Saturday, 15 September 2012

Day 17 - A donkey bit my postcards

Our first destination today was a town called Oatman that was rumoured to be the most batshit place in Arizona.  After yesterday we were thinking this town would have to go some in order to achieve this, but ever hopeful we set off. After one quite spectacular wrong turn we found the Oatman highway and drove across the vast wash in front of the Black Mountains in search of batshittery of epic proportions.
Something told us this was not the right road...
Rachael was behind the wheel and her previous rally driving experience was bloody useful as the road was like one of those children's colouring book puzzles where the duck has to get to the pond by crossing a plate of spaghetti. 

They used to drive this road in cars without modern suspension and power steering. Nutters.
Having survived the hairpin bends and loose definition of the term "guard rails" we arrived in Oatman ready to view the spectacle.  It turns out this place was quite correctly hyped as insane.
Oatman was a gold mining town until the 1930s and in it's heyday boasted 10,000 people.  Clark Gable loved the place and even spent his honeymoon with Carole Lombard there.  Route 66 took over as the gold mining came to an end but the town refused to die when the interstates were brought in, and now does a roaring trade in tourism. It's like a wild west town survived - wooden boardwalks outside each store complete with railings where you could tie up a horse.  If you have one of course and there isn't already a car parked there. Only now all the saloons etc sell knick-knacks and t-shirts and route 66 tat.

Oatman's finest tourist tat.
We see what they did there when naming this place.

Aside from the many and varied gift shops which are in original buildings, the town boasts a couple of restaurants. The Oatman hotel where we had lunch serves up Buffalo burgers and the most scrummy and crispiest fries I think I've ever had. The decor of the restaurant is amazing too - the walls are completely covered in dollar bills signed by visitors. Of course we added one of our own so people from the future may come across our travel blog URL as they peruse the walls.  Definitely THE place to eat in Oatman.

An expensive way to decorate a restaurant.
But Oatman's true batshittery comes from it's other residents and I don't mean the lovely people who work in the gift shops and hotel. No, Oatman is home to several wild burros.  Thats donkeys to you and me.  And they roam around the main street totally freely. The whole town is covered in donkey shit and there are signs up telling you to be careful feeding the donkeys because they bite.

A drove of donkeys getting ready to mug the tourists.
Needless to say the place is unusual to say the least. Getting in and out of the gift shops is interesting because they lie and stand on the sidewalks, stick their heads into shops and at one point one of them took a bite out of my postcard bag while I was trying to negotiate my way between shops. I was not impressed and I'll own up to being a little scared of the huge white donkey that was getting pretty aggressive with my postcards. When she took the second bite I pulled my bag away and reversed direction to get back to the street.  Ok so I totally ran away from a postcard eating donkey.  So would you because she was a right moody cow. Rachael immediately dubbed her the Sheriff of Oatman and said I was being brought up on charges for bad taste in souvenirs.  Honestly anyone would think I've bought a lot of tat or something.  Oh damn, I forgot to look for another suitcase today.

Staking a claim on any tourists trapped in this store.
If I stand here long enough someone will succumb to my sad!eyes and buy me food.

Leaving Oatman behind we were reasonably sure that nowhere else in Arizona could possibly top that level of epic batshittery.  This became an absolute fact because less than an hour later we crossed the state line into California.  Most of the borders between states in the US have been passed with little fanfare.  Sometimes they are on bridges over rivers, sometimes just a couple of signs on the interstate or on R66 itself. Mostly when we've found one Rachael has wanted to mark it by trying to be in both places at once but that's ok because we are usually the only ones around. California is special though.  At the California border there is a customs-like checkpoint where you are interrogated by the fruit police.  You aren't allowed to take any fruit or vegetables across the border into California.  We think this is to protect the large agricultural areas of the state from unwanted diseases etc.  I do hope someone has told the wildlife about this rule. It would seem a shame to regulate the humans only for a bear or a rat to ruin things. Needless to say Rachael did not try to straddle the fruit police checkpoint.  We didn't think it would go down too well.

