Listen, I get it. This site may be my own little corner of InterWebs to post whatever I want, but no one likes to look at pix of others’ vacations. That’s why I’m going for the highlight reel here — a dozen snapshots of pure, pure nature from the best ten days I’ve had in a long, long time.

Ten days, a woman and her dog. Austin to the Grand Canyon and back again. A chance to see places I’ve always wanted to see, a chance be surprised again, and a chance to remember just how fun driving is when you’re not sitting in I-35 traffic.

Twelve snapshots that represent a fraction of the natural wonder in front of my eyes around just about every curve and just a small percentage of the pictures I took. Consider yourself lucky.

There was a purpose behind these miles. Once upon a time, Charles and I talked long and hard about a road trip to the Grand Canyon. It was the trip we never took, and now it seemed like the best place in the world to scatter his ashes.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I needed this adventure for my own mental health. It’s true: sometimes you just have to get away from it all.

This road trip was good medicine.

Days 1 & 2: Austin to Marfa, TX

In my 18 years in Austin, I’ve never made it farther west than Texas Hill Country. Marfa was a stop I had to make if only to see if their motto is true: Tough To Get To. Tougher to Explain. But Once You Get Here, You Get It. 

Yep, that’s about right, and I’ll prove it in my next post. I get it, and I’ll be coming back. Next time, I’ll add Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, and the McDonald Observatory–and there will be a next time.

1 - Marfa Sky
Marfa Sky

My first night, I went out in hopes of seeing the Marfa Lights. The viewing grounds are quite far from where the lights appear to be, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how one would get closer. I have no explanation for them (natural gas? aliens? reflections?), and I don’t need one. Truth is, I know they’re not always out and dancing, and I was just delighted to see those little bouncing orbs.

Day 3 – Marfa, TX to Roswell, NM

I mapped this adventure for months before I got behind the wheel of my car. I wanted to include as many visual wonders (natural and man-made), as I could fit in, so Carlsbad Caverns was a must-see.

I’ve been drawn to caverns since I was a budding fifth grade geologist. I’ve seen a few in my time. I’d heard Carlsbad Caverns would blow the all away, and it significantly exceeded my expectations. I am fully persuaded that the Art Director for the first Aliens film was inspired by this place.

When I was way down in the belly of the cave, I wished I really knew how to take a photograph and not just a smartphone snapshot. Of course, I took dozens of snapshots, and I’m not sure any one picture was better than any others; this is probably my favorite today.

2 - Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns

 

And let me give a big tip of the hat to the National Park Service which allowed me to board Freida in a kennel at ground level while I explored far below. That’s what made this stop possible.

Day 4 – Roswell, NM to Grand Canyon

This was the longest single day of driving. No photos (of nature), just pure, unspeakable joy at driving 100 mph for the first time ever. No, that’s not legal, nor did I sustain that speed for long. But the roads through southwest New Mexico were good and deserted–save for about a few Dodge Chargers that passed me at real Smokey & the Bandit speeds. Yes, they were all Dodge Chargers. Forget Mustangs. If I ever need a mid-life crisis car, this’ll be it.

Days 5 & 6 – Grand Canyon

Everyone who’s seen, says it: no words, no images, no nothing can adequately describe the Grand Canyon. They’re right, and mine won’t either.

But this is where I met up with Charles’ beautiful daughter Willow and where the two of us spread her dad’s ashes. Someday I’ll write more about Willow, a young woman who has the kindest, wisest heart I may have ever met. For now, it’s enough to say that we had the best day I could have ever hoped for. I’m lucky to know her.

Anyway, her dad, and my love, rests here:

3 - Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon

and here:

4 - Grand Canyon 3
The Grand Canyon

and here:

5 - Grand Canyon 2
The Grand Canyon

Rest in peace, dear man.

Day 7 – Grand Canyon to Gallup, NM

The drive isn’t technically that long, but I opted to make a day of it, seeing as many natural wonders as I could fit in. As I started the drive on an overcast day from the Grand Canyon down to Flagstaff, this unexpected sight crawled into my field of vision:

6 - Humphreys Peak AZ
Humphrey’s Peak

This is Humphrey’s Peak, the tallest mountain (I believe) in Arizona. Statuesque and grand, I realized I’d missed it on my way north to the Grand Canyon because it had essentially been in my rear view mirror for the drive. But on this late-May morning, this beautiful mountain set the tone for a perfect day.

It’s not long before the elevation drops, and as you head east from Flagstaff towards Winslow, AZ, you get to stop at that crazy oddity that is the Barringer Meteor Crater.

There it is, a huge hole in the ground, 750 feet deep and a kilometer across. There is nothing — and I mean nothing — around it other than the Visitor Center.

7 - Meteor Crater AZ
Meteor Crater, Winslow, AZ

Humphrey’s Peak and the Meteor Crater were hardly the highlights of the day’s drive, though. Take 180 South of Holbrook, AZ and you’ll find your way to one entrance of Petrified National.

This is just about the eeriest landscape I’ve ever seen. Again, I daresay that filmmakers in need of artistic inspiration for the design of faraway planets have come here for inspiration.

8a - Petrified Forest National Park 1
Petrified Forest National Park
8 - Petrified Forest Painted Desert
Painted Desert/Petrified Forest

Take the park’s route north, crossing over I-40 and there you are in the Painted Desert. It was another overcast day, and I can only imagine how vivid these colors would have looked at sunset on a cloudless day.

9 - Painted Desert National Park
The Painted Desert

Days 8 & 9 – Gallup, NM to Palo Duro Canyon, TX

I’d never heard of Palo Duro Canyon until a couple of months ago, and if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it, let me rave for a moment!

Palo Duro Canyon is the nation’s second largest (and largely unknown) canyon. Mind you, the Grand Canyon is more than ten times the size of Palo Duro, but make no mistake: It. Is. Stunning.  And it’s really walkable. Pick a trail and go.

 

10 - Palo Duro Canyon 1
Palo Duro Canyon, TX
11 - Palo Duro Canyon 3
Palo Duro Canyon, TX

 

Maybe I was extra happy in Palo Duro because the sun was shining after a lot of cloudy weather. Maybe I was extra happy because Charles’ ashes were at rest. Maybe I was extra happy because the next destination was home. Or maybe it was because I shared this entire trip with my best friend Freida.

 

12 - Jean and Freida on the Best Trip Ever
Jean Synodinos and Freida

 

Twelve pix plus one selfie. Next post, I just gotta share some of the man-made treasures that dotted this trip.

‘Til then, pull up a road atlas on your laptop. You know you need a road trip. It’s good, good medicine.