Unexpected Arizona

I thought Arizona would be flat, and mostly brown.

I was wrong.

We woke up early to begin the long drive to Tucson from Holbrook. I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I thought the landscape wouldn’t be very interesting.

Around an hour into the drive is when we learned that Arizona has mountains. Really tall mountains.

The mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway seemed like little hills in comparison.

We drove up and down these huge mountains.  Through the snowstorm at the top, then back down to calmer weather and then back up again into the snow.

It definitely was not the boring drive I was afraid of.

The First Time I Saw the Desert

I’d never seen the desert before, but I’ve always wanted to.  It seemed like such an intriguing  landscape, so different from the dense green rolling hills I was used to. Where palm trees weren’t a strange sight, and cactuses grew naturally.

One day I discovered some cheap flights to Las Vegas, and suddenly a week long desert adventure was being dreamed up. Five hours to the other side of the country was the longest I had ever spent in a plane. I loved every minute of it; seeing the landscape change before my eyes.

 In the rental car we explored the desert world for the first time. The land was so flat, with no tall trees, you could almost see straight across to the other side of the city.  Mountains stood tall in the distance, surrounding Las Vegas like a wall.

I stared along the palm tree lined streets, having never seen more than a few palm trees before.

I continued to stare out the car window as we passed all the famous casinos.  Strange to see them all in person. Only ever seeing them in movies, it almost felt like they didn’t actually exist.

Nestled around the shiny sparkling casinos, run down motels and other attractions lay as ruins, providing quite a big contrast.

Even the houses matched the desert color theme.

The seven days in the desert were off to a good start.

There are Dinosaurs in Holbrook

The little, almost ghost town, of Holbrook is off of the old route 66 in Arizona. We spent the night there in the Wigwams Motel and had fun exploring this old retro town on a cold and windy winter afternoon. 
I was surprised, and overjoyed to discover all of the dinosaur statues that are just hanging out around town. They are the perfect addition to a town that looks like it’s straight out of the 1960s.
 
Many of the dinosaur statues live at the Rainbow Rock Shop and were apparently built by the owners of the shop over the course of 20 years.  The other statues once were part of a museum and got relocated to different places in town when the museum closed many years ago.
 
Holbrook is very close to the Petrified Forest, where many actual fossils and dinosaur bones have been found, so these statues are a reminder of the giant beasts that once roamed these lands.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Holbrook was a fun little town to explore, with all its roadside dinosaurs!

Just Off the Desert Road

Just a few turns off the interstate, in the vast open desert, abandoned towns and buildings sit.

Free to explore, there are no fences or barriers.  No one else is even in sight.

The sun was setting over this forgotten little campground. A place where people probably spent many fun summer vacations, now overgrown on a cold day in early March.

There are so many little things to discover in the desert, just off the interstate.

The Trail to Oatman

The last day in the desert led us to the little town of Oatman, which is nestled high up in the mountains between Arizona and California. I didn’t realize the drive to get there would be so scenic.
We left the red rocky landscape behind us and headed towards these jagged rocky ridges. We had to stop every few minutes to get out and take in the views.
I could have spent a long time wandering around and discovering strange desert things.  Like this interesting desert shrine.  Or that forgotten car.
But our flight home was that evening so we had to hurry back to Las Vegas.

This part of Arizona made me want to visit California even more than ever.  Maybe because we were so close, it was just beyond this mountain ridge!  The landscape in this part of the country is so dramatic.

The town of Oatman is home to a bunch of friendly Burros.  As we got close to the town, Burros started to appear along the hills. I couldn’t wait to get to the town to see even more!

Chloride Ghost Town

In north western Arizona, about an hour and a half outside of Las Vegas, is the little almost forgotten town of Chloride.

Chloride was once a busy mining town with over 5000 residents, but over the years that number steadily declined to around just a few hundred and Chloride was on it’s way to becoming a ghost town. For whatever reason though, this town was never completely abandoned and still has a couple stores, a restaurant and a motel.

It’s a picturesque dusty little town, full of eclectic desert character. We stopped at the general store for some snacks to fuel us on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Chloride was a fun place to stop.  I’d love to spend more time there exploring one day.

