Last week was the week I almost cried at work, you guys. It was not great, not even a little bit, plus it’s the holiday season and you know how I feel about that. This week was better, a little less chaotic, a little less daunting, but damn if I’m not really looking forward to a little escape into the woods next week.
I’m the person who says, ok, I have friends coming to visit in two months, lets undertake a room renovation in the midst of a super stressful job situation while taking a demanding online class, raising three pets, training for a winter race, getting really into trivia at my favorite brewery on Thursday nights while also trying to feed myself real dinners, brush my teeth and wash my face before bed and keep my house from descending into absolute chaos.
“Especially this time of year,” is the tag I add to the end to my December sentences about the shit I don’t need. The stress, the bullshit, the drama. I don’t need it. Especially this time of year.
I listen to people complain about the families they’re going home to, about all the eccentricities inherent to their family dynamic and I smile, nod, apologize for things beyond my control, say, “Ugh, that sucks,” or, “Ugh, that must be tough.” But what I want to say is, “Must be nice. At least you have a place to go.”
I’m not always great at slowing down when I travel. When I visit a national park, I want to see all the things and hike all the trails and explore as many nooks and crannies of the place as I possibly can. So I go and go and go until I collapse into a dreamless sleep around 9 p.m. only to wake up before the sun the next day and do it all again.
I gave up sugar. Kind of.
Mostly, I gave up dessert that’s not a square of dark as fuck chocolate. I stopped with the cake and the cookies and, most especially, the chocolate candy, to include my most beloved addiction, the peanut butter cup.
It’s vanity-based, this dessert desertion. I’m not on any sort of SUGAR IS THE DEVIL bandwagon or trying a new diet or even trying to lose weight. It’s not about any of that. It’s about the zits.
What the hell happened to 2018, y’all? I’m feeling woefully unprepared for the colder temperatures, the holiday season and the end of another year, but here’s a few delights that have helped downgrade my grump level.
I know I’m living in the future because I don’t have to go looking for neat shit to buy on the internet anymore, it just presents itself to me on my Instagram feed.
Ugh, you guys, Death Valley is so good. It's so good I cried on the way into the park. It was so pretty, so breathtaking, so different and so brilliant that it brought fat, literal tears to my eyes, tears so fucking big they rolled down my cheeks.
This is surprising to me because I've always thought of myself a forest creature, but here I am, spending all my vacation time in the desert, scaring lizards from their sun-soaked perches, guzzling water by the gallon, talking to cactus friends and falling madly, deeply and truly in love with America's deserts.
My reading definitely slowed down in the third quarter, probably because work keeps me very, very busy in the summer months. Then there was summer travel and by the time August ended, I realized I’d been reading the same book for multiple weeks, which almost never happens.
Still, I’m averaging around five books a month and I managed to read 15 books throughout July, August & September. Fingers crossed I can maintain or exceed that pace in the next few months and hit my goal to read 70 books.
We were going to Crater Lake National Park. This was it, finally. We made the plan in the spring, knowing good and well Oregon might be on fire come the end of August, but still. We’d spent four years talking about visiting Crater Lake together and this was our year, dammit. Fuck the historical data, we were doing it.
“Fine,” I said, when I started planning this year’s birthday trip. “I’ll go to Arizona.”
I’d been thinking about the Petrified Forest since I drove past it on a cross-country road trip a few years ago. It felt like fate when I got there, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Until a pronghorn walked across the road and I reached for my camera and realized it wasn’t there.
“No,” I said to the pronghorn. “Not fucking possible.”
But it was. I’d left the camera on the bed of my cabin, more than hour behind me. I stared at the pronghorn as it pranced across the road, cautious of me and my rental, then drove through the park, stopping a handful of times to gaze at the place I’d been dreaming about for four years before heading back to Flagstaff to get my camera and explore a few parks closer to my cabin.
I went back the next day, early.
“Ok,” I told myself. “This one’s for real.”
And it was.
There’s a way I laugh when I’m delighted by a park, a very specific sort of cackle that comes out of me. It’s involuntary and uncultivated, but it exists and I have noticed it escaping from me in moments of awed delight. I don’t know where it came from or when it started, but it’s there, my National Park-induced cackle.
It’s the sound I made when I scampered down the hill into the backcountry of Petrified Forest National Park, mud sticking to my boots, a swirling sort of mist making the day feel eerie and empty. It’s the sound I made over and over again as I got deeper into the park, as the colors changed from red to blue and back again. It’s the sound I made almost every time I got out of the car and it’s the sound I made when I looked at the colorful swirl of mud I’d accumulated on my boots at the end of the day.
I wish I had more words for the parks, more ways to describe the way they make me feel, the heavy fullness they generate in my heart. I use words like amazing and magical and special a lot when I talk about them and sometimes I feel like a broken record, going on about how this place is amazing over and over again, but it’s true. They’re all amazing, all the parks, the big ones and the littles ones, the ones you’ve heard of and the ones you haven’t.
Petrified Forest National Park is easy to visit if you’re heading east or west on 1-40. It’s on the way, no matter what direction you’re heading and is a beautiful and convenient scenic detour. Plus, this is the only park that includes part of the Mother Road, old Route 66, marked today by a 1932 Studebaker and a line of telephone poles that disappear into a field.
There are several easily-accessed trails, many of them paved, along with opportunities to head into the backcountry and explore off a maintained trail. There’s the petrified wood, of course, which you should not remove from the park, and some incredible desert landscapes as well as a few tasty historical morsels involving the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Park Service and Fred Harvey and his girls.
Admission into Petrified Forest National Park is $20 for 7 days. The park is open every day of the year expect Christmas Day. During the busy season (June-September), the park is open 7 a.m. – 6 p.m., and 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. the rest of the year.