From my travel journal: Thursday 7 April, 10.30 am

Somewhere in New Mexico

Incredibly wide flat land, covered in dry yellow grass and very little else. Almost no trees or bushes as far as the eye can see. We did see some antelope though! A mini-herd of 5 of them grazing just off the road, their brown and white coats camouflaging them so well that even when I pointed them out to the others it took them a while to spot them. So now we’ve seen deer and antelope – all we need now is buffalo and we’d have a song…

Yesterday was a day of canyons. First was the big one, the Grand Canyon. It’s hard to describe just how big it is – actually, even when you’re standing there looking at it it’s hard to comprehend how big it is. It looks big, but then you realise that those little boxes you can see about a third of the way down into the canyon are actually buildings, and suddenly you realise just how enormous it really is, in a way that hearing statistics like the opposite rim being nearly 18 km away just can’t convey. But your brain just can’t contain the size, so even then you really can’t keep a sense of the hugeness of it in your mind.


That little white speck is a building!

We spent quite a while at the canyon, finding different viewpoints (and getting confused by the GPS, who seemed determined to direct us to the kennels when we actually wanted a post office). I could have happily spent days there, because every time the light changed (there were a lot of clouds, but the sun broke through every so often) it looked completely different. I would love to have seen it in full sunshine. And of course we’d only managed to see a fraction of it from the viewpoints around the village. But we had to get back on the road (and besides, the wind was biting cold, and there were even a few snowflakes falling!)


DOS keeping Wolverine warm (or possibly just making sure none of his limbs fell into the depths of the canyon)


A reconstructed Hopi house. There was a museum inside, but we didn’t have time to have a look.


Squirrel! (Yes, I know they’re boring to most of you, but we don’t have them in NZ, so I think they’re interesting :-))

Just outside Flagstaff we found Walnut Canyon, a much smaller canyon (that in a weird way felt bigger, just because it was on a more human scale so the size was comprehensible). The canyon walls are lined with the remains of prehistoric dwellings. A steep path (the guy in the gift shop said it had 280 steps – it felt like a lot more coming back up, but that was partly because of the altitude – Flagstaff is about 7000 feet above sea level, and it was noticeably harder to breathe with even that little bit of exercise of climbing the steps!) took us part way round the canyon walls among the ruins, but a slip had closed part of it off, so we couldn’t do the whole walk.


(Funny, the path doesn’t look that steep now I’m back at sea level :-))

Apart from the ruins themselves, the most interesting thing was the landscape – there was a visible difference in vegetation between the sunny and sheltered sides of the canyon, with more trees (juniper and some sort of small pine) on the sheltered side, and more cacti (mostly prickly pear) on the sunny.

Next stop was Winslow (as in “standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona”). There is a corner that’s been turned into a monument to the song, complete with a flatbed Ford parked at the curb 🙂


The windows on the building behind are painted on – part of a mural depicting the lyrics of the song

We had lunch in a sports bar decorated with American football team jerseys and pennants. It was obviously where the locals eat, not a tourist place. The usual mixture of Mexican and diner-style offerings on the menu, but I found something different to try: “Navajo tacos”, which was Native American-style frybread topped with chilli. The frybread was very nice, and not as fried-tasting as I’d worried it might be – it was kind of like a doughnut in texture (but flat, and savoury rather than sweet).

Talking of Native Americans, I’ve noticed they make up a large proportion of the population here, especially among shop and restaurant staff. In California and Nevada, most of the staff were Latino, but here and in Arizona it’s been mostly Native Americans. That I’m seeing them mostly in service jobs says a lot about their status in society, but it’s nice to at least get to meet some of the original inhabitants of this continent, at last!

Of course, there’s also the inevitable tourist version of Native American culture – every few miles there’s a gift shop with a name like “Pow Wow Souvenirs”, selling the local equivalent of plastic tiki, and there was even a motel where the rooms are shaped like giant concrete teepees.

By the time we reached the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park it was getting late, but the ranger on the gate said we’d just be able to get through to the other side of the park before it shut. So it was a bit of a rushed visit. It wasn’t as impressive as I expected, but I think that was because the light was so dull, as it was heavily overcast and beginning to rain. You could see stripes of different colours in the mesas, so I imagine in bright sunshine they’d be quite vivid.


Ringbear in the petrified forest


It’s amazing what a little bit of playing with contrast and colour density can do 🙂

Then it was just a long long trek down the interstate in the dark and rain (and incredibly high winds, which were a bit scary when we were passing the many trucks on the road, which were swaying from side to side with the wind). Our only stops were very brief ones to take photos of the signs indicating we’d crossed the border into New Mexico, and, a little further on, the continental divide. In the wind and icy rain we didn’t linger though – just stopped long enough to open a w
indow and stick a camera out, then wind it up again as quickly as possible!

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