Through the Petrified Forest to New Mexico

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Most of the drive from Flagstaff to Tucumcari was along Interstate 40, which roughly follows Route 66, the now defunct, historic highway from Chicago to Los Angeles. Parts of Route 66 still exist as the business route through many communities along the way. The old Route 66 saw its heyday during the Depression, and through the 1940s and 1950s when it was a main route of migration to California. Some of the old 1950s motels and billboards still exist. The interstate though is just like any other interstate, but it passes through some nice desert scenery.

I took a detour to drive to the south end of Petrified Forest National Park and back to the interstate through the park. It’s not as spectacular a park scenically as some of the others, but the petrified remnants of trees, mostly lying on the ground, are quite amazing. As the name suggests, these are former trees from the dinosaur age that have turned to stone as a result of being covered in volcanic ash that then eroded away. The petrified wood is often many colors and very beautiful when smooth. The trees lie scattered over the ground, and in some places large trunks and small pieces both exist. Unfortunately, despite warnings and fines and possible jail, many people feel the need to pick up and steal the petrified wood. According to an orientation film I saw, people steal a ton of petrified wood from the park every month. In some of the more popular areas only the larger trunks still remain. When I drove out, I was asked if I picked up any wood, but was not subjected to any kind of search. I guess they do search some people, but obviously a lot get away with it. Needless to say, I respected the need to protect the park and took none. Outside the part, some stores sold petrified wood that’s supposedly harvested on private land, but I really have no need to own any. I took some photos though.

My only other side trip was to go up the Tijeras Canyon to the east of Albuquerque. I had stayed here a few days in 1971 in a hippie house while hitchhiking through. I was curious to see if the area was as beautiful as I remembered, and if I could find where I stayed. Obviously the area has been built up a lot more than it was when I visited some 38 years earlier, but it wasn’t changed as much as I expected, and the hills were still beautiful. I found the area where the house had been, and it’s now got some semi rural newer houses, but it hasn’t been completely ruined with development as I had feared.

I stayed the night at Tucumcari, whose name seems to be the epitome of the old Route 66 days. Remnants of the historic route are there, but it’s a modern American town like so many others.

As I ate in a fast food restaurant, a man came in and asked me: “Is this the right route to Ottawa?” I was kind of stunned, and asked him to repeat it as I wasn’t sure I had heard it right. It turned out he was from Ottawa, and had seen my Ontario plate and recognized the Bytek license plate holder as being from Ottawa, so he was messing with me. Small world though.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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