Friday, 10 October 2014

Flagstaff to Holbrook, Route 66, Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert and Google Street View!

Monty pussy cat asleep in a basket in our bedroom

Wow, it’s only been 3 days since our last entry, but already there’s almost too much to put into one entry, I’m going to try to be brief, but it’s going to be hard! The subject line says it all, it’s been action packed with one amazing thing after another. Why is ‘Google Street View’ in the subject line I heard you ask, good question, it’s because we met the Google man with his alien backpack on filming for Street View on hiking tracks in the Petrified Forest today and we managed to get in the way. ‘Will we be on Google Street View?’ we asked him, ‘Yes’ he said, ‘but your faces will be blurred out’. It might be about two months before it’s uploaded, but we’ll keep looking and will write on the blog when we appear!

This is a beer fridge!
OK, so firstly we had two nights at a private house in Flagstaff via airbnb and were hosted by Danielle and Mike, plus the lodger Andrew, who are all quite young and have two very friendly cats between them named Monty and Dude, much to Jackie’s delight. Nice house, well located and just off that famous Route 66 that pops up all over the place round here. On our full day there we went climbing again, following the directions given to us by the man at the Flagstaff climbing wall mentioned in our previous blog. Armed with his very sketchy map of how to get there and his crag drawing showing the routes, off we went. We particularly wanted to find this crag as it’s a ‘locals only’ crag, as one of the climbers who showed us where ‘The Pit’ crag was the previous day said. I told him the guy at the climbing wall told us about another crag nearby and, when I described where it was he said ‘Oh, I’m surprised he told you about that, only locals know about that and go there when ‘The Pit’ is full of foreigners’. 

Jackie at the top of our 'secret crag' climb
It doesn’t appear on any website as an area to climb, so it’s a real secret and one we wanted to share! We found it! 40 minutes walk uphill through a forest after parking the car up a dirt road and following a vague track, there it was, a huge crag, fully bolted with some massively hard routes and only a couple we could do. The plan he gave us was good and we identified the 5.7 grade we could do and off I went up it. Great route, some nice moves and well protected. Jackie did it, we moved the rope over and top-roped a 5.10, which was really hard. We are claiming to have done it on a top rope, but a lot of hanging on the rope occurred!

The sketch we were given showing us the way to 'The Pit' (Left) and the secret 'Peaks' on the right

And the climbs on the crag

Amongst the lava of Sunset Crater (background)
Tuesday pm was a visit to Sunset Crater and Wupatki NP. Interesting place this, Sunset Crater turns out to be a cone volcano that erupted and appeared out of the flat plane as recently as 900 to 1000 years ago, covering a large area around with lava, that displaced native tribes who had farmed the area for centuries. In the medium term the lava had a beneficial effect by retaining moisture and making the ground more fertile, but the native tribes moved about 40 miles away, set up a community and built a settlement at Wupatki. 
The settlement at Wupatki Pueblo
Archaeological digs have unearthed a large dwelling dating from about 1200 and, although it has been rebuilt in places and strengthened with steel, it still shows quite an advanced civilisation for the time. It was abandoned before the arrival of Europeans probably due to several years of drought.

Jackie in front of a cinder cone at Sunset Crater
The hill houses at Walnut Canyon
Wednesday morning we headed off towards Holbrook with a couple of deviations on the way; Walnut Canyon NM, SW of Flagstaff, which is a deep cut, weaving limestone canyon. Softer layers of limestone eroded away to leave lots of horizontal ledges with huge overhangs that native tribes used to make homes by bricking in the fronts under the ready-made roofs. 

The houses date from, surprise, surprise, about 1200 and are probably as a result of the Sunset Crater volcano eruption, causing people to move here from other areas. Of equal interest were the host of volunteers working on repairing the track, breaking up limestone and lowering it down to workers constructing the track below.

Natural limestone overhangs used as roofs
Volunteers repairing the hiking trail round Walnut Canyon
The training Apollo command module at Meteor Crater
Hurriedly moving on we drove to the privately owned Meteor Crater, a massive hole in the ground in the flat Arizona plain caused by a meteorite crash 50,000 years ago. The crater is nearly a mile in diameter, nearly 3 miles in circumference, is 550ft deep and was caused by a meteorite calculated to have been about 150ft in diameter, weighing several hundred thousand pounds and containing enough iron to make 42,000 cars. It hit the earth at about 40,000 miles per hour or 11 miles per second, vapourising and smashing itself into small pieces that are either lodged deep under the impact site or scattered around the countryside. 
The Holsinger Meteorite
One piece, known as the Holsinger Meteorite weighs 1,400 pounds and was found half a mile away. Although there are other known meteor craters in the world this one remains the best preserved and first proven meteorite impact site on earth and helped develop an understanding of craters on the moon and on other planets, giving a greater understanding of the working of the solar system. It was used by the Apollo astronauts to train for the moon landings, as it was thought similar to craters that would be found on the moon. 

Me 'n' 'er at the crater
A training command module is on site here and apparently a moon rover vehicle was tested here along with jet packs. It is owned by the Barringer family and Daniel Barringer spent 26 years trying to find the giant iron meteor, that he believed was buried deep in the crater, not knowing that it had vapourised on impact. The family still own it and it is privately financed. It was a fascinating visit, well presented with a very informative visitor centre and the size is utterly awesome and thought provoking, I’m really pleased we went.

