I love New Mexico.
After spending two days here, I can say this with certainty. Nevermind the altitude; I can get used to it (everyone tells me it only takes a couple of weeks). This state is amazing. I can't believe it wasn't admitted to the Union until 1912. Of course, this means that the city of Santa Fe is getting ready for the State's Centennial celebration next year.
Oh yeah, Santa Fe. The capital of the State and one of the oldest cities in North America...founded in 1610. Yes, 1610, that's ten years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It's home to the oldest church in America, and the oldest continually-used public building in America. There's also some really cool museums...like the New Mexico Museum of History and the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Ok, ok, this post is not just to promote Santa Fe. And I've missed a couple days of describing my adventures.
I spent my first night on the road in Flagstaff, AZ. My impression of the city: Dark. As in, no streetlights. No lighted store signs. No lighted parking lots. Kind of a scary place to be driving at night, if you ask me.
However, the next morning I drove up to Wupatki National Monument and walked around the ruins, which were pretty cool. The walk was pretty easy and the photos I took were fantastic.
Then I drove over to Sunset Crater National Monument. To get there, I had to drive 20 miles through the Poconino National Forest. When I saw a sign for a Painted Desert Vista/picnic area, I pulled over to snap some pictures. The problem here is that the Painted Desert is huge, beautiful, and just doesn't translate into film very well. Not the full picture, anyway. It's something that really has to be experienced for yourself.
Anyway, at the vista I met a woman who was also traveling on her own, seeing the USA from coast to coast. We compared notes about the monuments (she was headed from Sunset Crater to Wupatki).
Sunset Crater was something I wanted to see because it's the youngest volcano in the San Francisco Volcano Field. Unfortunately, when I found the mountain itself, I found this:
From there I drove to Walnut Canyon and explored the ancient cliff dwellings, which was totally worthwhile but be warned: you climb down over 200 stairs, which means that at some point you have have to climb back up.
I also drove through Petrified Forest...which reminded me a little of visiting Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain National Parks. How? Well, you know how in Yellowstone, if someone sees a bison or elk, they pull over, and then three more cars pull over and suddenly you have 20 tourists staring off at a distant spot on a hillside? In Petrified Forest, the trigger is a fossilized tree from the Triassic period. I wish I were kidding; it's kind of embarrassing to see a dozen grown men and women stand around and stare in awe at piece of dead tree #352. At least bison move around.
Of course, the Northern end of the park overlooks more of the Painted Desert, which is breathtakingly beautiful. It was also where I very nearly got plowed over by a giant crow trying to land. (Sorry, Barb, but at that moment I actually was glad you weren't there.)
I probably could have stayed the night in Holbrook, AZ, and seen El Morrow and El Malpais monuments the next day, but Holbrook felt a bit sketchy to me so I just drove all the way to Albuquerque.
For those of you who haven't had the aggravation of navigating Albuquerque's freeway system, I'll spare you the details and simply say "Nightmare."
Petroglyph National Monument is pretty cool, though, especially if you like prehistoric graffiti art. And the view from Sundias Peak is worth the cost of the tram ticket. & when I got to the top, there was a really cool couple from Minneapolis who took my picture for me.
I moved on to Santa Fe...and I can't praise this city enough. It's awesome.
Oh, and that cool couple from MN? Ran into them at Starbucks in Old Town this afternoon. We compared notes on museums & scenic routes. Traveling is AWESOME.