I plunged back into the swirling snow, giggling like a girl at the sight. As I merged back onto Interstate 40, I watched carefully for accumulation and icy patches. The snow turned to ice turned to drizzle turned to white ice pellets...I didn't have any idea there were so many forms of frozen precipitation! Except for a few icy patches I encountered on bridges, the driving conditions weren't too bad yet so I just carried on. The storms, which had varied greatly in intensity, had begun to subside as I approached Gallup. By the time I hit Arizona, the sun was peeking through the clouds, lighting selected areas garishly and brilliantly. There were all sorts of spectacular clouds on the distant horizons - snow, ice and rain poured from huge storm cells while little white puffy clouds hovered nearby.
I am SO glad I followed my instinct on this one. While I passed through a couple of short icy squalls on my way out to the southern end of the park, it was crystal clear and sunny by the time I reached the trailhead called Long Logs where I'd go for my walk. After getting direction from the ranger, I set off on the short hike from the parking lot to the loop trail that winds through the largest concentration of petrified wood in the park. It was a sublime day for a walk and I was the only person as far as the eye could see in any direction. My heart began to soar as I drank in everything around me. I felt that deep peacefulness that comes when you truly believe nothing matters. I loved everything around me. And I hadn't even gotten to the logs yet!
When I did see my first log, I have to say, I was simply not prepared. Not for the beauty, not for the abundance, but especially not the COLOR! No! They couldn't be real!
I wandered around the hills in glorious solitude, frequently pausing to drink in a new color cocktail when its own unique combination of oranges, purples, pinks and greens caught my eye. The air was crisp and cold but my hike kept me toasty inside my coat as the wind tousseled my hair mercilessly. I was SO happy. I like to never miss an opportunity to be awed by the fearsome beauty of this planet we call home, and this little stretch was mighty pleasing to me and all the wild weather, simply the perfect appertif.
I lingered far long than expected, to the point that when I got back to the office, the ranger told me they'd be watching for me, wondering where I was. I spent some time telling the three rangers how thrilled I was with my walk and they seemed genuinely pleased. One of the fellas told me, "No more than 2 out of every 10 people that visit the park go on that walk, and it's because you have to walk a bit to get to the trail. No one wants to walk anymore! They miss all that amazing beauty because they won't get out of their cars and walk."
It was a good reminder because that's what I've been learning on this trip so far. Walking gives you a different scale, a different sense of a place. By setting aside time each day to take a one hour walk, I'm experiencing a new kind of relationship to some of the places I visit. For example, I doubt Vaughn, New Mexico would ever have lodged in my mind unless I had spent an hour moving around it on foot. This is an exciting development in the realm of my adventures!
What was also exciting, but much more stressful was the drive that followed out to Sedona. I went through some beautiful little squalls of snow on my way back to the interstate, and even made it as far as Flagstaff without issue, but when I turned off toward Sedona things began to get a little tricky. It had obviously just finished snowing a good bit in the city, and when I started down the tiny winding road out to Sedona, I was immediately beset by swirling clouds of snow. I had no idea when I set out that the speed limit on a good portion of that road is set at 35 (with lots of switchbacks rated at 15 or 20 mph), much less in a snowstorn in the dark of night. I'll just summarize by saying my drive was exquisitely beautiful and excruciatingly difficult all at the same time. I was very glad to reach my lodgings in Sedona, where I'll have the luxury of spending the next several days in one (incredibly beautiful) place.