Day 23 – Lava, Painted Desert (Beth)

Today, we just planned on riding from Williams, AZ to Durango, CO (approx. 350 miles), but we managed to take a few detours.

Detour #1: Sunset Crater National Monument

Not even an hour from Williams, this little National Park popped up in our peripheral, so Ryan pulled in. I’ve never even heard of this place, but I’ll tell you right now, it’s a must see! We got to walk amongst what used to be hot molten lava from “sunset crater.” Volcanoes have always fascinated me, so this was a real treat! It’s estimated that this volcano erupted about 1,000 years ago. There were random bushes and trees growing right out of the middle of the lava, and you could see that one side of the mountain was still solid ash. Awesome. Also, all throughout the park, there were bushes with weird blossoms I’ve never seen before. I’ll include a picture down below in case anyone knows the name of them.

Ryan sitting on top of the hardened lava.

Pretty. Name unknown.

Sunset Crater.

After checking out the lava spread, Ryan started taking off on a trail that led up to another crater. I follow.  Alright, craters are cool and all, but in order to traipse around the edge of this thing, it’s a 300ft straight vertical climb (practically) up a loose, ashy trail. After huffing and puffing it up the trail, unfortunately, the crater didn’t look nearly as impressive as we’d hoped. Hey, at least we can say we’ve stood along the rim of a dormant volcano though. The fun part was the walk back down; I discovered that if you plant your heel firmly in the loose ash going downhill, you actually slide an extra couple inches per step. Fun! Kind of like skating downhill… kind of.

The other main part of the National Park was some ruins. Personally, I’m not that intrigued by ruins, but Ryan loves them, so I wandered around the gift shop while he explored the ones nearby. Ryan came back practically glowing, so I think it’s safe to say his blog for today will give you a more a depth description of the site.

On the way out of the park, we rode through some spectacular scenery. It’s funny how the desert can have so many faces. In previous states, we’ve found the desert to be A) completely barren B) full of rock formations or C) home to some strikingly contrastive color, mostly in rock/sand though. This section’s beauty was subtle, the colors gently blending and particularly comforting. When I say the colors blended, it’s not that there wasn’t a variety of color, but that they weaved in and out of each other smoothly. There was a dark crater silhouetted on the right, a spread of green shrubbery on the ground interspersed with the pink-blossomed bushes, all resting on slightly varied elevations of brown earth. Cutting through the middle was our black road and off in the distance, the land I described made an abrupt stop and beyond the ridgeline, a sunset appeared. Actually, it was no sunset at all, but Ryan and I did a double-take. What we thought was a sunset was actually miles and miles and miles of desert reaching far into the distance. It’s official name is appropriately “Painted Desert.” Gorgeous.

Painted Desert is in the background. Sorry, hard to capture it on camera.

Detour #2: Shopping

After exiting the part, we resolved to continue on our long trek to Durango, but lo and behold, we got sidetracked again. Okay, in all the tourist traps we’ve been going through, people have been selling “hand-made Native American jewelry” for exorbitant amount of money. It’s pretty, but if I’m going to buy jewelry, I want to buy it directly from the maker. While riding, we found ourselves in the middle of Navajo land and on the side of the road was a sign for jewelry. Perfect! We rode up to a couple open-air shelters filled with about 7 table of hand-made jewelry, and I warned Ryan right away I was going to be there for a while! The lady making and selling the jewelry was so friendly. I think we talked for about half an hour and then I finally settled on my purchases. Glad we stopped!


By this point, it’s gotten pretty late in the day and we decided we needed to stop taking detours or else we wouldn’t make it into Durango. For better or worse, we stuck with our plan. The rest of the ride was mainly hot and the scenery, beautiful. Arizona is easy on the eyes. We did make one tiny stop when we thought we saw some dried out animal skulls on the side of the road, but alas, they turned out to be just a couple vertebrae. Not as fun.

Once the sun went down, the last 45 minutes of the ride was pretty darn cold. Apparently, positive thinking gets you only so far before you start shivering again. Both Ryan and I were happy to make it into town after that temperature change!

As soon as we got checked in, we made a beeline for some food. It was almost 10pm local time, so places were closing fast, but we squeezed in the door at a little place in the middle of town just before they locked up. We were the only ones eating in there given the hour, and that always makes you feel a little self-conscious, but the manager put us right at ease! He was over at our table chatting with us, taking his time while everyone else on staff was cleaning up or prepping for the next day. We didn’t feel rushed at all and in fact, the manager sat down across from us and gave us some suggestions on what to see at Mesa Verde the next day. Durango gets great ratings from us already!

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