Turning the Page

Sunday, November 24, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, Days 17-19:  
Page, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ

After being boxed into Page by a weather system for a couple of days, we finally broke out of the hotel on Sunday and headed south.  Though our original plans called for going north into Utah, the weather there has been so dicey and their forecast so fraught with winter storm warnings and such, we decided to follow the way of migrating birds and go south.

Warmer weather toward the Equator, right?  Well, not exactly.  We left Page, which historically has an average of 2 snow days (totaling 3.4") per year (guess the last four days were an aberration) and drove to Flagstaff.  At an elevation of 7,000 feet, Flagstaff accumulates an average of 104 inches of snow annually on about 34 days of snow.**  Needless to say, we encountered some snow on our journey today.

When we left the hotel around 9 a.m., a mix of icy rain and snow was falling, as it has for the last three days.  Since a stretch of US-89 collapsed in February and has yet to be repaired, we headed south on Indian Route 20, a previously gravel road that the Navajo Nation had tried to get paved for the last 40 years.  With the 40-mile detour necessitated by the damage on 89, suddenly the 28 miles of Indian-20 that was unpaved was asphalted in 79 days, involving lots of overtime, and greatly improving lives for school bus drivers, tractor trailer operators, and others who had previously been mired axle-deep in the soft gravel section of roadway.

As usual, the temperature dropped and frozen precipitation increased as we gained elevation making our way south on the plateau.  The highest point we reached on what is now signed US-89T (temporary?) was a little over 6,000 feet.  By that time, the temperature was at 31° (down from 37° when we left Page), but precipitation had diminished to almost nothing and visibility had improved significantly.

Along that stretch, we were still in the Navajo Nation, but saw only a few isolated homes, no settlements along the entire section from just outside Page until we reached the tiny crossroads labeled The Gap, where the road rejoined US-89.  Though we had seen deep snow cover along the roadside at higher elevations, by the time we were back on 89, the shoulders and nearby mesas were snow-free.

In Cameron, we stopped at the historic Cameron Trading Post to track down a letterbox before continuing south to a couple of National Park Service locations—Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano.  At the ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo (pictured above), we saw a multi-level, high-rise structure which once had about 100 rooms.  The local area provided materials ideal for the construction of freestanding masonry walls.

Sandstone slabs, limestone blocks and chuncks of basalt set with a clay-based mortar created sturdy buildings that remain at least partially intact after more than 700 years.  This structure was built during the 1100s when Puebloan people came together in this area to erect a vast farming community.  But then the nearby Sunset Volcano erupted, and by 1250 A.D., the ancient pueblos stood empty as the farmers moved on and established new homes elsewhere.

We experienced our high temp of the day (39°) at the visitor center for this monument.  Within 15 minutes, we had climbed some 1,000 feet in elevation, and snow was falling.  But there were letterboxes to be found, so we couldn't let any adverse meteorological conditions deter us.

Searching for the letterbox
We donned our rain gear and our fabulous Neo overshoes, and off we went in search of hidden treasure.  This one was relatively easy, though one we found later in deeper snow was more of a challenge.  Thanks to the rather large rock under which it was hidden, we were able to track it down in spite of the thick coating of white stuff.

Continuing around the loop road which goes through both NPS sites, we came to Sunset Crater Volcano, which was largely hidden in snow and cloud cover today.

A valiant effort, but the sun did not break through.
Driving the final 15 miles or so into Flagstaff, we continued in light snow, checking into the hotel by 5 p.m. and having dinner at the next-door Coco's Bakery & Restaurant, a Far West chain featuring fresh ingredients and generous, flavorful dishes.

Tomorrow, we'll move south to Phoenix, where we should encounter some warmer temperatures, and visit the state capitol.

**The last time we drove thorough Flagstaff, in 1995, we got stuck on I-40 for several hours in a snowstorm waiting for the uprighting of two tractor trailers that had jackknifed and overturned.

Black volcanic soil near Sunset Crater Volcano
Suspension bridge over Little Colorado River at Cameron
Some of the widely varying rock formations roadside along US-89
Snow falling near Sunset Volcano
That bold spot of blue sky had no chance.
Wupatki scene