As we were looking at the map on the way out of Grand Canyon country we discovered that we could totally do an entire week of Junior Ranger programs without any deviation from our route! I hear you chanting “ROAD-SCHOOL! ROAD-SCHOOL!” *crowd goes mild* I know, I was totally excited too! The girl child managed to snake a sweet, pink Junior Ranger vest from us at Grand Canyon. They didn’t have a green one in Wesson’s size but we found them at our next stop: Walnut Canyon National Monument.
This was a neat place that I’d never heard of, and the Rangers were so excited about the canyon that it was hard not to be excited with them. The Ranger pictured above talked about a rock slide they’d had like it was Christmas morning. They had a great facility that talked about the natives and showed their way of life in what visually looked like a really rough place to live. They also had a fourth grade program with the local schools in which the students wrote and illustrated books about the people and area. It was a really neat idea, something that I’m making a mental note of for later.
This was a pretty busy day as far as travel days go. We had one more stop to make before we made it to our campground. To the children’s horror we sang Eagles songs most of the way there.
Aww yes! We stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! Some nice people took our photo, and in turn we took one for someone else, and so on, and so on. It’s was like a steady stream of tourists who needed another body.
Not to spoil the illusion but this was literally just a wall made to look like a building. To their credit it’s a darn good looking wall. They even have a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford painted in the window like a reflection. The town is pretty desolate beyond this corner. Yet another victim of the freeway bypassing the state route.
Our chosen campground was supposed to be called Sun Valley RV Resort. Sounds fancy, right? The correct analogy for this situation would be a McDonalds salad. “Oh, hey, I’ll just have a salad, those are good for you.” Except it’s a McDonalds salad with brown lettuce and old tomatoes, part of a glove, ranch dressing from last year, and chicken nuggets made from pink slime. When we arrived it was ten feet from the freeway, absolutely no cell service, and the actual name was ROOT 66. Just like that, spelled wrong, with it’s sensory assaulting capital letters and all. It was also situated around an abandoned-looking hourly motel. We ended up back-tracking a few miles to sleep in the parking lot of a Hopi Indian truck stop. It was the correct choice.
Side note: Not having cell service is an automatic deal breaker for us. We don’t ever put ourselves in a situation where we can’t dial 911. We’ve turned around at better campgrounds in the name of safety. It could have been gorgeous there, we still would not have stayed.
Well rested and thankful for the ability to boondock, we set out the next morning to visit Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.
This was another one of those places that photographs could never fully represent. The petrified wood sparkled and the desert had so many different colors. The layers were so defined yet blended together; painted indeed. Just looking at the landscape you could tell where there had been water and what had stuck up beyond the ocean.
There were multiple visitor centers within the parks. The first one we visited had an awesome museum full of fossils and full skeletons, giant logs of sparkly petrified wood (polished and natural). They had a great Junior Ranger workbook. It was a real challenge for the kids and they definitely earned their badges that day.
This is the part in the story where we look back and have many regrets. Just before we got to New Mexico – and I mean JUST before, we could see the welcome sign – the truck overheated. Overheated is not a strong enough word to describe what had happened, and we’d discover that much later. We barely made it off the freeway to a truck stop. Justin discovered that most of the coolant was missing from the truck, along with the cap from the reservoir. We thought that maybe he’d forgotten to put it back on and the antifreeze had evaporated. We sat for about 45 minutes letting everything cool then forced our way the 20 miles to Wal-Mart to get some distilled water to mix with the half gallon of antifreeze we had with us. We puttered along at 45mph on the freeway, stopping every few miles to let the engine cool. We ate dinner at Wal-Mart, and we still don’t have a table.
Then, when the engine was cool enough, Justin added coolant and distilled water. It seemed as if our truck troubles were over and we went on ahead to our next campground: Dancing Eagle Casino. This was not just a parking lot at a casino, this was a parking lot at a casino with a FULL HOOK UP for $10/night! And a grocery store within walking distance! And a gas station across the street! And a Post Office! It was basically a town within a parking lot. We ended up being here for four days while we explored the area. Justin went exploring on his bicycle one evening, got trapped by vicious dogs along Route 66, and we had to go rescue him. He was not happy about getting his kicks that day.
I wish that I could tell you that the truck story was over and done with. Unfortunately it was going to get much, much worse. Another tale for another day, though.