The drive from New Mexico to the Painted Desert was pretty desolate. There are also a lot of Indian Reservations in the Southwest; in fact, I believe the Navajo nation is the biggest in the country. We drove through the Zuni Rez in NM and it was probably the rezziest rez I’ve ever seen: ramshackle, cookie cutter houses surrounded toy cars, Indian Taco stands off the road, and tribal members wearing the same Tribal hoodies with social campaign slogans on them. I couldn’t tell from the outside if it was a ghetto rez or if the houses were just ugly. I’m not an expert on Indian reservations, but I do live on one after all. Northeast Arizona also has a couple reservations, but we didn’t drive through very populous areas.
We arrived at the Petrified forest at about 3 or 3:30. Given the fact that the sun sets around 530, we knew that there was no time to see the park and we started thinking about camping. We inquired about camping permits at the visitors’ center and learned that they were free. Good start, but then the rangers proceeded to lecture us about how cold it gets at night, how muddy the painted desert is, and that we had better leave for our campsite by 4 and camp at least one mile away or the law enforcement might stop us. They also told us we could camp for free near some rock shops at the South end of the park. I was a bit ambivalent, mostly because they were rushing us. We decided that we would at least check out the Painted Desert. As we drove towards the parking area, chalky pinkish red and reddish pink clay dunes came into view. We parked and looked out over the endless sea of dunes. The parking lot is perched on a hill overlooking the desert. We ran down the hillside in search of a campsite and the conditions. It was pretty muddy, but not “ankle deep” like the ranger said. In the ravines between the dunes were piles of petrified stumps. Before this we were confused as to where the forest was, as we turned in the park we saw no hints of trees after all. The stump piles seemed pretty random in these dunes, like some computer programmer just arbitrarily spawned them there.
Reminds me of the stumps lol, not this copious though
We found one tall dune to camp on. I was skeptical because it didn’t look like a mile away; I wanted to go further. Kyle, being the rebel he is, convinced me though. We went back to the car and packed up our gear. At about 4:30 the “law enforcement” (aka ranger) rolled up. It wasn’t either of the ones at the desk, but we wondered if he would be as overprotective. He didn’t care that we hadn’t left by 4 though; he just said “have fun and be safe”. We set up our tent on the dune overlooking the desert and ate our dinner of peanut butter tacos. After dinner I went and frolicked down the side of a dune, and after a few moments my feet slid out from under me. Thankfully, somehow I did a ninja move and caught myself on my hands and sprung myself back onto my feet before I could paint my pants. I washed my hands (as best as possible) and then settled down into the tent for the night. I wondered if our tent would slide down the dune during the night. Remembering the stars I had seen in New Mexico, I got up a bit later to survey the sky, but the whole desert was shrouded in a thick mist. I was hoping this mist would last until sunrise and make an awesome picture.
Unfortunately the mist did not last, but the sunrise was still pretty neat. I took a walk around the desert and found some pretty cool rocks. Kyle joined me after a while and we followed a wash that did a loop into the desert and back towards the camp. The little pools of smooth clay under ice looked really cool. It was strange how big groups of little rocks were frozen in place. I imagined tubing down one of the washes on a paint river, how cool would that be?. It is a very otherworldly place, like much of the Southwest.
After our walk, we packed up camp, ate some food, and started the main tour. There are a lot of nice view points off the road. We stopped at a natural sandstone bridge and played around, jumping over washes and gaps, climbing rocks, and the like.
Kyle jumping a gap
Me jumping the same gap
When we came to the Blue Mesa area, we took a walk around the dunes. They looked just like the ones in the Painted Desert except they were greys, purples, and blues — very neat.
The further South we headed, the more petrified stumps there were. We saw a ton, or probably a few tons, at the Crystal Forest. In the parking lot a woman approached us and told us to buy petrified wood at a turquoise house outside the park because it was really cheap. I definitely registered this moment because a.) I seem to get led to rock shops a lot on my adventures and b.) she mentioned something about Humboldt county, which has come up incessantly — I keep meeting people from there and that is where I plan on moving next summer. She had very long, red hair and sort of reminded me of a Disney princess, funny that we met her in the Crystal Forest, a very fairy tale-esque name. We finished touring the place and stopped at the major rock shops, which were expensive so we moved on to the turquoise house.
The petrified wood was about twice as cheap at the turquoise house than at the other shops. We browsed a bit and chatted with the owner. He was very friendly, apparently his family owns the land around there and they get petrified wood there, since it can’t be taken from the park. He mentioned how his wife had dropped a petrified stump on her leg the last spring and had lost most of her foot as a consequence. I offered to pray for her, he was grateful but not convinced it would help. He is a Christian but seems to think that God doesn’t heal anymore, especially a missing foot. Yeah, it seems weird, but if God created the universe and all therein he can recreate a foot. The guy gave me some Bibles and an extra piece of wood for free.