A photo of a photo of the crater from the air
And as we saw it from the rim
These telescopes are positioned to pick out various interesting things in the crater
This is the view through one marked '6' tall astronaut & 3' x 5' flag'. It's that tiny white are to the left of that telescope in the picture above
Not a picture but a window in the wall of the visitor centre showing the flat Arizona plain beyond the crater
One final visit on our way was to Winslow, Arizona, as we had to ‘stand on the corner of Winslow Arizona, taking it easy’ as in the line of the Eagles song of the 70’s:
Well, I'm a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see…….. Take It easy, take it easy
Well, we did stand on the corner, but in the rain. It was forecast and it did finally come, so we weren’t taking it easy, but taking a quick photo and then quickly back in the car!

No, it wasn't raining!
This was quite an interesting hotel Fred put us onto in Winslow. Bought by a couple as a semi ruin they converted it into a retro hotel
With a lovely feel to it inside. A reasonable price to stay as well at about $120/night
A section of Route 66 now gone, marked by this old car
We’re now in Holbrook at ‘Americas Best’ Motel which is not a bad place, but a bit old. It’s on that famous Route 66 which was one of the original highways in the US Highway System, linking Chicago to LA by following alongside the railroad. It opened in 1926 and became known as the ‘Mother Road’, becoming recognised in popular culture through the song ‘(Get your kicks on) Route 66’ originally recorder by Nat King Cole, then Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones amongst others. 
A big petrified tree
It now almost doesn’t exist, the Interstate I-40 two-lane Freeway replaced it, by-passing many of its famous cities, leaving only short sections of it that were mainly given new road numbers. Where sections remain they have taken on a cult status and towns such as Williams, Flagstaff, Holbrook and Winslow (the Eagles song in Winslow is on Route 66) positively thrive on the memory of the bygone age and people in these areas seem to pine after it with many memorabilia shops and carefully renovated buildings keeping the golden fifties spirit of the road alive. ‘Historic Route 66’ signs sit alongside the new road numbers and these places are a pleasure to visit and we’ve certainly got into the spirit of it, seeking out old sections of the road and parts that have been ploughed up, leaving only the shape in the land, but I can’t help feeling that it’s only got the aura because it no longer exists as a trunk road.

The trains by Route 66
Oh, I forgot to add that the various cities we’ve visited on the old Route 66 are, of course on the main railroad, still very much in use day and night. Wherever we’ve been the use of the train horn in towns has been liberal, even in the middle of the night. It’s not a jarring noise, actually quite comforting and reassuring, but in the middle of the night! I’ve just been reminded as one went passed as I typed!

Petrified logs in the NP
Today, Thursday, we’ve been out to Holbrook’s attraction, the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. A fabulous and fascinating day out and this place should not be missed on anyone’s visit itinerary to this part of the world.

They may look like wood, but they are stone - and very heavy!
The Petrified Forest is literally a forest of fallen trees about 225 million years old that have turned to stone. Most trees decay and disappear, but just occasionally trees are felled, maybe by a flood and washed downstream, where they become waterlogged and sink, to be covered by sediment. In the case of Arizona they were probably covered by a volcanic, silica rich lava that encased the trees, preventing them decaying. Over millions of years pressure forced the silica and other minerals into the logs, allowing crystals to grow, replacing the organic cells and turning them into rock that have taken the exact shape of the original. 
Fabulous colours
The different minerals produced a rainbow of colours through the log making them fabulous to look at and very sought after. The National Park covers less than 10% of the total forest and it is fiercely protected, but the remainder is exploited by local landowners who make furniture and jewellery from it, selling it for tens of thousands of dollars. It is fabulous to look at and is in absolute abundance. It’s possible to buy small chunks for a few dollars, but it is difficult to polish up, being stone, but once it has been, each piece is unique and an amazing array of colours and shapes. 

These are all rock logs just lying around, anyone of them worth many thousands of dollars
Here's one in a shop that's been polished up. Just fabulous colours!
The painted desert
In the National Park there are a huge quantity of logs just lying around or partially poking out from underground, that you can walk up to and touch. In the shops one TV sized log would sell for several thousand dollars, so the temptation to steal is high, but they are very heavy and your car is liable to be searched on leaving the park. When we consider that the park was exploited by looters for perhaps 50 years before they clamped down and there are still so many logs lying around, makes us realise just how many there must have been originally. 
Just amazing colours!
Not only are petrified logs present, but also many different fossils of plants and animals from the Triassic period, which is before the dinosaurs. The sediments that were laid down to encase the logs were deposited between 225 and 200 million years ago and are known as the Chinle Formation. The different minerals that were present as layers were formed have given layers of very different colours that today is known is the Painted Desert, named by the first Spanish explorers. Greens, blues, white, purple and orange perfect layers give a striking scenery and, coupled with chunks of petrified logs it looks an alien landscape.

It's like an alien landscape
But not as alien as this guy walking around!
Even more alien was the presence of the Google Street View man, marching around with his backpack on photographing the paved hiking trails. I can’t wait to see it and ourselves online!

Native American Petroglyphs in the NP
That’s it for us in Holbrook, tomorrow morning we head off up north to Colorado and Cortez, where we have a date with the ‘Four Corners’, Monument Valley and Mesa Verde, before coming back to Route 66 at Albuquerque. It’s going to remain a busy few weeks, lots to see and do….

One more picture of those amazing tree logs just lying around

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