We enjoyed California for a while especially as the road gets dryer and more desert like and we saw actual real cactuses on the side of the road (still none of the Saguaro ones that appear on all the postcards though), but fairly quickly we left it again for our third major detour on this trip and our 9th US state.  Pretty sure we qualify for a set of steak knives now. Heading north from Needles we drove for about an hour and a half to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada which is tonights stop.  Before entering Las Vegas itself we did a slight eastern swerve over to the Hoover Dam.  I've wanted to see the Hoover Dam for a long time.  It's been used as a movie location so many times from Universal Soldier to Transformers and many others and I've long been fascinated by it.  Rachael totally humoured this desire but upon getting there she became distracted by the beautiful interstate bridge that spans high over the river as it flows away from the dam.

The view from the Hoover Dam to the river below and road bridge above.
The lizard basks in the sunshine in front of the Hoover Dam.
We didn't do the tour of the dam because mostly I just wanted to see it in real life and walk across it. After half an hour marvelling at the place we headed for our hotel and my first view of the Las Vegas strip.

We are staying in the newly refurbished Tropicana at the south end of the strip (Las Vegas Blvd).  The hotel is beautifully modern without being overwhelming which is nice because we went down the strip for dinner and a look around and the same cannot be said for all the hotels in Vegas.  The worst offenders we visited were the Venetian and Caesars Palace.  We went into the Venetian for a look around and to see the Gondola ride.  The place is a total nightmare.  The signage for getting around inside is completely useless, apparently intentionally, so that you cover as much of the property as possible and to prevent you from leaving the building before parting with all of your money as well as your sanity.  Needless to say we didn't spend a single cent in the Venetian. Even if the owner wasn't on the right-wing funding shit list, the place annoyed me so much I wouldn't spend anything in there on principle.
Right before we fell into an Adventure LARP - You are in a maze of twisty passages all alike.
The firework setting on my camera came into it's own in Las Vegas.
Crossing over the street we stopped briefly at the Margarita bar attached to the Treasure Island hotel - we had frozen virgin Pina Colada and Strawberry Daiquiri.  I was sorely tempted to climb in to the Strawberry Daiquiri machine it was that good.  Although it did give me the stomach equivalent of brain freeze at one point.

Frozen cocktail goodness - beware the frozen oesophagus.
Next we headed over towards Caesars Palace where we had planned to try their new buffet for dinner.  Apparently since it only opened this week after a huge refit, loads of other people had the same idea so rather than queue for an hour to get in we went over to the Bellagio instead. Trying to find our way around Caesars Palace was almost as much a nightmare as the Venetian. I've been to Casinos before in the US - the Borgata in Atlantic City and the amazing MGM Grand at Foxwoods in CT.  Neither of them was designed so bloody badly that you just want to sit down and cry.  I was very glad to leave Caesars and head into the Bellagio where signage and the world began to make sense again.

Leaving Caesars we walked past several look-a-like characters they have for people to get their photo taken with.  The Mickey / Minnie mouse ones were presumably sufficiently different to avoid legal action from Disney but they looked pretty shabby to me. Plus they were way too tall.  In real life Mickey and Minnie are total shortarses.  I know cos I've met them at Disneyland Paris.
As we were passing the Jack Sparrow character he called out to Rachael "Hey Ariel - what are you doing out of the water?"  Needless to say this made Rachael's day and she's fallen asleep still grinning.

The Bellagio buffet is pretty amazing - so many different things to choose from and everything was delicious.  Both Rachael and I made a point of getting fruit and salad as well as sampling other yummy things. I think our time in the flyover states has warped our taste buds.  Apparently there is such a thing as too much red meat and starchy carbs. We still can't quite believe it.

After dinner we blew a few small bills on the slot machines in the Bellagio just to see what all the fuss is about.  At one point Rachael was about $40 up but that soon reversed and we got bored and headed back to the Tropicana.  Gambling is obviously not a gene that either one of us possesses in any significant way.

