Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


After an uneventful drive from Monument Valley to Flagstaff, we decided to take a day off before beginning the long trek back to Texas.  This is as far west as we will travel on this trip, and we think a break will be good preparation for the long driving hours ahead of us.  Besides, Flagstaff is a  nice town, nestled among forested mountains at 7,000 feet elevation and, therefore, relatively cool—especially at night.  I cannot stress enough us Texans' appreciation for a cool climate in the summer.

We are at the J&H RV Park north of town on U. S. 89, an older park that is well kept and appears to be popular with older folks.  The owners make a big deal out of potential noisemakers; I was asked twice if we had dogs (allowed) and three times if we had motorcycles (not allowed).  What I’m inferring from this is that older folks don’t put up with much noise, and I guess we fit right in, because we don’t like noise, either.  Anyway, there is a cost to all this quietness—forty dollars a night at this park, even with a Good Sam discount!  Cost doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, however; the park was full both nights we were here.  It is located adjacent to a busy highway, but we didn’t notice any significant noise from traffic.  Perhaps the owner doesn’t allow that, either.

We explored the old downtown area, which was surprisingly vibrant, with a lot of young people hanging out among many mom and pop shops and restaurants.  Understandable, I guess, considering this is the home of Northern Arizona University.  We had intended to tour the old Riordan Mansion, a 13,000 square foot circa-1900 residence built by one of the founding families of Flagstaff.  Unfortunately, the house and grounds—now a state park—are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  We’ll just have to catch it next time.

Foodies that we are, we were delighted to find a couple of good restaurants.  We had Cajun shrimp tacos—perhaps the best ever—at Salsa Brava and some killer Thai food at Swadee Thai restaurant downtown.  I highly recommend these if you are in the area.

We did a little window shopping, Sandy at a women’s apparel store and me next door at Best Buy but, to my amazement, neither of us bought anything.  (I felt Sandy’s forehead, but she didn’t appear to have any fever.)  In Best Buy, I marveled at a new Samsung LED TV display; I guess this is the successor to plasma and LCD in the manufacturer’s unending quest to increase the high definition of television sets to the point where the TV image is sharper than real life!  Frankly, I think it already is.     

In the late afternoon, we decided to drive to Sunset Crater, located in a national park just north of town.  I didn’t know much about this now-extinct volcano, and I was surprised to learn that it erupted only a thousand years ago—very recent, in geological terms.  There was a very nice visitors’ center, where we perused the highly informative displays regarding the eruption.  While we couldn’t drive to the top of the crater, a paved road took us past the base of the cone, where we were shocked to see how little vegetation had returned to the lava flows and cinder cone after a thousand years!  If asked to guess how long ago the eruption took place, based on what we were seeing, I would have offered maybe ten years as a guess!

I’m including a few photos below, but they really don’t show the dramatic sharp edges of the lava rock and the total absence of erosion that I would have expected after a thousand years.  Compared to the lava flows of, say, the Hawaiian Islands, many of which are millions of years old and completely overgrown with vegetation, this really underscores the shortness of a thousand-year span in geological time and the mere blink of an eye that we humans are here.  (I don’t need too many reminders of the brevity of life; time is passing ever so much more quickly as I get older, and I’m really not all that happy about it.)  However, now that they are getting so good at replacing body parts that wear out, perhaps 60 years old will be the new 40, who knows?  Sandy is doing so well with her new knee, she may rival the Sunset Crater in still looking young when she gets all the rest of her parts replaced!  (I can't figure out if that is a compliment or not; I'm sure she'll let me know.) 

  Sunset Crater, as seen from nearby lava flow.

Lava rock shows little erosion and little vegetation, even after 1,000 years.

Photo doesn't reveal the length of the lava field--more than two miles and 100 feet thick.

The cinder cone looks much as it did 1,000 years ago; note the pieces of lava rock that pelted the area.

Irrepressible life:  From the devastation springs a wildflower; this plant is growing from the cinders through a thin layer of straw.

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