Leaving Texas to the East, glinting in the early-morning sun, my Harley and I crossed the state border into New Mexico, she of Gary Johnson fame.
Route 66, as an icon of the automotive world, is littered with museums flaunting the riches of American vehicular history. En route to the Blue Pool at Santa Rosa – a natural sinkhole where people are able to take inland diving classes, I stopped off at one such place to admire its exhibits whilst sipping my morning coffee.
And so onwards to the Blue Pool. It’s really no more than a 20min stop-off unless you plan to take a diving lesson, however, its sheer randomness makes it worth a visit. I parked the bike, changed swiftly into my board shorts, dived in, gasped at the cold water, swam to the edge, got out, changed back and rode away again, my boardies drying on the back of the bike. A box checked, an oddity observed.
I was making excellent time on my trip and decided some more relaxation was in order. It was a Sunday so, on reaching Albuquerque, I checked into a hotel then headed to the nearest sports bar to watch NFL with the locals. Whilst chatting to a chap at the bar, the topic of golf came up and he told me that it would be a sin to leave the state without playing a round at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club.
There are a number of sins I’m quite happy to commit without fear for my immortal soul; not playing Paa-Ko Ridge, however, was not a transgression I was willing to risk. With this in mind, I got up early on Monday and rode into the red hills of New Mexico in search of the course.
I took a few practice swings in the range and then headed to the first tee where 3 players were teeing off. As they were one short of a standard 4-ball, I introduced myself and joined them for the round. I played like lightning. Not quickly, I just never struck in the same way twice. The beauty of the course was breathtaking so I wasn’t complaining.
The remainder of my journey through New Mexico was quite stunning: the soil and surrounding rocks are of a deep ochre colour and the prairies that stretch out for miles on end, scattered with shrubs and scree have their own form of desolate beauty.
I stayed overnight in Gallup, NM, before crossing into Arizona. It is at this point I will pin my colours to the mast and declare that Arizona was probably my favourite state of all. From deserts and plains to pine forests and mountains, from craters to canyons and rocky passes: it is a feast of the fabulous, a glut of gorgeousness.
Several miles into Arizona I happened upon a sign for the Petrified Forest National Park. Intrigued as to why these trees were so scared, I decided to investigate.
Geologically speaking, this part of the Arizona plain used to be full of rivers and alluvial deposits. Some trees that had fallen into rivers and surrounding mud were buried so quickly they avoided decomposition and, as the sedimentary layer solidified over time, petrified fossils were formed. Subsequent erosion has since exposed them in the form we see today. (Kind of reminds me of that Jennifer Aniston shampoo ad: “Here’s the science bit – concentrate!”)
I began my drive through the park with several views out over the painted desert, so-called because its strata produce a kind of rainbow effect. Other impressive views included the “teepees” and the old fort.
And, just in case you thought I’d forgotten, some petrified wood:
So, pop quiz: what do you do to authenticate your travel through a state with significant native American presence and influence? Well, you find a concrete teepee to spend the night in, if course! Please don’t judge me, but I really loved this experience; so much so that I repeated it later in the trip.
I was staying at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, about a couple of hours ride East of Flagstaff. The name is a misnomer as the structures are definitely teepee-shaped, but we won’t argue.
Holbrook is a small town with little in the way of evening entertainment, however, I did notice an old cinema en route to the motel. I paid $5 to a lady in a booth who just waved me in without issuing a ticket. I loaded up on popcorn and watched the Magnificent Seven among an audience upon whose ancestors the characters could conceivably have been based!
Morning dawned and I sprang out of bed with intent/within tent (pauses for dad joke groans).
My plan for the day was to reach Flagstaff and from there head to the Grand Canyon as a deviation from my route. In the words of poet, Robert Burns, however, “The best laid plans of mice and men are often derailed by meteor craters” (he changed it later to “oft gang awry”).
And so it was.
Passing a sign for the world’s best preserved meteor impact site aroused my curiosity and I took the turn to investigate.
At over a mile wide, the crater is hugely impressive. So is the fact that, at its impact velocity, the meteor was travelling so fast it could have gone from Paris to New York in 5 minutes!
The fact that all the surrounding area was flat as a pancake made the steep walls of rock and earth created by the impact all the more…… impactful.
After some exploration of the facts, exhibits and a short film on meteors, I set a course for the Grand Canyon. Which I shall describe in the next episode.