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Taking it Easy!
This morning, Genevieve showed us the snowman that she and Sebastian had built last night in the dark.
Our first stop this morning was Walnut Canyon National Monument:
The road was a bit icy in the shady patches.
Walnut Canyon contains many cliff dwellings built around 1100 A.D. The modern Hopi people trace their ancestry to those cliff dwellers, who they call “Hisatsinom” (which means the People of Long Ago). Anthropologists and archeologists have different names for them--“Sinagua” or “Western Anasazi.”
We entered the Visitor’s Center and picked up Junior Ranger booklets for Genevieve and Sebastian. They immediately set to work answering the many questions required to earn a badge.
The most exciting part of our visit was a 1-mile hike along Island Trail, which drops down 185 feet on a steep path that loops around the upper part of a large rock promontory (or island). The path passes by, and through, about 25 cliff dwelling rooms.
This photo is taken from the trail, looking back up at the visitor’s center.
The view into the canyon:
Genevieve and Sebastian enthusiastically led the way down the trail.
There were a number of exhibits along the way with drawings, photographs and text that provided a geological and historical context for what we were seeing. Genevieve and Sebastian stopped at every exhibit and read the information in detail.
Across the canyon, we could see dwellings built into the cliff face:
The estimated number of people who lived in this canyon ranges from 75 to 400, depending on calculation method.
The upper mountain is made of layers of limestone that have different degrees of hardness. Sometimes a softer layer is sandwiched between two harder layers, and the softer layer erodes first. When this happens, an alcove is created, with the hard layers forming a perfect roof and floor.
The Hisatsinom built walls within the alcoves and created living spaces and storage rooms for food, water and tools.
Genevieve and Sebastian had fun exploring the rooms within some of the dwellings.
The massive weight of the mountain rested above the alcoves.
Looking around, we could see where huge chunks of limestone had broken off and fallen.
I am sure that the Hisatsinom families would have checked the ceilings carefully for cracks and instability before moving into a particular alcove.
The lower portion of the mountain, below the layers of limestone, was made of sandstone that was formed from large sand dunes about 265 million years ago. The diagonal markings on the sandstone show the preserved sand layers and reflect the changing direction of the wind, as it blew the sand one way and then another.
Our narrow path was icy on the northern side.
We rarely ever get snow at home along the central California coast. Sebastian was quite thrilled to pick up a scoop with his bare hands.
Some of the dwelling walls were blackened from the smoke of indoor fires.
Archaeologists believe that the communities in this area thrived for about 150 years. By 1250 A.D., however, the Hisatsinom had migrated to the south and east, to join larger groups of people. The exact reason for the migration is not known. Scientists speculate that the cliff dwellers were experiencing difficulties, such as famine, colder climates, disease, crop failures, or conflicts due to overcrowding.
The Hopi and Zuni people, however, believe that their ancestors moved on as part of a natural migration process. Moreover, they do not consider the dwellings to have been “abandoned.” Instead, they view these sites as sacred places that still contain the spirits of the people who once lived there physically.
When the railroads were constructed nearby in the 1880’s, Walnut Canyon became deluged with groups of Euro-American visitors who came with shovels and dynamite, and left with armfuls of “souvenirs.” These people dug up floors, demolished walls and raided gravesites. Stories from that time indicate that the looters found pottery, cloth, sandals, arrows, measuring sticks, needles, corncobs, gourds and nuts, fish lines, and many other items.
Nearby residents, mostly Euro-American settlers, were appalled by the damage and theft, and their outcry to the federal government led to the establishment of Walnut Canyon National Monument in 1915. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps contributed to the preservation of the cliff dwellings by rebuilding walls and constructing many of the trails that exist today.
Here is one alcove where the floor was dug up, and the walls destroyed, by souvenir hunters in the late 1800’s:
The air in the canyon was crisp and clean, and we were surrounded by much physical beauty.
We all ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the wavy bark on this tree.
We also saw our first Alligator Juniper tree, named for its patterned bark. We learned that these trees grow slowly for 800 years and are some of the oldest and largest junipers in Arizona.
Prickly pear cactus grew in abundance from the rocks—the large fruit and waxy leaves are edible, and the juice from the leaves is used in pottery clay.
Another view across the canyon:
We watched in awe as this red-tailed hawk gracefully swooped through the air:
Both children were laughing as we finished the steep climb back to the visitor’s center. Sebastian slipped his hand into mine, saying, “I thought it was going to be fun, but it was even funner!” As I looked down into his sparkling eyes, I felt a deep contentment. Does life get any better than this?
Genevieve and Sebastian proudly presented their completed Junior Ranger booklets to Ranger Dawn, who obviously loved her job as ambassador and protector of this wonderful place. She patiently went through each child’s booklet, and then swore the children in as Junior Rangers.
We continued on our journey along Route 66. The path of the road had changed a few times over the years, and we could sometimes see where a prior route had crossed a field or river. One of these prior routes was visible near the town of Winona, where an old iron bridge crossed a small gully.
Rising in the background were the snowy San Francisco Peaks, a set of extinct volcanos.
Looking back from the bridge, we could see where the newer road had curved in a bypass:
Genevieve, standing in the middle of the bridge:
Behind her was a dark brown hill that was being heavily mined.
The bridge was no longer structurally sound for vehicles, as evidenced by its twisted metal:
The kids and I posed for some photos.
However, the mood quickly dissolved into fits of laughter.
Those kids of mine . . . they keep my heart light.
