Back in March we took a Spring Break trip to Arizona. The last time I was in Arizona was 20 years ago, on my first trip to America when my future wife drove me out to the Grand Canyon. On this trip, we would be seeing the Grand Canyon again but also some other parts of the state, some places we’d always wanted to see. We started off our trip by flying into Phoenix, and spending about an hour and a half in line for a rental car with loads of other people. Eventually we made it out with a vehicle, and drove through a landscape studded with thousands of the iconic cactus-shaped cacti, the exact ones you see in cartoons, the symbol of the Wild West. Honestly it was exciting just to see that. We drove past all of that country until the landscape changed, and ended up in Flagstaff, on the old Route 66. We were staying a couple of nights here, and it has an interesting old downtown (see the above sketch) and a dramatic backdrop, with snow speckling the nearby peaks. In fact we got snowed on ourselves while walking down to the Mother Road Brewing Company for dinner (and tasty beer). No escaping that Route 66 feel here, this town was mentioned in the old Chuck Berry song you have probably heard.
We motored east down the modern Interstate, but we could see signs of old towns long gone from the original route. We were headed for the Meteor Crater, sketched above. I have wanted to visit this since I was a kid. Growing up I had this book, the Atlas of Natural Wonders. It was one of those glossy books you get from those book companies years ago, remember when you would get adverts to sign up for a free trial and get a bunch of books, which then turns into some sort of monthly subscription? I think it was probably something like that, we had loads of those sort of books, because my dad would sign up for them for the free books and then cancel, probably. I always had a lot of interesting hardback books on my shelf, maybe about Mammals, or The West, or this one book on The Atlas of Natural Wonder. Or maybe it was given to me for Christmas? Lost on the memory of time, and I have no idea where the book is now, but I must have read that book to death. The Delicate Arch in Utah was on the cover. I remember clearly telling myself that my ambition would be to go to every place in that book. I have slowly been checking those off; I visited three places from the book on this trip alone. The first was Meteor Crater, a massive mile-wide impact crater out in the high northern Arizona desert. For years they didn’t know exactly what had caused it (um, lads, it’s called ‘meteor crater’, hello like). Cost a bomb to go in, astronomical entry fee, but it was worth it to me to finally see this massive hole in the ground. I couldn’t really sketch it too well, so I did a quick one, while my family sheltered from the wind. It was a special moment though, and I’m really glad we went.
We journeyed on, heading towards another place from the book, but this is Route 66 country, and that will always be exciting to us because when my son was little, he was obsessed with the movie Cars, and so by extension we were obsessed with it too. Cars is a brilliant film, and really gets creative with the mythos of the old Route 66, and what happened to all those old towns along it when the freeways were built. One town that reminded us more than any other of Radiator Springs (except maybe Moab in Utah, which really has the look of it down, although much much busier) was Holbrook. It felt like time had left it behind a little, to get old and rusty. We were looking specifically for the Wigwam Motel, not the only one of its kind left, but pretty iconic. In the movie Cars, this corresponds with the Cozy Cones motel run by Sally. “Gettin’ cozy at the cones, is we?” as Mater tells Lightning McQueen. At the Wigwam, all of the rooms really are these large teepee-shaped cones, outside of which is parked an ancient rusting classic car. It’s no exaggeration that if I could have spent sunrise to sundown there sketching I would have. As it happened, we were a bit pressed for time so I had to do the quick outline sketches and draw the details in later from the pictures I took. This place was heaven. There’s nothing I like more than something metal and rusty, probably because I myself am a bit metal and rusty. Look at that old Ford below though, with its headlights knocked out, what a beauty. It would have been interesting to explore Holbrook a little more, we just drove through it to find here, but that was definitely a town I could sketch a lot of.
But we were on a schedule to reach another National Park for our collection – Petrified Forest. This was in The Book, a diverse and unusual place full of strange unearthly landscapes, like the Painted Desert, the Blue Mesa, and the Rainbow Forest, and scattered everywhere are so many broken logs, hundreds of millions of years old, that time has turned into stone, or ‘agate’. Many of them look like normal tree logs from the outside, although the bark has turned stony since the late Triassic, but inside might be the most colourful crystal colours, due to the process of fossilization. It was fascinating. We wandered about the strange landscapes, trying to imagine the forests millions of years ago that eventually left us with these, as the face of the planet shifted up and down. These trees were probably on Pangaea. When 200 billion years old you reach, look as good you will not.
I know ‘Petrified Forest’ sounds like something from a Halloween movie, but there are no scary monsters here. There are a few dinosaurs though, and not just dinosaurs but other prehistoric beasts, which we discovered at the Visitor Center. Many date from the Triassic Period, which as you will know comes before both the Jurassic and the Cretaceous. The Triassic was the period in which we saw the rise of the dinosaurs, the New Hope following the cataclysmic Permian-Triassic Extinction event, while the Jurassic was more like Empire Strikes Back I guess, Diplodocus being like the AT-ATs, and the Cretaceous very much the Return of the Jedi of prehistoric periods, with T-Rex being like the Emperor, and the Ewoks being that big asteroid. I’ve not thought this through, but I think Han Solo being frozen in carbonite is significant. Anyway I drew the skeleton below which is of Placerias Hesternus, a herbivorous “not-quite-a-mammal” from the late Triassic, which look a bit like the creature that Anakin Skywalker rides in the Geonosian arena in Attack of the Clones, because everything is about Star Wars.
Side note, I went to see the new Jurassic Park movie this weekend, “Jurassic World Dominion”. Now I love Jurassic Park, the original film, it’s perfect. Jurassic World Dominion on the other hand…phew, glad that is over. Those newer movies should now go extinct, please, never dig them up. It’s like they never took their own advice from the first film, they never stopped to think about whether they should. Jurassic Park had its shot, and nature selected it for extinction. Now what I am doing there is making references to the brilliant original film, which is what the new film does constantly, and badly. I only went to see it to see the original trio of Alan, Ellie and Ian (the Han, Luke and Leia of the Jurassic films, if you will) back together again, which was nice. Every scene though it seemed like, hmm there’s no dinosaur in this room, let’s put dinosaurs here! And here! And here! Too many dinosaurs, not enough story. They really wanted to explore the idea of dinosaurs in the snow though, for some reason, it was like Barney on Ice. And oh look! T-Rex v Giganotosaurus! Who wins? Who cares. Not relevant. Next time, just make a Street Fighter style game but with dinosaurs. It was a pretty terrible movie. At one point Jeff Goldblum even says, “Jurassic World? Yeah, not a fan…” and like everyone on set stares at the audience for about ten minutes (I might have imagined that last bit) until we all died inside, got buried beneath rock for millions of years, then were cloned again using amphibian DNA for the grand finale, which was basically “so nothing’s changed then”. Jurassic World Dumb-inion more like. Two Iguanadon thumbs down.
Anyway back to our Arizona trip! That was our day along Route 66. We ended it with some local pizza in Flagstaff, getting ready for the next part of the trip – the Grand Canyon…