As we get back to Route 66 I’m still reveling and ruminating on all that I’d seen at La Posada, while Larry has discovered there are at least 3 “RV Parks” on the internet listed for Winslow. Two are right in town, so we drive past to check them out. One looks like someone neglected to take down the Google advert after they went defunct, and the other…well let’s just say it looked like whomever stays there might be paying by the hour!
Quite willingly, we drive a mile or so out of town to the Homolovi (pronounced Hoe-MOL-o-vee) Ruins State Park. It’s late because Larry nearly had to throw me over his shoulder and carry me out of La Posada, but we still get a nice spot.
“Drive on through and pick your spot,” the host tells us, “and I’ll be around to collect your fee.”
I guesstimate that the park is only (perhaps) 50% full, and we easily find a spot with a few spaces on either side. There are full hook-ups with 50 amp service, so that means we can use both ACs; a blessing because it’s pretty warm on this high desert campground, although it cools off some at night. The park is quiet, and the view fairly stark for someone used to lots of greenery, but desert dwellers, most likely, love it. As for us, we appreciate both kinds of terrain, plus, this is a great jumping-off place to wait for the visitor’s center to open the next morning at the pre-historic Hopi ruins.
As a born and raised Michigander, I’d never seen a petroglyph or anything pre-historic, so I sort of obsessed on visiting some on our first 1974 visit to Arizona. Since we moved here, however, I’ve visited many – both in the wild and on state developed sites. Whether I’m with a group or just my husband, I’m almost always the last one to leave a park’s visitor’s center, because I try to read every word on the displays. This center is not very large, but it has enough artifacts and information to keep me engrossed for at least an hour.
The main archaeological site is a mile further down a dirt road and then a short walk. Larry’s not thrilled with driving LaRue on a dirt road, and I opt out of the walk because of my knee, but the center and re-created pueblo out back are definitely worth perusing. We’ll come back to explore more thoroughly when we have our truck. In fact, there are 7 ancestral Hopi pueblos in the area, inhabited from 1260-1400 A.D., according to park information. Only 4 have been excavated.
We stand out back of the center and contemplate the vast expanse before us; nothing more exciting than a sea of sage, rocks and the occasional bulge of rocks and sand. Way in the distance, I spot an excavated Homolovi pueblo site. What today looks dry and uninhabitable was once a fertile floodplain of the Little Colorado River.
Prehistoric peoples knew how to read the river, just how far it would flood each year, and planted accordingly. Early Mormon settlers, not so much. These white pioneers lasted a mere 4 years before tiring of the relentless floods and moved on. The ancients raised corn for food and the extremely valuable cotton crop for clothing, ceremonial attire and burial shrouds. Silly me, I’d always thought of cotton as a European white man’s crop they’d introduced to the Southwest, yet Natives had it here way before then. In truth, Arizona is full of these kinds of ancient sites, as is the whole Southwest, and they’re a fascinating visit for a history buff.
As one of the state’s premier recreation areas, Northeastern Arizona offers lakes and rivers for boating, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing; mountains to climb and ski; forests and deserts for camping, hiking and biking; historical sites to explore; unusual, incomparable landscapes and sunsets to photograph; trophy animals to hunt; dude ranches that help perfect one’s cowboy skills – in other words, just about any outdoor activity in which the visitor or native wants to indulge.
We backtrack a bit from pre-historic Homolovi to visit the home of a space visitor – Meteor Crater. Technically, this would not have been one of the attractions during the Route 66 heyday, but it’s one of the few along this stretch, so we stop.
When its original purchase as a potential iron ore mine site, didn’t pan out, another group leased the 550’ deep hole and decided it was more lucrative to mine the “new” Mother Road, I-40. That’s a gross oversimplification for all the geological work and discovery done here, but, in the end, they were right. We each had to plunk down 18 smack-a-roos! Multiply that by the approximately 200 people in residence just while we were there, plus everyone else that came through that day, and then again by 364 days (they’re closed Christmas)…well, you get the picture. OK, they do give discounts for Seniors, military and young children. I love private enterprise and don’t begrudge anyone a profit, but this did seem excessive for what we experienced: Impressive facilities, an interesting 30 minute film, huge chunks of meteorite on display, and looking at a gigantic (a mile across), but weird hole in the ground about covers it. Granted, this is where the Apollo astronauts practiced for their moon walk, but once I see what a several thousand ton meteor traveling 40,000 MPH does when it hits the earth, I don’t need to see it again. So OK, I admit it…I’m a stick-in-the-mud!
Anybody who’s traveled Route 66 knows that one could literally spend several months checking out EVERYTHING, so we all make choices, vowing to come back another time. Once on the Mother Road is definitely not enough! We have friends in Michigan who’ve traveled it twice and are considering a third trip. It’s the same for us, we have to pick and choose.
