Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Day 14 - In which we make discoveries about History that others have somehow missed

I had an amazing night's sleep last night in Gallup, New Mexico. Maybe the beds were good or maybe I was just really tired, it's hard to tell. Still, it means the El Rancho will get a good Tripadvisor review despite their apparently outdated definition of "Convenience of tomorrow" (the geeks do not overlook the lack of wifi in the rooms lightly). That aside (and overlooking the fact that it was our most expensive hotel on the route), the El Rancho is pretty much everything you want out of Route 66 accommodation: it's clean and comfortable, incredibly tacky, it has a fabulous neon sign, and it overplays the movie stars who stayed there back in the day almost as much as Roswell oversells the aliens. Each of the rooms and even the items on the restaurant's menu are named after actors. For dinner last night we both had the Ricardo Montalban, just because of the name. It was tasty too, which is fortunate as otherwise we may have had to yell "KHAAAAAAAAAAN!" and get kicked out of the hotel.

For breakfast this morning, we decided to venture outside the hotel and found a diner that, despite the sign bearing the ubiquitous Route 66 shield, appeared to be a local diner for local people. There was a lot of staring. But that's okay, because there were also very good pancakes. Not as good as Jessica's back in Tucumcari, perhaps, but still outranking IHOP. Incidentally, we are both thoroughly bemused by the American custom of serving meat with sweet pancakes, not to mention that what they call "sausage" is clearly some variety of hamburger. Weird.

Good breakfast, if you don't mind feeling as though you're an exhibit in a zoo

We moved slowly out of Gallup, stopping at regular intervals to shop for Navajo jewellery, which is about a quarter of the price there that it was in Santa Fe. In doing so, we met another real character at the Nizhoni Native American Jewellery Store, on whom I am convinced the character of Ol' Gil in The Simpsons was based. His sales pitch was obviously quite good, as he did manage to relieve us of a reasonable sum of money.

It was at this point that we encountered another peculiar American phenomenon. We were trying to get to an ATM that we had been told was inside the grocery store, but we accidentally tried to walk into the liquor store next door instead, upon which a path was blocked by a burly security guard in sunglasses who asked whether we had a vehicle. We pointed to it in the next car park, and were told that we couldn't be allowed in unless we drove up to the front door. At this point we realised our mistake and moved on to the security-less grocery store, but we were both thoroughly confused. Why do you have to drive up to the door to be served alcohol? Surely it's better if you're not driving at all? Answers on a postcard (or, y'know, a comment form) please.

Heading towards the New Mexico/ Arizona border, the scenery became absolutely spectacular. We actually felt that we were in Radiator Springs of the Pixar film Cars (incidentally, an awesome and horribly underrated movie). Right on top of the border, we came across another opportunity to be relieved of cash.

Another claim we didn't verify...

...but yes, it's rather large

The two rules of successful Route 66 business seem to be: 1) make something unnecessarily large, and 2) provide a good photo op. This place delivered on both fronts, with the bonus that their photo op was also quite useful if you're travelling without a map:

Here I am breathing a massive sigh of relief that we've somehow remained on the correct road

So here we are in state number 7 of 9! (Yes, there are only eight states on Route 66, but we're adding one just so that I could make that Star Trek reference.)

A state famous because it has holes in it

We didn't travel very far today, only a shade over 100 miles, mostly so that we could spend the day in the Petrified Forest National Park, and wow was it worth it.

The visitor centre makes this outlandish claim that the Painted Desert has something to do with different types of minerals being laid down over millions of years.

Colourful rocks

Clearly a spraypaint job

Of course, we are far too clever to fall for that ruse. It's blatantly obvious that what really happened is that a colleague of Slartibartfast grew envious of his fjords and decided to top them by spraypainting a desert in Arizona. The evidence even suggests the use of the cans of spraypaint we left with a kid back at the Cadillac Ranch.

Those colours look suspiciously familiar
See, Arizona, we're onto you.

The park isn't huge - the road runs for 28 miles - but with stopping at every single lookout and trail, we spent at least five hours there, and could probably have doubled that had time allowed. Without a doubt, the best drive of the trip so far.

The views from the old Painted Desert Inn probably didn't suck

The A1 is going to be a massive letdown after this

The lizard finds a perfect basking rock

Petrified wood: apparently trees get pretty when they're scared
Not wanting to be outdone by Meramec Caverns, Arizona proves it can do coloured lights too

Fortunately (for you) you can't hear me, but I'm singing about hills being alive

Apparently this area was settled as early as 1250 until about 600 years ago. There are still petroglyphs visible, with a particular concentration on what they call Newspaper Rock.

The only newspaper we've seen since we arrived in the States that doesn't mention Prince Harry

We met some Route 66 travellers from Manchester around here, who pointed out that the "human" figures on this rock are clearly alien. We later came across evidence to support this claim.

Blatantly the Starship Enterprise

Clearly there's some backstory here about how Kirk and Spock travelled back in time and visited the ancestors of the Navajo. Perhaps they even had something to do with painting the desert: we'll never know.

The old Route 66 used to pass directly through the Petrified Forest National Park, but the road is now a teensy bit overgrown.

Points for signage, Arizona, but not so much for maintenance

However, someone had left their car behind, and I decided that if we're going to travel an historic road we may as well do so in a fitting car, so I've traded in the SUV.

Fi keeps fixating on the lack of wheels, but she's clearly missing the big picture

I don't know what Fi's worrying about; I think the rest of the trip is going to be a blast in this thing. Who needs air con if the air's rushing straight in through the empty window frames?

We'll find out how she holds up tomorrow when we visit two of Arizona's famous holes in the ground.


  1. Hahaha, the point of the hamburger-sausage is that is ALSO goes well with maple syrup! It's a win-win! Pancakes, sausage, and maple on ERRYTHING.

    Also, every state is different with their liquor laws. In Pennsylvania, beer is only permitted to be sold at bars and registered beer distributors, and wine and spirits are sold at state-controlled spirits stores. It's pretty intense. But in neighboring West Virginia, I could stroll into 7-11 at 4am and pick up a tallboy and a box of wine, and no one would bat an eye. It depends on the state, so maybe New Mexico just has weird rules about walking around with beer or alcohol, even if it's unopened? Not sure.

    Your trip looks so amazing! I'm glad to see you're having such a wonderful time! :D

  2. Oh! You know, it didn't even occur to me to put maple syrup on the hamburger, but now you mention it it's so obvious! But still a little odd.

    The thing about not walking around with alcohol also makes a lot of sense, even if I do find it strange that they want you to drive with it. Still, if I've learned anything from TV, it's that America is weird about two things: alcohol and nudity.

  3. I'd guess that when you drive up to the liquor store they automatically record your number plate.