We hit the road this morning at 6:00. Ordinarily I wouldn't be out of bed in the summer before 9:30 barring a natural disaster or an insuppressible need to pee, but the promise of hundreds of miles of picturesque scenery and stops at two of the nation's most august landmarks invigorated me.
We headed west to Gallup, then north to Shiprock. The scenery of northwest New Mexico is decidedly more enchanting than what we saw yesterday. From Shiprock we continued north to our first official stop of the day: Four Corners National Monument.
There are three kinds of landmarks: those that are singular, breathtaking illustrations of God's handiwork, those that make up in historical significance what they lack in aesthetics, and those that are novelties, such as the giant roadrunner statue in Fort Stockton, Texas. Four Corners is mostly the latter type and a bit of the second. Sure, it was cool to see the only place where four states touch, but after we saw the monument (an actual structure this time, not a park) and took a picture of ourselves standing on it, we were ready for more impressive places.
After passing through the Utah towns of Bluff (noteable for the Twin Rocks formation and the Twin Rocks Cafe) and Mexican Hat (named for a nearby rock formation that resembles a sombrero), we came to Monument Valley. If I could choose only five roads to drive the rest of my life, Highway 163 south to Monument Valley would be one of them. This was my second trip through MV (the first was in 2003), and both occassions proved borderline euphoric. Even if I possessed a Fitzgerald-like command of English, I'd lack the ability to adequately describe the experience of reaching the top of 163's tallest hill and staring ahead to where the road disappears into the colossal red sandstone formations that dominate the skyline. Janet and I got several good photos from atop the hill and as we passed by the rocks, but the photos don't do the experience justice entirely, either.
From Monument Valley we headed southwest through northern Arizona to the Grand Canyon. Both of us had seen it before, so we had initially decided to skip it. Once we regained our sanity, we decided to stop. (Skipping the Grand Canyon because you've seen it once is sort of like turning down filet mignon because you've eaten it before.) So we wound our way up through the Kaibab National Forest to the South Rim of the canyon. Given my hackneyed description of Monument Valley, I won't venture to provide a lengthy description of the canyon. In short, very few places in the world can match its magnificence. We spent a little time on a few of the trails that lead from various lookout points, but we didn't delve into any serious hiking on account of the time and the fact that Baxter isn't bred for prolonged, strenuous walks.
From the Grand Canyon we drove south to Flagstaff, one of my all-time favorite towns. The drive down Highway 180 was a wonderful way to close our travels for the day. The road winds through the Coconino National Forest, which is comprised of acres and acres of Ponderosa pines (best appreciated with the windows down so you can smell the trees). You also get a clear view of the San Fransisco Peaks, two long-dormant volcanoes. One of the peaks, Humphrey's Peak, is home to Flagstaff's ski resort.
We checked into our motel a little after 7:00, grabbed some dinner across the street, and now it's time to call it a night. It'll be nice to stay in the same place for three nights after all the driving we've done so far.