A Desert Painted

Parts of northern Arizona had reminded me of what Mars might look like.  But upon entering the Petrified Forest and seeing the Painted Desert, this area really looked like we had just been transported over to the red planet.

The bright sun gave a false impression of a warm day. The air was cold, and the zero humidity made it even colder.  The wind was unreal. Pulling the breath out of your lungs and not giving it back. It certainly felt like another planet.

I wanted to hike down the trails, and be immersed in the strange landscape, but the elements seemed too rough. So we just drove along the road, rarely passing another car.  Stopping at the overlooks, mostly alone on this strange red part of our planet.

I’ll never forget how weird the desert looked.

Two Guns Ghost Town

Just off of interstate 40, formally the old route 66, is Two Guns Ghost Town.
The land where this ghost town now sits, holds many stories.
A group of Native Americans were killed by an enemy tribe that set fire to a cave where they were hidden.  After that tragic event, the area is now known as the Apache Death Cave. Years later the beginnings of a settlement started to appear as construction began on a railroad and bridges over the Canyon Diablo where the Apache Death Cave was. But this new settlement was a town of outlaws and bandits. Reportedly a group of men once robbed a train, stealing close to $200,000 and then buried it somewhere near the canyon rim.  It has never been found.
Eventually a man named Harry Miller, who referred to himself as Crazy Chief Thunder, began the major construction of a town he wanted to call Two Guns.
The town included a small zoo with mountain lions, snakes, and other interesting creatures. He also apparently sold the skeletal remains of the Native Americans who died in the cave nearby.
Crazy Chief Thunder skipped town eventually after shooting a guy to death with whom he’d had a disagreement.  The man’s widow kept the town going and opened a gas station, tourist store and campground. Unfortunately the gas station burned down in the 70s, and Two Guns slowly declined into a ghost town.
Now it sits, right next to the interstate, just some lonely graffiti covered buildings in the middle of the empty desert.
The setting sun was casting extreme shadows over the crumbling buildings as we arrived at the ghost town one chilly February day. The wind was tearing across the flat open land. No one else was around.
The desert is such a strange and mysterious place.

Just (2000 Miles) Down the Road

The interstate in my backyard, if followed long enough, will eventually lead to the small town of Holbrook Arizona.
It’s a little town that the old route 66 used to run right through until it got bypassed in recent years by the construction of big interstate 40. Holbrook also inspired the little desert town in the movie Cars.
The people behind the scenes of the movie Cars apparently spent some time in this cafe, planning out the movie.
(For some reason we didn’t eat there?!!)
We rolled into the town of Holbrook on a chilly late February afternoon, after spending the day wandering through the Petrified Forest. Old neon signs lined the streets, and big dinosaur statues guarded the many little gift shops scattered around.  I wanted to walk around and explore the shops, but it seemed everything was closed. There was nobody around, except for a random car passing by here and there. With the cold wind blowing through, Holbrook felt like a bit of a ghost town. Or at least on its way to becoming a ghost town.
I dreamed of what it might be like, in the hot summer weather, and what it had been like many many years ago.
I still find it amusing, when I listen to the cars on the interstate behind my house, that this little town lies way down the road. And then I dream of racing off, back to the desert.  It’s just 2000 miles down the road!

 

 

Driving on Mars

During the dive away from the Grand Canyon, towards northern Arizona, the landscape grew more and more like nothing I had ever seen.
Around every curve was an entire new world. It was a valley, with sharp red cliffs rising up to the sky.  Then around just another curve, the road was on the top of a mountain, looking out over a flat golden plateau. Snow capped mountains stood in the distance.
It felt like another planet. Like Mars.
Every so often was a house, or a trailer, or what could be considered a minuscule town. But mostly, there was no sign of civilization.
The farther the drive, the more alien the landscape looked. Eventually the curvy desert roads led to this bridge. Red mountains surrounded the area, while the bright blue Colorado river flowed beneath the bridge, heading towards the Grand Canyon.
The goal was to reach Monument Valley by dusk, so not much time could be spent in this foreign place. But it stands out in my mind as one of my favorite areas of Arizona.
I hope to one day return.