Desert Palette and a Lonely Raven on Route 66

The Ultimate Summer Road Trip Day 3 (Late Afternoon to Evening)

Monday, July 26th

The first thing we see as we cross the border into Arizona is the Yellowhorse Trading Post. Occasionally on our trip, the Route 66 guide will advise us to keep an eye out for one attraction or another, and we will, yet we end up missing it just the same. “Hey! Did you ever see the so-and-so??” “Nope, and I was looking for it, too!” But this one? You just can’t miss this one. On this one, I will let the below photos speak for themselves…

Photo by author.

Photo by author.

Photo by author

See? Can’t miss it. We browsed, and purchased the most delicious little concoction here -Arizona Prickly Pear Cactus Candy! Candy made from the juice of the Prickly Pear cactus, who knew? Oh, it was yummy. I believe this was my third souvenir purchase. At Clines Corner in NM, I’d bought my mom a lovely windchime, and my daughter a small greenhouse “egg” that included several cactus seeds to plant.

Not long after crossing the Arizona border from New Mexico, we came to the Petrified Forest National Park. It was about 6:15 pm when we paid for our tickets at the hut stationed at one of the entrance/exits to the Park. The Park representative stationed at the hut inquired as to whether we had any petrified wood on our person? If we did, it had to be stamped upon entry (to insure that no one tries to take petrified wood out of the Park and then claim that they had it all along…) Having just arrived in Arizona, we had no such substance, so we were ushered through sans stamp.

One of the pamphlets we were given explained in no uncertain terms that the Park closed at 7pm and that by 6:45, all vehicles must be heading toward a Park exit. We resolved to be quick, as we didn’t want to be thrown out before we had seen everything. Of course, we had to stop when we came to the Painted Desert Inn.

Painted Desert Inn. Photo by author.

Built of petrified wood and other native stone, the Painted Desert Inn was built on a high point overlooking the Painted Desert in 1924.  Although it was an oasis, it was isolated. It had its own lighting plant for electricity. Water was hauled from the Puerco River, ten miles away. The Inn supplied Route 66 travelers with meals, souvenirs, and lodging. Due to World War II, it closed in 1942, reopened in 1947, and closed again in 1963. Narrowly escaping demolition in 1975, it was reopened in 1976 as the Petrified Forest National Park Bicentennial Travel Center and in1987, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Cactus outside the Painted Desert Inn. Photo by author.

Petrified Forest National Park is the only park in the National Park System containing a section of Historic Route 66. There is a portion of the actual old road, and stone guardrail, in the Park, and here sits a picturesque, rusty old automobile, as well as old telephone poles marking the path of the route. Amazingly enough, when we pulled over, also marking the spot was a black crow, or raven, contendedly strutting up and down the stone railing. He kindly posed long enough for me to get some very interesting shots…

Photo by author

Photo by author.

Photo by author.

Route 66 marker sign in the park

It’s easy to see on this drive why this area of Arizona is referred to as The Painted Desert. The palette of the desert is truly beautiful.

Photo by author.

Route 66 through the Painted Desert. Photo by author

By now it was past 7pm for sure, but we rationalized that we were, indeed, driving toward an exit. We just hadn’t reached it, yet. The stopping every 30 seconds probably had something to do with that… In any case, we quickly began to notice that no one else we were seeing in the park looked as if they were leaving anytime soon. Apparently, the must be driving toward an exit by 6:45pm instruction was more of a guideline than a firmly held rule.

Our next stop was at Agate Bridge, a 225 million year old petrified log that spans a sandstone wash. This one cracked me up. At some point in the 1940’s, preservationists got all excited about making absolutely sure that nothing happened to disturb this amazing, natural bridge. Concerned that it would fall, they poured a huge amount of concrete around it, for support. Um, yeah. It laid there, suspended in the air by nothing except its own self for millions of years. I kinda think it would have been okay without the crapload of concrete now surrounding it for maybe, oh, a million more.

Agate Bridge. Photo by author

At last, we reached the Petrified Forest. Now, going through the park you see about a billion signs that warn you of the absolute dire consequences that await he who should try to steal a piece of petrified wood from the park. Fines, lectures, the social stigma, the shame, prison!! And I get it, I do. Before the park was protected, the petrified wood was being carted off by the wagon load, it’s a miracle they have any left, really.

