Petrified Forest National Park/Monument Valley/Flagstaff/Grand Canyon/Sedona/Phoenix, Arizona. [May 2017]
Day 1. “Ya’ll are going there tonight?” Said the incredulous park ranger at Petrified Forest National Park when we asked for directions to Monument Valley. Little did he know we had already driven 200 miles that morning to reach his park station from Phoenix, where we just flew in from JFK/LAX the midnight before. Then he, reluctantly, went on to show us the best way through “Indian country” while recommending several hotels along the way.
We, of course, were not even 1/3 of the way through our 700-mile day 1 itinerary through Arizona’s vast desert landscape. Is it a bit nutty to try to hit 4 of Arizona’s gems in 1 Memorial Day Weekend? Perhaps. But armed with a GMC Yukon XL (a car Hertz classifies between “full SUV” and “tank”) and a Summer 2017 Spotify playlist that spans from Beach Boys to Despacito, we were feeling a bit audacious and invincible.
The petrified logs scattered across the relatively small Petrified Forest National Park were something special to behold (we literally held them in our hands, perhaps against the rules). Unlike any other US National Park I’ve been to, the attractions here are micro rather than macro. That contrasted nicely against Monument Valley, deep in Navajo territory, where the three signature buttes – Good, Bad, and Ugly, I dubbed them – define the otherworldly landscape, seducing the eyes with tantalizing colors and hues as the sun slants its final lights of the day upon them.
Exhausted, we drove the final 200 or so miles back to Flagstaff and promptly passed out (maybe the nasty dinner at Sonic had something more than low-grade chicken in it).
Day 2. We awaken early at 6:30AM, regrettably forgoing a plump all-inclusive breakfast buffet, to race to the gates of Grand Canyon South Rim at 8:30AM. We beat the crowds and get in without a wait, even managing to find parking not too far from Bright Angel trail-head. This trip is sailing along smoothly! (words soon to be regretted). A swift descent and admittedly much more difficult ascent afforded us impeccable views of the Canyon – truly impossibly large and majestic.
Racing out of the park towards Sedona, we notice our (surprisingly fuel efficient) Yukon XL’s fuel was running on the low side. We pass a Shell gas station with cutthroat prices – $2.69/gallon, 30c higher than the other stations in Flagstaff! No, we decide on principle, we shall wait for a more reasonable station to quench XL’s thirst.
The thirst was still manageable with 1/8 the tank left as we left the Interstate onto Route 89A, a route that shall live on in infamy. The next 22 miles of driving – through a winding canyon that can rival any dyslexic kid’s Roller Coaster Tycoon creation, at no more than 10 MPH with rarely any shoulders to pull over onto – was a death knell for the fuel gauge which promptly plummeted towards “Dangerously Low”. Alas, we make it through 20.5 miles. I glide on Neutral. We are about to make it, boys!
That was not to be as we ran into what Google claimed to be a 30-minute 1-mile traffic jam. We had to call in reinforcements. 45 minutes later, Dean, an angelic resident and tow-truck operator from Sedona, drove up to the shoulder and delivered us 3 gallons of gasoline. That was the best $25/gallon I have ever spent in my life. Lesson learned.
This was, of course, not enough to dampen our spirits, as we checked in to the gorgeous Amara Kimpton resort, grabbed a fantastic French dinner at Rene, and drove uphill to Airport Mesa to catch the incredible multi-colored sunset. Later at night we would venture out of downtown (which shuts down rather early) towards Chapel of the Holy Cross, where the total immersion of darkness allowed for some beautiful night sky photography and light-painting.
Day 3. We waste away in the eucalyptus spa at Amara before driving back to Phoenix, wasting sometime at Dave & Buster (we suck at skeeball), and finally onto Sky Harbor for the dreaded red-eye back to New York before a full day of work.
Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all. Let it cling on to your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you, and let it devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.”
-Falsely yours, Henry Charles Bukowski