The west is a lyric you can drive through. The west is a song. Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Wichita, Sante Fe', Phoenix, all get my internal jukebox ticking through tunes that aptly illuminate the landscape flying by the windshield. Any musician worth his salt, would be unable to visit this part of the world, without paying it proper homage.
We left the Grand Canyon and headed towards Flagstaff onto the endless ribbon of Highway 40, the very highway that put the Mother Road into the sunset of America's memory. It ended the era of relaxed travel by car. The fossils are visible, but the romance is long dead with the exception of a few restored facsimiles. The chrome, fins, and echoes of hollow body rockabilly that serenaded the flock west remain, but they are petroglyphs of a lost time and place. It made me sad I was too young to be part of the migration, and yet I was elated to be here at all. Now was as good a time as any. The desert skyline looks the same as before Route 66 was cut into her side, and she will retain her profile long after we are gone.
I left my friend John a message in Santa Fe', to see if he wanted to put up two brothers on the road. We made the left in Flagstaff, and became aware of time and miles for the first time in our trip. We were hungry and tired as we neared Winslow Arizona. I was two hours into my shift when I heard my brother take a quick gasp. I looked up to see tire smoke and a Ford Explorer leave the fast lane, disappear in front of a semi and then jet back left into the median. What followed was a violent cloud of reddish dust and twisted images of a car in flight. We were the first to the car. The young Mexican family of four was crawling from the wreckage. The windows were all gone, the man, his wife and two children were all alive and covered in dirt. The contents of the car, were strewn like trash on the median. The mother and daughter cried and the father (clearly in shock) went from gratitude to grief and back every twenty seconds. Others stopped to help and Davey called the police. We gathered up all the items from the ground, and turned off their truck. When the ambulance arrived and we decided to leave, the young father stood up, hugged, blessed, and thanked us both. We crossed the road to our car, shaking our heads and set off for Winslow to find food. My phone rang, shortly after we arrived at the Pizza Hut. John asked where we were and I said, "I'm standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona!" Without missing a beat John replied, "Take it easy." We traded lyrics for a few more minutes, before calculating the distance to Santa Fe'. John figured we'd roll in around nine, if nothing crazy happened on the way. "What could possibly go wrong?" I said, and we both laughed.
We exited the Purple Heart Highway, in Holbrook, and started down lonely highway 180, towards the Petrified Forrest, National Park. It was almost six thirty, and we worried we might not make the park before it closed. We entered an alien landscape and winded along the Petrified Forrest Road. We saw a few cars, but mostly had the place to ourselves. We stopped and looked around an ancient settlement, and elegant drawings on stone. The golden grass, the setting sun and the Painted Desert made us pause to breathe. Once again we were in a magical place and leaving too soon.
Now we were officially late. Santa Fe' was five hours away. More to come....