But just a teensy, tinsy, little itty, bitty shard??

Who’d miss it, right? Right?? Oh, how I wanted a little bitty piece to take back to the kiddos…

This desert landscape was once covered with petrified wood logs and trees

Petrified Wood. Photo by author

Photo by author

As we were driving toward the exit of the Petrified Forest National Park, I admit there was a smidgeon of a piece of petrified wood tucked way down deep and buried under the loads of crap that filled our Tahoe. My husband shooting me the occasional dark glance and muttering “I am not, I repeat, not going to prison for your little piece of rock!” But despite the billions of warning signs, I knew there was just no way anyone would ever know I had it! I knew, rationally, that there is no way the park service is manually searching all vehicles as they leave the park. I knew rationally that there is no such thing as a “petrified wood detector” that they can run over your vehicle. I also knew that the chances that anyone would even be posted at the hut at this time of night (by now it was full-on dark… so much for the exiting by 6:45pm thing) was nill! I knew these things rationally. And knowing them didn’t matter. As we approached the exit, we saw one last sign. This sign said VEHICLE INSPECTION STATION AHEAD.

Oh. My. God. A Vehicle Inspection Station?? Oh, God, I was going to prison! For the rest of my life probably, and I was going to take my poor, innocent husband with me! Oh, why did I have to be such a hardened criminal, why?!

“Pull over, pull over” I shrieked. (which made very little sense, as I was the one driving…)

“Well, that won’t be obvious!” snapped my husband.

“Pretend you’re taking a picture,” I sobbed “WORK WITH ME, HERE!”

My husband proceeded to randomly photograph nothing, while I rummaged frantically through the Tahoe, then strolled casually out into the painted desert. Reverently, I set the little sliver of petrified wood back into its natural habitat…. nah, that last bit was a lie. I chucked that sucker and sprinted back to the vehicle.

Like the criminal fugitives we now were, we drove reluctantly toward the vehicle inspection hut at the park exit. I could almost hear the handcuffs snapping closed on my wrists as we approached the hut window. And as we pulled even with it, we saw….

Absolutely no one.

Hut was closed. Hut was empty.

We drove out of the park and back onto the highway, and I mused aloud “Well played, National Park Sign Makers, well played! You devious, psychological geniuses!” I refused, however, to buy any petrified wood on the rest of the trip. They sell it all through Arizona, you know, always being sure to assert how it is petrified wood from private lands, not from the Park. Meh. It just wasn’t the same, somehow.

Narrowly having escaped a stint in Arizona prison, we came to Holbrook, AZ, our stop for the night. Of course we had our heart absolutely set on staying at the famed Wigwam Motel, but a word of advice to you -that place is booked full months in advance, something we hadn’t realized. It’s too bad, too, they only charge about $60 a night, which would be a frigg’n steal!

Wigwam Motel. Photo by author.

So, our answer to the question “Have you slept in a Wigwam, lately?” is still, regrettably, no.

Have you skept in a Wigwam, lately? Photo by author

Photo by author

A few blocks down the road, though, we came upon an obvious Route 66 era motel, currently called Brad’s Desert Inn. This place had been recently re-opened and was in the process of being restored. What is obvious is that most funds are currently going to restore the outside, and perhaps, oh, I’d guess nothing, is going toward the room interiors. Very cute on the outside, kinda scary on the inside. The price was way cheap, though, and we took it. The water was hot and as long as we used our own blankets, and did not ever touch the carpet with our bare feet -it was doable!

Photo by author.

Brad's Desert Inn. Photo by author.

Across the street, we spied Joe & Aggie’s Cafe, which looked like the perfect place for a spot of dinner. This cafe, as it turned out, was amazing, and I have much to say about it, but since we also had breakfast there the next morning, I am going to say it all in my next blog… Day 4 of the Ultimate Summer Road Trip.  🙂

Joe & Aggie's Cafe, Holbrook AZ. Photo by author.

more photos from this section of the trip at:


4 thoughts on “Desert Palette and a Lonely Raven on Route 66

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