When the going gets tough, the tough hit the interstate. After my exercise in agenda flexibility in California’s Central Valley I decided it was time to shorten the trip across the country and make a beeline for the hardwood forests of the East. Where’s that transporter when you need it? Scotty, WTF??
Since only one option remained I hit the road. Having modified my itinerary to make the drives longer but not crippling, I set out from California bound for Arizona. It dawned on me after getting one cancellation from a place I had booked in Flagstaff that the wise course of action would be to book places in smaller burgs. That’s exactly what I did and thus ended up staying in places you’ll likely never have heard of — but don’t feel alone. I had never heard of them, either. But it worked a treat and the approach recommends itself generally, not just for times of national emergency. It’s lovely to overnight in a place that’s quiet and closer to the natural world.
The drives were all about landscape for me, of course — how could it be otherwise? When you’re on the interstate driving along at 70MPH you’re something of a captive audience for the geological splendors on display. But my attention was devoted intentionally and especially to what came along in the way of scenery. I was duly impressed by the stretch through the tail end of the Sierras east of Bakersfield. I was thrilled by the mountain scenery of western Arizona, especially as I neared my destination of Williams, AZ, which sits in the middle of a Ponderosa pine forest at an altitude of 6,800 feet. The place where I stayed happened to be on the east end of town and had a picnic area smack dab among the pines, which was a great treat. I’d certainly not have had that amenity in downtown Flagstaff. It’s true that it froze during the night, but hey, at the end of March at an elevation of 6,800 feet that’s kind of like turning on a tap and having water come out. In other words: duuh.
But no matter, when morning came I fired up the Asian Buick and hit the road. Humphrey’s Peak (the highest natural point in Arizona at 12,633 feet) had wowed me the day before with its impressive contour jutting up from multiple vantage points along I-40. I decided to stop in Flagstaff to gas up in hope of getting a good view of it. And the travel gods smiled upon me:
Looks like it must have frozen overnight up there at the top, too, LOL. Such a lovely mountain, I wanted to gawk at it a good while but I dared not tarry since I had miles to go before I checked into the next hotel to resume my life of leisure. So back onto I-40 it was and up to cruising speed.
The Federal Government in its wisdom had decreed that the dangers of coronavirus required closing all national parks, so my plans to visit the Petrified Forest National Park about two hours east of Flagstaff bit the dust. Before you come to that park, however, you cross the path of Meteor Crater park. I didn’t even look it up to see if it was open or not because by that point I no longer cared. So I cruised on past the turning for it but discovered with great delight that a rest area bearing the brand name is sited nearby. In I pulled for a spot of recreation and a chance to stretch my legs.
When you think about it apart from all the hype, Meteor Crater is just a hole in the ground. Right? A bloody hole in the ground, period end of story. So I took the opportunity to use the rest area as my alternative park. Rest areas are usually sited in interesting and pleasant places, so I looked to find the particular charms of Meteor Crater Rest Area. It turned out to be a charmer and highly educational to boot. Allow me to explain.
We think in terms of political boundaries — states and counties, for example. Nature, however, eschews such things and operates with entirely different units often called geologic provinces. It occurred to me as soon as I got out of the car at Meteor Crater Rest Area that I had left one geologic province and entered another. The one I had left just outside Flagstaff was a province of granite. At Meteor Crater Rest Area I stood in a province of sandstone. They are two entirely different beasts that yield two entirely different types of topography and landscape. That fact seemed obvious to me after I thought about it — you can’t get a mountain like Humphrey’s Peak using sandstone. No can do. And you don’t get mesas using granite — granite don’t play that. So within the state of Arizona there are completely different countries, geologically as different each from the other as India is culturally from Italy. I tried to find an image that captured the difference, with both provinces visible. Here’s what I came up with:
Snow-clad (granite) peaks in the blue distance are all very well, but I stood now in the sandstone province and there was plenty to inspect. The rest area sits in a region of stone outcroppings that have weathered into odd shapes resembling curds before they get pressed into a cheese form. As soon as I walked near the outcrop just behind the rest area I knew what my focus should be: TEXTURE. Sandstone responds to weather like plants respond to light, albeit at a considerably slower pace. So I submit for your consideration studies in form and texture, all taken from the rest area. Who needs national parks, anyway? Nature is all around us and ALL of it is interesting.