Tomorrow we head back to route 66 and start our California adventure properly. We have just over a week left and still so much to cover and I can't wait to see what the golden state has in store for us.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Day 16 - Batshit Arizona

They say that when you look back on your life you don't remember the nights you got plenty of sleep. With that in mind, we got up this morning for the literal crack of dawn to watch the sunrise. Neither of us are morning people so this was a new experience, and as ways to start the day go, I have to say I've had worse.

The sun is going the wrong direction

And there I was thinking sunrise was something that only happened when you stay up a really long time

Not the worst view in the world

The amazing thing about sunrise over the Grand Canyon is how dramatically the landscape changes as the light shifts and paints the scenery in different ways. I'm sure we could have quite happily stayed there and watched all day, but the road was calling.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast, and both had utterly out-of-character joy at the amount of fruit available. Yes, even I get tired of carbs after a while. The Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn scores massive points on that front, and even more because when I lamented the lack of tea, one of the chefs went and dug some out of the only-just-arrived truck for me. In the tea provision stakes, that puts this hotel only just behind the Blue Swallow, although it was about three times the price (but then they all are up there).

After breakfast I took advantage of the fact that this was the first time we had reasonable (though not great) wifi without having a massively heavy day of driving ahead and did some work for a couple of hours. Obviously I'm only mentioning this because I learned today that people back in Durham are actually reading this (*waves*), but also it did allow for a nice guilt-free jaunt through Arizona.

We rejoined Route 66 in Williams, which calls itself the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. This is where you can take a steam train up to the Grand Canyon, so a lot of Route 66 travellers - including many that we've met on this trip - leave their cars and bikes here and head up by train. We didn't do that, but I still insisted on visiting the choo-choo anyway, on account of being a geek and all.

Arizona's signage has been hit and miss, but when they decide to go for it they really go for it

A town whose two major attractions are methods of leaving it 
They cunningly make you loop around one-way streets, thus forcing you to take in more than the usual one street per town we've seen elsewhere

The only thing cooler than a steam train is a steam train that has the Grand Canyon at the end of it

Williams turned out to be a very pretty town in its own right; it's clearly been looked after, and they've gone to a lot of effort to promote their Route 66 heritage. The only downside was the rather surly staff in the visitor's centre; then again, perhaps we were out of line going into a shop and expecting to exchange slips of green paper for goods and services.

Someone just left this lying outside a diner, so I traded in the SUV again.
Surely Fi won't have a problem with this one? It has wheels and everything.

Williams was the last town to be bypassed by the Interstate back in 1984, but hosting an incredibly cool method of getting to a pretty major tourist attraction has obviously helped it not to suffer too badly. By contrast, our next stop in Ash Fork had clearly seen better days.

Would my landlord object if I painted my house these colours?

To be fair, being bypassed was rough on a lot of places, and when your claim to fame is that you're "the Flagstone Capital of the World," you have an extra uphill climb.

The drive through Arizona today was especially pleasant, as instead of following alongside the Interstate we swept out into lonely countryside. Much greener than we had expected Arizona to be, but then we are still at pretty high altitude.

It's nice to be reassured that we're still on the right road

If we follow this lorry will we end up back home?

While on the road, we sang the Buffy musical all the way through at 5700 feet. Because why not?

In the afternoon, we stopped in the small town of Seligman, on which the town of Radiator Springs in Cars was based; apparently Seligman local Angel Delgadillo described to John Lasseter how the opening of the Interstate almost instantaneously stopped traffic through the town. Alas, Seligman does not have a brand new racing team headquarters to lift its fortunes, so instead it waves a massive red flag at every passing Route 66 tourist. There are more tacky tourist shops on this one street that I think we've seen in whole towns. And they're not just replicas of the other tourist shops, either; each one goes out of its way in a different way to lure in the tourists, with the result that each store is wackier than the last.

