From Mesa Verde National Park we drove across the incredible Colorado Plateau towards Humphreys Peak taking in some of the most spectacular desert sights in the world. The Colorado Plateau is a geophysical area basically centered on the ‘Four Corners Monument’ (the only place in the USA where 4 states meet) which also encompasses a place called Mexican Hat (see if you can see why), the Oljato-Monument Valley, Petrified Forest National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce National Park and Meteor Crater to name but a few.
From Mesa Verde we’d come across a small town called Mexican Hat, named after the reminants of a hard sandstone layer that is carefully balanced on the top of a ridge line, giving the appearance of a hat. Not far down the road is the world famous Monument Valley which was made famous by a number of movies, namely Stagecoach with John Wayne and Forest Gump, where he uttered the immortal words - “I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now”.
After having dinner in Monument Valley we drove four hours to our next National Park – Petrified Forest national Park. This is yet another mind boggling natural environment where 225 million years ago the now Petrified Forest used to be a flood plain at sea level where a large flood, or several floods, flattened the trees which were then buried by silt and later by layers of silica rich volcanic ash. Over time, this has led to the petrifaction of these logs – e.g. being turned into stone! Erosion has now revealed the highest concentration of these petrified logs in the world.
The National Park is also located within an area known as the ‘painted desert’ which includes areas known as ‘bad lands’ which are considered bad for agriculture, but great for intrepid travellers and taking photos. Within the area, and a personal favorite of mine, there are also a number of sites with petroglyphs left from the Native Indians about 800 years ago who inhabited this region for thousands of years.
From the Petrified Forest National Park we would head back towards Flagstaff, along the famous Route 66, to Meteor Crater. I have always wanted to visit Meteor Crater as it features in numerous documentaries about astronomy and planetary evolution seeing that it is the best preserved example on Earth of a meteorite crater. It was created some 50,000 years ago when a 45m diameter rock hit Earth at about 40,000km/hr, yet on an astronomical scale this is a relatively tiny pin prick. A fascinating visit if you can appreciate the sites importance in terms of the evolution of the Universe, Solar System and Earth.
A short 10km drive from Flagstaff is Arizona’s highest peak, and at 12,633’ (3,852m) it’s also higher than Mt Cook and Mt Fuji! Marcus (a travel buddy I was travelling with) and I decided we would climb it; four and a half hours later we had finished doing that (climb itself is 3,333 feet). It was windy and cold at the top, but that’s no surprise at that altitude.
Tomorrow we head to the Grand Canyon and Phoenix en route to Tucson to see the world’s largest storage area for military aircraft numbering some 4,500+ planes in the middle of the desert. We are assuming tomorrow will be the 27th consecutive fine day as we have not had any rain since starting our epic Coast to Coast adventure; you got to love the Western United States climate.