Continuing onward, I kept my eye out for “Twin Arrows,” which were two gigantic arrows that used to be part of a rest stop that had included a gas station, café and trading post. The trading post closed in 1998, and the arrows deteriorated with time. In the fall of 2009, however, Hopi tribe members worked with Route 66 enthusiasts to restore the arrows to their former glory. They plan to extend the restoration project to the trading post and diner, which are now owned by the Hopi tribe.
We were excited to find the arrows, next to the trading post and cafe:
We had wanted to stop and take a closer look at these historical icons. However, the entire area was blocked off with a low barrier, and there was no place to park. We creeped by to take photos and then slowly pulled away.
In this area, Route 66 has been swallowed up by Interstate 40 for long sections between towns. We sailed along on the interstate, and looked out at the desert landscape.
Our next stop was Meteor Crater, which is described in promotional literature as "the best preserved meteor crater in the world." It is located six miles south of Interstate 40, past this space-age gas station.
The road to the crater:
We could see the visitor’s center in the distance:
Getting ready to explore:
The crater was huge—about a mile wide and 550 feet deep:
Here is an image of the crater taken by NASA from space (showing the visitor’s center and parking lot on the northern rim):
The giant hole was created 50,000 years ago when a meteor traveling 40,000 miles per hour slammed into the earth. The dry air in the high plains desert has preserved the condition of the crater.
Various telescopes had been set up on an overhanging platform to allow visitors to see points around the crater. (Notice Sebastian trying unsuccessfully to reach one of the telescopes below.)
In the middle of the crater was some old drilling equipment, along with a life-size cutout of a person in a space suit, with an American flag. You could only see the figure and flag with a telescope, or a super-zoom camera lens.
The crater is privately owned by the family of Daniel Barringer, who purchased the crater and surrounding land in 1903. At that time, geologists had already proclaimed that the crater had been formed by a volcano. Barringer, however, was convinced that it was from a meteor impact; he also thought that he would become wealthy beyond his imagination if he could only find the meteor that must be buried in the middle. He didn’t understand that most of the meteor had vaporized upon impact. Over the next 27 years (until his death), he drilled down 1400 feet but never found a meteor.
We took a short walk up to “Moon Mountain”, the highest observation point overlooking the crater.
A panoramic view from the left to the right, with the lower viewing platform and telescopes shown in the second and third photos:
Genevieve climbed to the top of a rock pile:
Sebastian was happy “skating” on the ice.
A view looking across the high plain surrounding the crater:
Inside the visitor’s center, we watched a short movie about the creation of the meteor crater and then wandered through the exhibits.
Sebastian and the newspaper boy:
On display was a 49-pound piece of meteorite, nicknamed the Basket Meteorite.
In the 1940’s, a rancher found this chunk a few miles from the crater. It was displayed in the Meteor Crater museum until it was stolen in 1968. In 2006, however, a man bought it from an estate sale in Wisconsin, thinking that it was a blob of brass or copper. He used it as a counterweight for his son’s basketball hoop until he saw a show on meteorites. He took it to a specialist, who identified it as the missing Basket Meteorite.
Genevieve and Sebastian’s favorite part of the visitor’s center was a video kiosk that allowed them to design and witness their own crater impact.
First they chose the object type—meteor, comet, or iron-nickel rock. Then they selected the velocity, diameter, density, and angle of the object. Finally, they chose a planet, pushed a button, and waited for the impact.
The screen then showed what type of crater was formed.
The children were able to see how a change in any of the factors (i.e., object, velocity, diameter) affected the resulting crater shape.
One exhibit allowed you to pretend that you were on the crater floor.
Outside the visitor’s center was an Apollo test capsule, known as Boiler Plate 29A. It was designed to test the systems that allow the capsule to float when it hits the water.
From 1963 to 1970, U.S. astronauts were trained at Meteor Crater because of the similarity with the moon surface.
We also looked at the long list of names on the American Astronaut Wall of Fame:
The sun was beginning to set as we continued down the road. In the distance, we could see the handful of buildings that make up “Meteor City”, which claims to have the “World’s Longest Map of U.S. Route 66.”
It was indeed a long map.
As we approached the town of Winslow, Arizona, I was practically jumping out of the RV with excitement. Running through my head was the song that I had sung over and over as a girl, as my vinyl Eagles album spun on the turntable. Can you sing it with me, now?
Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,
Such a fine sight to see.
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me.
Come on, baby, don't say maybe.
I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.
We may lose and we may win
though we will never be here again,
so open up, I'm climbin' in.
Take it easy...
In 1999, Winslow had created “Standin on the Corner Park” as a tribute to the famous song.
Here was the park!
I was out of the RV like a light beam, ripping across the road to stand by that man—notice that we’re holding hands!
Of course, the girl in the flatbed ford was checking us out:
The paintings were very well done, including the couple in the upstairs window:
Night was falling, but I didn’t want to leave. I had waited so long to get here. I think my mind was humming the line “. . . we will never be here again . . . .“
I was singing the “Take it Easy” song loudly and dancing around on the corner. Genevieve danced with me.
With a smile on my face, and a happy heart, I finally left Winslow behind.
One of the famous symbols of Route 66 is the big painted rabbit from the Jack Rabbit Trading Post. In the dark night, we caught the “Here It Is” sign, with the rabbit, in our headlights. I hopped out, camera in hand, to take a photo.
We ended up in the small town of Holbrook tonight. We relaxed after dinner, playing cards and sharing stories about today’s fun activities . . . takin’ it easy, for sure.
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