How to sell stuff in Batshit Central

We started off with Angel's store itself (though he wasn't in), which had a large range of sparkly t-shirts (disclaimer: any future photographs of me in tacky sparkly t-shirts are pure coincidence). We then made our way next door to his late brother's Snow Cap restaurant.

I am pretty sure that if you look up the definition of "batshit" in the dictionary, you will find a picture of Delgadillo's Snow Cap in Seligman, AZ. There is no other word to describe this place.

Reassuring, I suppose?

And to think London tourists think photographing plain red phone boxes is cool

Do you think Fi will let me have one of these?

The lizard gets to bask in brightly-coloured chairs

Since we'd photographed all the batshittery, we decided to be polite and order drinks. That side of the restaurant business ought to be fairly mundane and straightforward, right? Not in Seligman. From squirting me with fake mustard to offering a bundle of straw (as in, the stuff that comes from a field) to go with our drinks, this is a place everyone should see once.

The hilariously over-wrought tourist-trapping clearly works; considering this is a small town with a population of less than 500, in the short time we were there at least four coach-loads of tourists turned up. In one shop at the other end of the street, they even had a US coin cheat-sheet taped to the counter, which suggests a significant number of overseas visitors. These people know what they're doing.

Clearly a motel with no particular target audience in mind 
You think this is extreme? Try touching my car...

It's nice to learn a bit of history

Once you've found it, the question becomes "What the hell is Seligman?"

Unfortunately-named motel would definitely not be on our list of places to stay

By the time we finally dragged ourselves out of Seligman, we were thoroughly bemused but very effectively relieved of cash. The last stretches of the road are going to have to throw up a massive surprise to beat this place for weirdness.

Our final major stop of the day made a valiant effort to take that crown. Having enjoyed Meramec Caverns so much, we simply had to stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns. Also the giant dinosaur may have had something to do with luring us in.

Honestly, you survive being impaled by giant arrows only to be devoured by a dinosaur. This is not my week.

The Grand Canyon Caverns used to be known as Dinosaur Caverns, because some old bones were found there that were assumed to have been from dinosaurs. Turns out the bones actually belonged to a giant sloth that fell in during the last ice age. Had I been in charge I would have retained the name and filled the caverns with dinosaurs, but I guess changing the name is the boring option for boring people.

These caverns are very different to the ones at Meramec, as they're completely dry. This means no stalactites and stalagmites, and obviously no water, so the scenery isn't as pretty. They do have a similar business model for improving on nature, though.

According to my experience from this trip, the world underground is full of brightly coloured lights

We were told by our guide that when these caverns were first discovered in 1927 by Walter Peck, he thought he had discovered gold. It turned out to be rust; easy mistake to make, apparently.

We also learned that Mr Peck was a complete dick as well as an idiot. When he realised he wasn't going to get rich using this place as a mine, he opened it up as a tourist attraction. One of the "sights" tourists could see was actual human remains dressed up as cavemen. As if that isn't creepy enough in its own right, these guys had only been dead ten years, and he refused requests by their relatives to return the bones.

This whole thing could have been sold as a horror tour. One of the still-remaining exhibits is the remains of an actual bobcat who fell into the caverns, broke his hip and then died slowly of dehydration (the dryness means things are preserved to a creepy degree). And the giant sloth whose bones I mentioned before? They have a magnificent life size replica of her (the original bones were given to a university) just to make you like her, and then tell you that when she fell into the caverns she broke her back. There are even still visible marks in the cavern walls where she spent goodness-knows-how-long trying to claw her way out with a broken back before dying. And the reason they know those marks came from her? There were still claws embedded in the walls.

If you're now picturing that scene from Silence of the Lambs with the nail in the wall, you'll know why I'm going to have nightmares tonight.

On the plus side, if you're willing to shell out $700 you can have those nightmares in a really cool place.

I assume that if you want a lie-in you get gawked at by the morning tours

This is the underground hotel room featured on Billy Connolly's Route 66 programme, but I can't say we were tempted.