Because it’s getting later in the day, we take a quick exit to see and photograph the famous Twin Arrows, then speed past Canyon Diablo, Two Guns, Jack Rabbit Trading Post, Geronimo’s Trading Post and on into Holbrook. The famous Wigwam motel there is a “must-see and photograph” iconic kind of place, and it’s still open for guests. This is one of 3 original Wigwam Motels on 66. One, in California, has been bulldozed and the other is still open in San Bernardino/Rialto. I’d heard that it had deteriorated significantly, but apparently, someone revived it because Trip Advisor gives it 4.5 stars.
We don’t stay there long, it’s hot, well past noon and I need a boost. COFFEE! Gotta have COFFEE, so I persuade Larry to drop me off at a local coffee shop while he goes in search of a hardware store to buy a part for repairing a broken latch on the cargo bin. I always say I want coffee, but, as usual, I end up with an iced Chai Tea Latte. I also want time to chat with a few local ladies I had noticed through the front window, lounging at a table. I get my tea and sit down for a few minutes to sip my Chai, shoot the breeze and ask them if there’s a park with shade where we can repair the bin.
“Oh sure,” one older lady tells me, “we have a really nice one just a ways East on old 66 – that’s Main Street – and you can’t miss it.” That’s followed with an intense discussion on whether there are enough trees to provide shade.
They’re small town-friendly, helpful, and we trade stories about Route 66 and motor homing. To the outsider, Holbrook looks like it has known far better days (and it has), but it’s their home, and they’re proud of the way the community sticks together, especially since Route 66 died. Even so, I doubt any of them would, willingly, trade this place for a home in a Phoenix suburb. The Chai is excellent and I compliment the 30ish Barista behind the cash register. She actually blushes, thanks me and welcomes me back “any time.”
Twenty minutes later, I see Larry pull up and order a frozen caramel mocha to take with him. Kitty-cornered across the street, I notice a huge fenced-in yard full of petrified wood, all sizes. I know picking up these ancient artifacts without a permit is illegal, so I’m amazed at the size of this place. Note to self…another place to visit on trip #2.
The park is as pleasant and shaded as they say, the bin gets fixed, I get a short nap and we’re on our way again. Next stop, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest! In 1986, we had driven our Ryder Truck through here on our move to Phoenix, but, with a truck full of all our earthly possessions and one pre- and 2 teenagers rolling their eyeballs at having to “stop for Mom again!”, that’s about all we did – drive through. It only took us 30 years to get back here.
Painted Desert seems too simplistic a name, but, then again, how do you pack a description of its improbable color palette and striped hills into just one moniker? I could well believe that for, maybe, one hour’s pause in His creative work – after forming all those majestic Rocky Mountains, and pushing up seashores to contain the oceans, smoothing out the plains and drawing a line down the middle of the country and filling it with gobs of Mississippi River water, God just decided He need to have some fun. Perhaps He’d said, “I’ll give the humans something to study and discuss and enjoy for all Eternity!” And then He took out his cosmic paint brush and went to play. Maybe it went like this…
“Hmmm…I think these hills look like they could use a few tips of white…color in a bit of mauve, a dash of terra cotta…a fun dollop of orange…Oh wait…This bunch of mounds just begs for a wide band of pinkish-white…Above that I’ll add a stripe of grey…then slosh on a deep ginger to cap them off…just a minute…feather in some green! Add tufts of grass around the edges…WAIT! Here’s the best idea yet…Let’s make these little mountains blue…and just for fun, I’ll add a deep brown stripe at the top…I like stripes…enhance them with a little line of black, then white…some different shadows of blue…then brush in couple stripes of gray here at the bottom! Now…for some snow white hills…throw on dabs of orange here and there…Riverbeds are usually such a boring brown, I’ll make this one WHITE! There, isn’t that beautiful?! No wait! Let’s paint this forest all the colors of the rainbow….”
Of course we humans have a whole different scientific explanation that includes sediment, mud, volcanic ash, erosion, lots of water, wind, and millions of years, but I like mine better. I doubt any artist could adequately capture the infinite shades and variation in color. Couple that with 2 million year old stone logs and chunks of rock hard wood thrown hither and yon, sticking out of cliffs and resting on ledges, showing off variants of brown, purple, lavender, pink, ochre, red, orange, and black, and you have a colorful spectacle unlike anything else in the world. In other words, you could easily spend several days here, at least, and overheat your camera shutter trying to record it all. We’ve only had a few hours and sun is setting, so this place, too, goes on our “come-again” list.
If we were picky purists about traveling every original inch of America’s Main Street, there are some other places we could get off and drive, but really, the Road pretty much followed I-40, at this point, and we’re nearly to the border. We’ve spent so many days re-exploring Arizona, our daughter, in Michigan, figures we’ll get to her place about Christmas. Time to leave the state we know so well and get into uncharted territory! New Mexico, here we come!
To See More of our photos of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest click on this link.