Go West Old Men: A Travel Memoir. Part 10

The Painted Desert

This is Part 10 of the story, follow these links to see Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

We got some kicks on Route 66.

In Just 17 Days, I Can Make You A Man

Dr. Frank. N. Furter, paraphrased.

I am not a camper. But I played one for two weeks.

We got up early with our plans to hit the canyon and set up camp before nightfall.

Those were the plans anyway.

At the Albuquerque Walmart we shopped for bottled water, Gatorade, and a few more staples for cooking at the campsite. Then we were back on the road heading west.

Throughout the planning process, we agreed that we would be flexible in terms of scheduling, and we’d be flexible in things we wanted to see. That way if we realized we were close to something worth checking out, we’d do it. That’s how we ended up in the Painted Desert. Traveling along Route 66, we agreed that we should stop.

In the 1540s Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado called the multi-hued expanse of pigmented rock “El Desierto Pintado.” Today, when you travel along 1-40 (which is also Route 66) you drive by or through an area where the mesas climb up in stratified layers pigmented by ping, orange, and purple mineral deposits. Much of the area to the north lies in the Navajo Nation where tribal regulations are in force.

Relic Road Brewing Company, Winslow, Arizona

We drove through to the highway on northern side making several scenic stops along the way. About mid-day we got back on the highway heading west.

We had a corner to stand on.

In the Town of Winslow, we had lunch at the Relic Road Brewing Company before shopping and taking the requisite picture in “Standin’ on the Corner” Park.

This corner inspired the Eagles’ song “Take it Easy.”

Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me

This was, I believe, the very first of our “we have to do this” stops along the way.

We left Winslow and headed toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon where we had reservations to set up camp for the next three nights. We were looking forward to getting settled in, having our first camp meal, and finally seeing the canyon.

Editor’s Note: That’s not what happened.

A few miles out of Grand Canyon Village traffic came to a dead stop. We soon learned that recent rains had caused flash flooding and that the roads to the village were impassable.

Grand Canyon, straight ahead?

We had options. One was to wait and spend most of the night in the Jeep waiting for the roads to clear. After we’d been sitting for over an hour, word came up the line that authorities were projecting the road to be clear in about three hours.

‘Rare’ Grand Canyon flooding forces 100 to evacuate near park (The Washington Post)

A three hour tour. So to speak.

We punted.

Scott went online quickly and found that we were near Kaibab National Forest. Kaibab is a Paiute Indian word meaning “mountain lying down.”

Fortunately there were several available campsites. We quickly set up the tent and settled in for the night.

Well, we sort of settled. I was convinced that I would never be warm again.

I knew that temperatures would drop on the North Rim, but I was caught a bit off guard by how cold it was to the South.

Chalk it up to inexperience and to the fact that I live very close to sea level.

We weren’t there yet. But we were close.


    • Dave on March 8, 2024 at 3:37 pm

    I traveled parts of this route with my family several years ago and was amazed by the variety of scenery, from the southern Rt 66 to northern I-90 passages. Many happy memories, and a few we’ll avoid in the future!

    • Mike on March 15, 2024 at 8:04 am

    I still want to take the northern route and go through the Dakotas and Wyoming on my way to Seattle. Our youngest is considering moving there after graduation, so I may still get the chance.

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