five years go by and it feels like half a lifetime. In thirty years a popular route can turn into a ghost highway. In five million, a forest grows, dies, is buried, turned to stone, and uncovered again in a windswept desert. We are barely a blip on nature’s radar.
The trick is to make sure that blip is fabulous and, if possible, leave some memory of it behind like the migration petroglyph on the rock wall, or still-visible concentric circles in the stone trees.