The Badlands

Crossing the border into Arizona, we stop on a whim at the Petrified Forest National Park.  This is not your average Route 66 stop.  It’s a geological goldmine – a sliver of the famous badlands called the Painted Desert, with Triassic-era fossils just littering the ground.

The Painted Desert

The Painted Desert

Sal slows Horatio to a crawl and we stare in silence at the bizarre, twisted rocks and black piles of stones.  We stop at nearly every pullout – the panoramic views are terribly beautiful and otherworldly, like shots from the Mars rover.


There is a quiet to this land that settles into my chest.  My thoughts are snuffed out and I can only stare numbly at the alien land.  I feel like a space or time traveler, treading over logic boundaries.

This wood is also rock.  It’s incredible.  I can’t show you in this photograph; you have to touch it yourself.  It’s a freaking rock.  I’m touching a 200 million year old tree rock.  It glimmers quartz colors and sublime glory.

Hunks of petrified wood just laying around.

Hunks of petrified wood just laying around.

Deep down in this ravine, there is a stone where our ancestors carved shapes.  They mean things, mystic things.  One of the symbols is a triangle man with bendy arms – I used to doodle this man in my notebooks in geography class.  I am looking at my own triangle man, but it is thousands of years old and carved in a rock.

The triangle man is visible just under the shadow on this rock.

The triangle man is visible just under the shadow on this rock.

Hours elapse before we escape the Painted Desert.  Miles and miles later, the quiet strangeness lingers.

Our road trip across America is supposed to be a homecoming, but it is feeling more like an expedition.  Everything out here – the way people speak, the slope of the hills, the color of the land, even the smell of the wind is strange to me.  I curl up in the passenger seat of Horatio, and stare at the red earth and quiet, wind swept sky.  London feels very far away, and too, my sense of home.


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