From there we headed towards Flagstaff and then Sedona. On the way to Flagstaff we stopped at a rest stop that had a bunch of boulders to climb on. We ended up staying there for about an hour climbing around — best rest stop I have ever been to. Flagstaff is also cool, I wouldn’t mind living there one day. It is colder than Phoenix though because it is more northern and sits at about 7,000 feet. The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona was a steep descent on a two lane highway into Oak Creek Canyon. A very impatient person was tailgating us and honking at us, but I don’t know they were thinking because we were going around hairpin turns. Probably locals ticked at the stupid tourists who don’t know how to drive there. The valley was also fairy tale-esque, quite beautiful. As we neared Sedona all kinds of resorts kept popping up and we saw several California plates. I didn’t know it was so touristy. We also drove by a beautiful place called Slide Rock State Park. It had pine trees and red rocks, a good introduction to the scenery of Sedona — which looks like the the offspring of Arches and Montana.
As got on the main drag of town, we saw just how touristy it is. Little gift shops, restaurants, psychic readers, and tour companies were everywhere. We walked around the main street for a while and then ate at a pizza place that was pretty good, overpriced a bit, but not horrible. The beer was really overpriced; I unintentionally got a $7 beer. I figured it would be 4 or 4.50 like other microbrews (which is already too much) so I ordered it without looking at the price. After dinner we walked around a bit more and found some marimba type things that were part of the city’s infrastructure. We hammered away at them for ten minutes or so, probably to the chagrin of the other tourists. Kyle even asked passerbys for a tip, we didn’t get any money though. It was getting about time to find a campsite, so we drove around a bit and after some dead ends ended up at the Little Horse Trail head. We chilled out there a bit and then I thought it would be cool to walk around town and do a little treasure hunting (ie being led by the Spirit to divine appointments with people). I figured that since Sedona draws so many spiritually oriented people that it could be a good opportunity for me to offer prayer, prophecy, and love encounters with God.
I drove back into town and it was surprising subdued for being about 10 pm. I don’t get the vibe that Sedona is a big drinking/nightlife town, of course it wasn’t really the right season for that either. My oil light came and I realized that I had drove 1,200+ miles without having bothered to check the oil. I got fuel, oil, and a snack at a local gas station and ask the attendant about hiking trails. He told me about Boynton Canyon and Devil’s bridge. A bunch of the customers chimed in too, very friendly people. These seemed to be the true Sedonians, down-to-earth people dressed somewhat like Indiana Jones. I ask the cashier if he needed any prayer and he thought I asked if he needed any herb hah! I said, “no that’s better than herb”. He said he was okay though. I went back to camp and got in the tent. A few cars pulled in during the course of the night, so I got up to make sure we weren’t getting jacked. There were some signs warning of car break-ins, but it was probably just teenagers making out or smoking weed — they left soon enough.
The next morning I got up to take a little walk and discovered that we were near a pretty big trail system. I didn’t want to hike too far without Kyle, so I watched the sunrise over the red rocks and then met up with him.
sunrise in Sedona
We soon learned it was also a pretty populous trail. We followed the trail for a bit and then came to an opening of slickrock. Kyle suggested we go up by these cliffs and we found a small trail that led up there. The trail got pretty gnarly though, like an Alaskan trail. After some pretty steep hiking, we were at the top and had a pretty nice view of Sedona and the rocks. I think we were near Bell Rock, but I’m not sure. We hung out there a bit and then hiked back down. By this time, the parking lot was full of people and we found a slip on our tent warning us that it was not a camping area. We felt pretty silly, two drifter looking types camped out by a hiking trail frequented by trendy looking tourists. I saw an older lady wearing an Alaska T-shirt with wolves on it, which highlighted her to me because that is spiritually symbolic to me.
I started talking to her a bit and learned she was a snowbird from Alaska. She had actually grown up on a rustic homestead in Alaska before there were even paved roads. We talked a bit about rocks and minerals and I gave her the piece of petrified wood that the guy at the rock shop had given me. She gave me a little piece called Sonoran Sunrise. I also learned that she had gotten in a devastating car wreck and miraculously survived but developed diabetes and other pains as a result. I offered her prayer and she said I could pray for her but not there because she was eager to get on the road.
Kyle and I laid around the lot a bit and ate breakfast. We were actually pretty tired so we headed out of town towards Utah. We thought about going to Slick Rock park, but it was ten bucks and we were too tired to hike around anyways. I like Sedona; it is an interesting mix of spiritually oriented people, down to earth outdoors enthusiasts, and well-dressed city folks. As I mentioned a bit earlier, it is also a new age mecca. There are a bajillion psychic readers, yoga practitioners, intuitive healers, and weird blends of all of the above, like Shamangelic healing. I’m not into that stuff; spiritual power either comes from the Holy Spirit, all other doors are dangerous and from the darkness. I do, however, respect that people are spiritually hungry and long for an experiential, powerful, and intuitive spirituality rather than dry religion, rituals, and dogma. It would be cool to live and work there for 3-6 months; I’m not sure I would like to live there long term though. Hopefully I will cross paths with Sedona later on.