427. Four Hundred and Twenty-seven. Thatís how many switchbacks there are over the 89 miles of the Coronado Byway between Clifton and Alpine. I know because I counted them. Halfway along the Mogollon Rim, extraordinary views reveal to the south and west, culminating at the 9,346 foot Blue Vista. The peaks and canyons blend into a tangle of soft blue haze. Past Hannagan Meadow the curves get longer and faster and the road turns silky smooth along the eastern edge of the White Mountains. Thick aspen groves are showing me their fire fall colors. Then the drive descends and levels off into flatlands at Eagar.
I head west and then north across the plains of Arizona, up towards the Petrified Forest National Park. One of the worldís largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, the park also contains the multicolored badlands of the Painted Desert. The southern entrance station is a few miles from the Rainbow Forest Museum and the Giant Logs Trail, where the parkís largest log, "Old Faithful", lies strewn across the path.
225 million years ago, this high dry tableland was a vast floodplain, crossed by many streams and forested by tall, stately pine-like trees along the headwaters. The tall trees Ė Araucariosylon, Woodwrthia, and Schideria Ė fell into the floodplain and were covered by silt, mud, and volcanic ash. The blanket of deposits slowed the decay, and gradually silica deposits replaced the original wood tissues. The crystallized silica turned into quartz and the logs became petrified. Over time, erosion has worn away the sediments and revealed the ancient trees, and the land has uplifted far above the sea, creating stresses that cracked the giant logs.
A 28-mile road winds north through the park, and I take off my helmet for the drive. Itís legal in Arizona and it feels good to have the wind in my hair and against my face in this dry desert. Even at the slow park speeds, I know it is a stupid thing to do. But when has stupidity ever stopped anyone. I pull over at the Crystal Forest and then at the Blue Mesa for the mile long loop trail down into the badlands. The logs here look as though theyíve been placed about by park employees, fossilized remains of a long past life.
I reach my eveningís stop around 5:00 PM with the sun still about an hour from turning down. Chambers isnít much more than an exit off the interstate; thereís only one motel and not much else. So I decide Iíll cut off some of tomorrowís route by heading up to Ganado, back on the Navajo Indian Reservation. With any luck the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site will still be open. Iíll get the stamp and keep going. But when I get there theyíve been closed for over an hour. Theyíve on Mountain Time on the Reservation. And there are no motels in Ganado. No Bed and Breakfast, no Hotel, not even a campground. Itís dark now and Iím screwed. I should have just stayed in Chambers.
There is no place to stay here for the night and thereís no way I can get the stamp now. I take a photo of the motorcycle in front of the Hubble sign, as the Iron Butt Association will accept that as proof. But Iíve decided not to submit any of the photos. If I donít get the stamp, Iím not going to count it. So the NPS stamp total listed below is now only for actual stamps Iíve collected, not sites Iíve visited. Including the Hubble Trading Post, there are a total of five sites I didnít get for one reason or another, although I did visit them.
I decide to head to Window Rock, about 30 miles east, and maybe Iíll come back here in the morning. But when I get to Window Rock, itís giving me a bad vibe. There are only two motels, but they both look pretty lame, and I bet theyíre a fortune because theyíre on the Reservation. When I stayed in Chinle, 50 miles north of Ganado, on day 36, it cost me 100 bucks to stay at the Best Western.
Gallup, New Mexico, is only 25 miles further. Thereís no turning back now, and Iím there within a half-hour. The old neon signs stand out on Route 66 like calling cards across a generation. New motels flank the town along the interstate exits, but buried along the main street lies the old section of town, straight out of the 50ís. There are more than a dozen old motels, each one offering a better deal than the next. I settle on the Blue Spruce, conveniently located across the road from the Avalon Restaurant. Dinner and a dream, right next door.
Happy Birthday today to Jenny Sampson, my friend from San Francisco who now lives in Seattle. Jenny, I hope you had a great day.
Iím about 20 minutes out of Safford, heading across 191 towards Guthrie. The traffic is pretty light; mainly construction trucks heading to work. And then I smell something out of place. What is that smell? Iím passing the few cars and trucks in front of me, and the scent is getting stronger. Itís smells likeÖgasoline.
There it is, finally, up ahead. A pickup truck is towing a trailer, and on the trailer is a Bobcat, one of those small front-end loaders. AND THE BOBCAT IS SPEWING FUEL ALL OVER THE ROAD! AND ITíS GETTING ALL OVER ME! If it smells like gas, and it looks like gas, and it tastes like gasÖ.then IT IS GAS.
I cross into the other lane, even though thereís a double yellow line. Iíve got to get past this mess. I yank the throttle and pull up along the truck. Iím waving at the driver, trying to invent the sign language for "Youíve got GASOLINE spilling out of your Bobcat and YOUíRE AN ASSHOLE!"
I think he got the idea.
| DREAM | JOURNEY
| IMAGES | STATS
| PARKS | MAPS
| GEAR | LINKS
| CREDIT | HOME |