Bringing order out of the luggage chaos, having a last breakfast with the remainder of our Road Scholar group in the comfortable lobby of the College Inn, running a load of laundry, communicating via email with the friends we are planning to meet in Arizona, plotting our course to Flagstaff ... that was the order of the morning. By 11:00 we had set out to reverse yesterday's travel, comfortably familiar: ascending the Colorado Plateau at Hurricane; pausing again at LeFevre Overlook with its all-encompassing view of the Grand Staircase; leaving out the side trips to Kanab and the Grand Canyon North Rim and not stopping as we traversed Marble Canyon and the Navajo Bridge for the third time.
It was at the intersection of US89A and US89 that we entered new territory of stark and inexpressible beauty. The Vermillion Cliffs gave way to the Echo Cliffs, which were noticably tilted down on their east side. After a while it seemed odd that the road wasn't slanted, too. Tilting my head was an option I had to resist!
Further south past Cameron (the turn off the the Grand Canyon South Rim), the terrain changed to mounded Chinle (low rock formations that look like mashed potatoes). Then, basalt cropped up, seemingly emerging from (and randomly scattered across) the rather flat ground.
As the basalt became more plentiful, I noticed on our Four Corners/Southwest USA map a national monument north of Flagstaff -- Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Tal seemed game to take a look. At the entrance I even managed to find in our over-stuffed travel folder his park/monument pass. Whew! After touring the visitor center (where staff members wore black arm bands or had a black stripe across their badges for the Glen Canyon rangers killed earlier in the week) we drove about nine miles into the park getting a good look at the Sunset Crater (photo above left), the lava flows, fissures in the valley below the cinder cone, a long view of the Painted Desert in the late afternoon sun and colorful fall wildflowers.
The Painted Desert in the late afternoon from the Painted Desert Vista
in the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa)
These are the plumed seeds, not the flowers
-- which are rose-shaped and white and bloom earlier in the year.
We couldn't have asked for a more interesting place for brief exploration before entering the fray of late afternoon I-40 traffic around Flagstaff to find our hotel for the night.