Approximate route of Day 3, 1040 miles (via 1967 roads,) about 20 hours.
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Tuesday, Aug. 15th, 1967. The real trip started today at 6:10 AM CDT, as we were now out of the Eastern States and entering new terrain. Anxious to resume from the primitive Rt. 66 rest area, 30 miles east of the Texas Panhandle, I accidentally stepped on that guy outside in his sleeping bag as I was sleepily climbing out of the car. It was about 45 minutes before dawn, and I was looking up at the starry sky, shaking the sleep off. We would be rolling shortly, pulling over by 6:50 AM to watch the sunrise – then in Texas.
Rt. 66 sunrise east of Amarillo, Texas – soon to be in New Mexico
Towns were few and far between now, and the plains would give way to the Manzano and Sandia Mountain ranges just before Albuquerque.
Dualized Rt. 66 in Eastern New Mexico, ~10 AM MDT
Sandwiches at Dairy Queen would be our lunch as we passed through the relatively laid back town of Albuquerque, with motels, gas stations and mostly rustic single-story commercial businesses. Across the nearly dry Rio Grande basin, Rt. 66 was a kaleidoscope of gas stations, souvenir shops – with giant tepees and arrows – and billboards one after another, playing up on such questionable concerns as “Fueling up” and getting “water bags” before the deserts ahead – not exactly the kind of commercialism we came out here for.
Just west of Albuquerque, Rt. 66. Click to enlarge to see the billboards!
We did stop for wide brimmed hats and more sun tan lotion when switching drivers, me completing the first 10 hours and 450 miles so far today. Through the remainder of New Mexico and into Arizona, the scenery was new to us, and becoming impressive. Time and schedule dictated a lot of what we would do, passing up some lesser attractions, …and there were many “attractions,” deemed so by their ‘proprietors’: a pile of bricks and souvenir shop constituted “The Ruins” near Gallup, for example!
Thunderstorms, visible miles away, were developing later in the heat of the day, and before long we put the top up against the rains. Rt. 66 bisects Petrified Forest National Park, itself within the vast Painted Desert, $1.00 for the self guided auto tour within.
In less than great weather we explored some of this geological and historically fascinating park, devoid of most living trees and shrubs, or today… even people.
We were intrigued with dry gulches, flat top mesas, colorful eroded lands in shades of light gray, dirty reds and oranges and darker hues. Colors, however, were muted today as the weather was heavily overcast with some lightning, blowing sediments and rain – all actually adding to the allure of this unique place especially along it’s winding and narrow roads.
Although it would have been better under clear skies, we enjoyed the break.
As the rain tapered off, Tom and I had some fun climbing around a feature called “Newspaper Rock,” seeing some of the hundreds of petroglyphs; and later wandering in the petrified wood and log fields literally hundreds of millions of years old. Despite our efforts to stop them, some small pieces of petrified wood managed to illegally jump right into the car. As a result, we became unusually nervous while exiting the park under the scrutiny of a park ranger.
Taking AZ. Rt. 180 back to Rt. 66 in Holbrook, we were about an hour away from the Barringer Meteor Crater. It is perhaps the best preserved remnant of a meteor impact on earth. Massive and awe inspiring, it was of particular interest to Tom and I as we had shared an appreciation for astronomy in earlier years. It dominates the southern horizon as seen from Rt. 66 – five miles north.
50,000 year old Meteor Crater is three quarters mile across and 570 feet deep.
Soon after dark we grabbed some quick food while getting gas just outside Flagstaff. Incredibly, two ashtrays illegally jumped into our car about then, and neither of us smoke! As planned, we left Rt. 66 here and headed north on comparatively lonely Rt 89, pushing on into the night after vaguely considering a motel, but becoming discouraged by the no vacancy signs north of the city. Now, we were headed for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about 9:00 PM MST.
Very tired, I was getting irritable, and eventually fell asleep while Tom, equally tired, took us another hundred miles or so into the Navajo country before he stopped. He had done 425 miles and it was about 10:30 PM MST. I took over, surprisingly rested and soon was wide awake, and energized by the realization we were in such an exciting, remote place.The next couple of hours would become one of the most memorable driving nights of my life. As Tom slept, I continued north in the night bearing left at the tiny reservation town of Bitter Springs towards Marble Canyon, now driving on Rt. 89 Alt. This was a newly paved road, with freshly painted lineage and bright reflectors describing the path ahead. There were few other cars, no towns, and no people – and I was content and pleased with the car, a treat to drive at a 65 to 70 mph clip. Maybe enhancing the peaceful solitude, was the lack of useable radio reception of any kind up there, just the wind and the road and the little 1798cc MGB engine.
The night sky was a dark satin blue-black, punctuated by an impressive moon silkily illuminating the native terrain, with sheer cliffs getting my attention to the right, or east. I was enthralled, and the knowledge that the powerful Colorado River and eastern vestiges of the Grand Canyon were just off to the west, exponentially drove my already super-charged excitement and anticipation of what was to come.
I knew we would soon be crossing the river and approaching the small town of Marble Canyon as the speed limit decreased and the road coursed around some large rock features, descending onto the long, narrow two lane bridge. I stopped in the middle, shut off the engine, placed a battery operated rotating red ‘danger’ light on top of the car and looked in awe over the railing. In the light of that gibbous moon I could see and faintly hear the Colorado River rushing far below, and …see the shadow of the arch bridge on the walls of the canyon. In the early morning hours of August 16th… this was a moment. Alone, still, quiet – except for the soft mechanical sound of the little light, and the faint rush below; under the velvet sky and moonlight in the canyon. Nice!
From here, Rt 89 Alt. climbed continuously for many miles through the changing terrain, from plateau desert to increasingly pine-tree populated forest. The temperature was dropping into the 40’s (F) as we approached the junction at Jacob Lake, 7921 feet in elevation. Turning south on Rt. 67 we eventually followed signs to an overlook called “Imperial Point,” and stopped, totally alone, for the remainder of the night. We could only imagine what daylight would bring, now on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The sun would be rising above the Navajo lands to the east in a few short hours. It was …around 1:30 AM MST.
See Day 4 here: http://wp.me/p37YEI-IK
Sun rising, Aug. 16, 1967, above the plateaus of the Navajo Reservation, six miles away, east of Imperial Point, Grand Canyon.