The tour finished with a light show, which got us all excited as we anticipated a repeat of Meramec's God Bless America fiasco. This one was quite different, though; the lights were just laser points on the ceiling, there was no audible light switch flicking, and the music started with the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme and segued into other space and SF-related music before finishing with Bobby Troup's Route 66. So, points for choice of music but the light show itself was nowhere near good enough to be classed 'good' and not horrendously awful enough to be as hilarious as Meramec's. Overall, a resounding "meh."

As we were making our way back up to the surface, our tour guide redeemed herself for the questionable light show by warning us of an upcoming heavily-policed speed trap on the road. Now that's the kind of useful information you want from a tour.

From there we had a fairly straightforward run through twisty-turny roads all the way to Kingman, nicely aided by a useful signpost.

They forgot Winona

Our stop for the night is in Kingman, Arizona, at the Hill Top Motel, which funnily enough is right on top of a hill. How they come up with these names I'll never know. The motel's owner recommended a local eatery where I got to cross off fried catfish from the must-eats that Tonya provided us with back in Missouri. And tomorrow, we head out into the desert!

This sign had better not be teasing us

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Day 15 - There are holes in the planet

We woke up this morning very excited because we had another day of Arizona ahead of us and today we got to go to the Grand Canyon.  But before any of that excitement we had to say goodbye to  Holbrook passing one of two surviving Wigwam motels on our way out. (We are booked to stay in the other on in San Bernadino in a few days time).

If this reminds you of the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars then your brain is doing it's job because it should.
Route 66 has many relics of gas stations and roadside shops / diners that are now entirely devoted to serving the tourist trade who are driving the route. We passed one that wasn't in our guidebook that was called Geronimo's so of course we had to stop.  We'd been led to believe that cactuses were plentiful on Route 66 but this turns out to be a marketing lie.  Arizona is full of cactus but they are almost all much further south.  In particular we wanted the type of cactus that looks like a demented coatrack or a human with uneven arms.  Stopping at Geronimo's we found a metal example and so of course took some pictures as compensation for not being able to get the real thing.
Pretending to be a cactus next to a metal sculpture also pretending to be a cactus.
The Jack Rabbit Trading Post is another one of those places that is now a gift shop with history.  In years gone by there were billboards up and down R66 that did a countdown mileage to the store culminating with the famous sign outside that says "Here it is". Now only that one remains but the store is well worth a visit just for that and the large climbable bunny statue outside.
As if the giant black bunny wasn't enough - the helpful sign tells you that you've made it.

Rachael rides the rabbit.
One of the Eagles most popular hits is a song called "Take it easy". Winslow's claim to fame is that one of the lines in the song says "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona" and so of course they have a corner setup just like the song says with a mural and an absolutely enormous Route 66 sign painted on the floor.  The gift shop on the adjacent corner actually pumps the Eagles out on to the street just in case anyone didn't know about the song.

We weren't sure if we were on the right road until we saw the sign.
 Moving on we stopped off at Meteor City (lol its a roadside stop not a city) where there is another gift shop and also the worlds longest map of Route 66.  At this point I could be snarky and point out that long maps of Route 66 are probably only to be found in the USA and therefore the "World" designation is pointless, but it's a rather nice map so I won't. Also the gift shop is a geodesic dome and the lady in there was lovely so we'd definitely recommend it as a stop for novelty value.

A few miles down the road we stopped at the Meteor Crater which gives Meteor City it's name.  It's a bloody impressive hole in the ground. And while it was a little on the expensive side to visit ($16 each which included the museum and full 1hr guided tour that we didn't have time to take) we felt it was well worth the time and effort.  There was also another gift shop where I felt compelled to spend money. At this point I've given up all pretence that I'm going to fit everything I've bought in my cases.  I'm seriously considering chartering my own plane to get all my tourist tat home.

