TUESDAY: It was like a scene out of a Science Fiction movie, the kind of big extravaganza
Ernie calls a Sci-Fi Eye Fry. We drove West on I-40 and saw the apocalyptic steam cloud frozen in the cold air over the energy plant outside Holbrook. There was actually nothing apocalyptic about it, but we were playing Mahavishnu's album, Apocalypse, on the car stereo, so we couldn't help confabulating a little bit. Besides, we knew we were on the way to a site that must have seemed like a little piece of the Apocalypse when it formed: Meteor Crater.
Every time I’ve been on I-40, my traveling companions haven’t wanted to see Meteor Crater, voting me down. This time it was just Ernie and me, and we were in accord. About 50,000 years ago, a big iron meteor slammed into the sedimentary rocks of the floodplain/ancient ocean in Northeast Arizona and made a fascinating crater. A big trailing chunk that probably broke off when the meteor impacted the atmosphere was found in Canyon Diablo (the Devil’s Canyon we passed through on our first day?) and is on display in the Visitor’s Center. It’s a roughly egg-shaped chunk of 97% iron, maybe 2 1/2 feet from end to end, and weighs almost 1500 lbs.
I want it.
Since it was January, we couldn't take the hike all the way around the rim, due to snow and ice -- Alas! But we were able to hike about 1/10th of the way around, still a good distance, which gives you some idea how big the crater is. Its big enough that it can actually fool you in terms of how deep it is. You have to look at the postage-stamp-sized fenced area in the middle of the bottom, where the original drilling site is. Daniel Barringer owned the mining rights -- never found the iron he thought must be buried beneath the surface, but the Barringer family have acted as stewards of the site ever since.
We were told geologists are allowed into the crater. Another good reason to be certified as one of those creatures. I took lots of pictures and vowed to return.
There were three places I had never been prior to this trip: Meteor Crater and Sunset Crater were fascinating, but the place that captured my heart was Walnut Canyon -- and we almost didn’t go there!
We were planning to drive straight to Flagstaff, but when I saw the sign for Walnut Canyon, I said, “What the heck, you want to see it?” and Ernie said “Why not?” It’s one of those whimsical decisions that turns out to be good fortune. The canyon is close to Flagstaff, it's a hidden treasure that you find at the end of a little forest road. There, you can see the edge of the extensive sedimentary strata in this part of Arizona. The Canyon is layered (from bottom to top) in cross-bedded sandstone (Toroweap/Coconino) that used to be sand dunes next to an ancient seashore, weathered by wind into rounded shapes with swirling lines, topped by layers of Kaibab limestone from when the sea extended farther inland. The creek has worn the canyon down several hundred feet, and the water carved natural caves into the limestone, so it made a good place for cave dwellings.
Walnut Canyon is a little paradise whose South-facing wall is warm in the winter, and where you can find junipers, ponderosas, and desert plants (including cactus) living side-by-side. The canyon is still visited by descendants of the people who used to live there, for festivals and religious observances.
We we bundled up for the 45 degree weather when we started down, but it felt like spring on most of the trail, thanks to the direct sunlight.
We decided to drive to Sunset Crater because it was also close and it was only about 3:00 p.m. We took the Lava Field trail and were astonished -- lava that’s only about 1000 years old! It’s a massive flow of wild shapes, and the contrast with the snow is interesting. The volcanic cone sits above, partially collapsed, its ashy side still too sterile for most plants.
We got lost on Historic Route 66, in Flagstaff, trying to find our hotel. But finally we stopped and begged for enlightenment, and got back on track. Ate good comfort food at the Galaxy Diner, and went back to the hotel to decompress (in pajamas).
WEDNESDAY: If you want to Find Flagstaff, look for the volcanoes. But without Highways 89, 180, and 64, and the National Park Service, you wouldn’t find the Grand Canyon until you fell into it.
It’s a lot more obvious on the Eastern end, where the big trees peter out and you can see the distant edge of Vermilion Cliffs. If you drove farther North on Highway 89, you would eventually cross the bridge that spans the Colorado River -- at that point, the canyon is more of a gorge.
The Grand Canyon is so amazing, it should be seen several times. Especially since the first time you see it, it’s kind of scary. I was about 8 years old when my mother and my Great Aunt Hazel took us to see the canyon. I was totally unprepared for it. That’s how I found out I was afraid of heights.
But 11 years later, I went to see it again. I actually felt drawn by it. On a whim, my boyfriend and I drove there overnight, in a 1962 Dodge Dart with a push-button transmission and no back seat. We found out you can’t get a room in a hotel near the Grand Canyon unless you make the reservation months in advance. So we slept in the car.
This time was the third time I visited the Grand Canyon, and this time a passion for geology drew me. I felt nervous on icy edges, but I sidled up to the railing and took dozens of pictures. I looked at those incomparable vistas and couldn’t get enough of them. Some day I’ll hike one of the trails in. I’d like to journey down the river too.
The weather has stayed perfect. The gods of geology are smiling upon us . . .
THURSDAY: After shopping in the Historic District in Flagstaff, we left the land of lava for the land of sedimentary rock -- Oak Creek Canyon. The last time Ernie and I were here was on our first Honeymoon, 20 years ago. That time flew by while we worked hard and barely kept our heads above water. Now we’re caught up, paid off, and ready to shift gears. This time, we hiked in two spots off Highway 89A, one in the Northern part of the canyon, and good ol‘ Slide Rock.
is going to require it’s own blog entry.
Wonderful stuff, Em!! And great photos, too. KABLAM!, indeed.ReplyDelete
On cool mornings, a triple-plume of steam rises from the cooling towers of the Palo Verde Nuke plant, sw of Phoenix. Sometimes they are the only "clouds" in a blue topaz sky.ReplyDelete