Get out of the car and walk

Ah!  A day begun with some nice elitist breakfast!  One of my favorite things in life.  Since I found myself in Albuquerque Sunday morning, I knew I should be able to scare up some fancy coffee and something besides a country breakfast.  The Gold Street Caffe in downtown Albuquerque did not disappoint - a huge mug of cafe au lait and a plate of southwestern eggs Benedict were my menu selections.   The Benedict had a delicious homemade green chile/cheese/corn biscuit for the base, topped with several slices of thick carmelized bacon and a perfectly poached egg.  The whole shebang was sauced with a sickly greenish jalapeno hollandaise that was absolutely delicious.  All the flavors worked together really well .  A sort of cute hipster artist boy who bore more than a passing resemblance to Jack Sparrow in this attire and mannerisms sat at the bar and made grandiose gestures as he leafed through his Sunday morning paper.  His large-enough-to-be-seen-at-the-back-of-the-theater expressions were obviously designed to get not only my attention, but that of anyone who might need a little entertainment on a dreary winter Sunday morning.  He amused me greatly and helped fan the glow I've had for Albuquerque for quite a while now.   I think it may well be my favorite town in New Mexico.

After my perfect brunch, I set off west with the goal of reaching Sedona, Arizona by early evening.   The morning was gray and overcast, much as the days which preceeded it.  Ominous clouds appeared as I travelled further west and by the time I reached the Tourist Information Center outside Grant, New Mexico, big heavy snowflakes had begun to tumble from the sky in great downpours.  I was the only guest at the visitor center and commanded the full attention of the two bored attendants.  One of them called ahead to check the roads for me and said the reports he was getting were pretty grim.  The two of them sounded doubtful that I'd make it as far as Gallup, but gave me plenty of emergency numbers and advice, just in case.

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 had been giving some thought to where I might conduct the day's walk after making a mental note at breakfast that I would probably be in the area of the Petrified Forest National Park at just about the right time of day.  The only question mark in my mind was what the weather was going to do.  But I ended up deciding to just go for it because whatever the weather chose to do, it would probably enhance the experience - and besides, I could always turn around if it got too hairy or uncomfortable.

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.

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