A pretty big hole in the ground.
When speed limit signs have a sense of humour you know you are in an awesome place.
The EZ guide to route 66 suggested the next interesting place to stop was another roadside attraction called Twin Arrows.  Its at the end of one of the dead end sections of R66 which are pretty common in Arizona as most of the original road was literally overridden by I-40 and doesn't exist any more.  The barriers around Twin Arrows and lack of anywhere to park suggested that it wasn't really up to receiving visitors but we managed to put it's most prominent feature to good use before looping back the way we came and getting back on the interstate.

Struck down by a huge arrow, the lizard couldn't even bask because the pesky sun was hiding behind a cloud.
 On our way to Flagstaff we cruised through the town of Winona. We had some expectations here because Winona is in the song. And by "the song" I mean THE song. In "Get your kicks on route 66" we are implored to "don't forget Winona" and I kind of understand why because the place is pretty instantly forgettable.
Flagstaff was a contradiction and we really didn't give it much time to be honest.  We had better places to be but I'm jumping ahead... What we saw of Flagstaff was part strip mall and part cute arty quarter but we buzzed through because we had a date with a helicopter to see the Grand Canyon.  Let me say that again - WE WENT IN A HELICOPTER TO THE GRAND CANYON!

LOOK!! Still can't believe we actually got to do this.
Needless to say it was un-fucking-believable and honestly I think I may need a month for it to sink in.  Rachael and I ended up having the whole aircraft to ourselves with just our pilot Dale.  She was fantastic and it was a totally smooth ride even going over the rim of the canyon which I had expected to get a bit choppy.  We took video and about a million pictures but none of it does it justice - the english language is insufficient when describing the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon from our helicopter. EPIC doesn't cover it.
I think I could sit looking at it for the rest of my life and never get bored.  They have a saying at Grand Canyon Helicopters "Leave no footprint" - it's because they believe the most ecologically sound way to experience it is from the air.  I wouldn't know if thats true, but I can say that it was an unforgettable experience and No.1 on our must do list for visiting this area.  We also drove into the park and visited one of the viewing areas on the south rim - but the experience from the air is totally different and is so much more.

Tonight we are staying in the town of Tusayan just south of the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park and we had dinner with some fellow Route 66-ers we've met a few times on the way.  The main topic of conversation of course was the Grand Canyon.  I'm warning you now - I'm going to be bloody boring on this subject for a long time.  Can't see it ever getting old.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Day 14 - In which we make discoveries about History that others have somehow missed

I had an amazing night's sleep last night in Gallup, New Mexico. Maybe the beds were good or maybe I was just really tired, it's hard to tell. Still, it means the El Rancho will get a good Tripadvisor review despite their apparently outdated definition of "Convenience of tomorrow" (the geeks do not overlook the lack of wifi in the rooms lightly). That aside (and overlooking the fact that it was our most expensive hotel on the route), the El Rancho is pretty much everything you want out of Route 66 accommodation: it's clean and comfortable, incredibly tacky, it has a fabulous neon sign, and it overplays the movie stars who stayed there back in the day almost as much as Roswell oversells the aliens. Each of the rooms and even the items on the restaurant's menu are named after actors. For dinner last night we both had the Ricardo Montalban, just because of the name. It was tasty too, which is fortunate as otherwise we may have had to yell "KHAAAAAAAAAAN!" and get kicked out of the hotel.

For breakfast this morning, we decided to venture outside the hotel and found a diner that, despite the sign bearing the ubiquitous Route 66 shield, appeared to be a local diner for local people. There was a lot of staring. But that's okay, because there were also very good pancakes. Not as good as Jessica's back in Tucumcari, perhaps, but still outranking IHOP. Incidentally, we are both thoroughly bemused by the American custom of serving meat with sweet pancakes, not to mention that what they call "sausage" is clearly some variety of hamburger. Weird.

Good breakfast, if you don't mind feeling as though you're an exhibit in a zoo

We moved slowly out of Gallup, stopping at regular intervals to shop for Navajo jewellery, which is about a quarter of the price there that it was in Santa Fe. In doing so, we met another real character at the Nizhoni Native American Jewellery Store, on whom I am convinced the character of Ol' Gil in The Simpsons was based. His sales pitch was obviously quite good, as he did manage to relieve us of a reasonable sum of money.

