There is great diversity in the land between OKC and Las Vegas, in elevation and contours, in color and vegetation. Words can’t express the raw beauty I tried to ingest as we travled the curvy road that led through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forrest. Some things must be experienced to be appreciated.
Just outside of Albuquerque, massive rock formations hug the northern edge of I-40. It’s a long hug. Mile after mile, these flat-top crew cut fashioned rocks huddle close together – if a football team, they could offer some fine coach an impenetrable defense on the I-40 line of scrimmage; Coach Knute Rockne comes to mind, though no longer on this side of eternity.
Ever so often, I-40 intersects with old Route 66. Sometimes a road sign points out where the road once lived. We saw one such grave marker in the Painted Desert. A trail of naked utility poles have dug in their heals where the vital artery once coursed as it connected civilization through a desert wilderness. Do these grieivng poles realize they have outlived their use to society?
By comparison, a row of thriving vintage motels still exist along a bustling section of Route 66 in Flagstfaff. They don’t shine as they once did, but are still bright enough to reawaken long buried childhood memories of a different road trip along this same stretch of road.
I was five years old in the summer of 1961. With six others tucked too snug in my parent’s ’56 Chevy, we were taking Route 66 to Los Angeles. It must have looked like we’d just driven off the pages of The Grapes of Wrath, as our packed car balanced a bulging full luggage rack on top and a canteen strapped to its front grill. The Chevy was prone to overheat–and once it did, it wouldn’t go any further until granted a little rest to let off some steam.
Maybe a steaming radiator stopped our little Chevy in the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest back then. Or maybe it was a premeditated rest stop. Whichever, I don’t recall the log shaped rocks beyond the edge of the road holding my five year old interest. But my appreciation for anything that defies time has grown with age. The ancient mesas are no exception.
With the gift of hindsight, I see the mesas do not hug the road after all. It’s the other way around. Because the mesas I saw two days ago are not so different from those I saw in 1961. Time passes and so do cars and the roads they travel. But the rocks live on, because they have a touch of eternity in them. Are these rocks a signpost beside the road to point traffic from here to eternity?