It was at this point that we encountered another peculiar American phenomenon. We were trying to get to an ATM that we had been told was inside the grocery store, but we accidentally tried to walk into the liquor store next door instead, upon which a path was blocked by a burly security guard in sunglasses who asked whether we had a vehicle. We pointed to it in the next car park, and were told that we couldn't be allowed in unless we drove up to the front door. At this point we realised our mistake and moved on to the security-less grocery store, but we were both thoroughly confused. Why do you have to drive up to the door to be served alcohol? Surely it's better if you're not driving at all? Answers on a postcard (or, y'know, a comment form) please.

Heading towards the New Mexico/ Arizona border, the scenery became absolutely spectacular. We actually felt that we were in Radiator Springs of the Pixar film Cars (incidentally, an awesome and horribly underrated movie). Right on top of the border, we came across another opportunity to be relieved of cash.

Another claim we didn't verify...

...but yes, it's rather large

The two rules of successful Route 66 business seem to be: 1) make something unnecessarily large, and 2) provide a good photo op. This place delivered on both fronts, with the bonus that their photo op was also quite useful if you're travelling without a map:

Here I am breathing a massive sigh of relief that we've somehow remained on the correct road

So here we are in state number 7 of 9! (Yes, there are only eight states on Route 66, but we're adding one just so that I could make that Star Trek reference.)

A state famous because it has holes in it

We didn't travel very far today, only a shade over 100 miles, mostly so that we could spend the day in the Petrified Forest National Park, and wow was it worth it.

The visitor centre makes this outlandish claim that the Painted Desert has something to do with different types of minerals being laid down over millions of years.

Colourful rocks

Clearly a spraypaint job

Of course, we are far too clever to fall for that ruse. It's blatantly obvious that what really happened is that a colleague of Slartibartfast grew envious of his fjords and decided to top them by spraypainting a desert in Arizona. The evidence even suggests the use of the cans of spraypaint we left with a kid back at the Cadillac Ranch.

Those colours look suspiciously familiar
See, Arizona, we're onto you.

The park isn't huge - the road runs for 28 miles - but with stopping at every single lookout and trail, we spent at least five hours there, and could probably have doubled that had time allowed. Without a doubt, the best drive of the trip so far.

The views from the old Painted Desert Inn probably didn't suck

The A1 is going to be a massive letdown after this

The lizard finds a perfect basking rock

Petrified wood: apparently trees get pretty when they're scared
Not wanting to be outdone by Meramec Caverns, Arizona proves it can do coloured lights too

Fortunately (for you) you can't hear me, but I'm singing about hills being alive

Apparently this area was settled as early as 1250 until about 600 years ago. There are still petroglyphs visible, with a particular concentration on what they call Newspaper Rock.

The only newspaper we've seen since we arrived in the States that doesn't mention Prince Harry

We met some Route 66 travellers from Manchester around here, who pointed out that the "human" figures on this rock are clearly alien. We later came across evidence to support this claim.

Blatantly the Starship Enterprise

Clearly there's some backstory here about how Kirk and Spock travelled back in time and visited the ancestors of the Navajo. Perhaps they even had something to do with painting the desert: we'll never know.

The old Route 66 used to pass directly through the Petrified Forest National Park, but the road is now a teensy bit overgrown.

Points for signage, Arizona, but not so much for maintenance

However, someone had left their car behind, and I decided that if we're going to travel an historic road we may as well do so in a fitting car, so I've traded in the SUV.

Fi keeps fixating on the lack of wheels, but she's clearly missing the big picture

I don't know what Fi's worrying about; I think the rest of the trip is going to be a blast in this thing. Who needs air con if the air's rushing straight in through the empty window frames?

We'll find out how she holds up tomorrow when we visit two of Arizona's famous holes in the ground.