They were hiding behind hay bales,Neil Young – “Thrasher” 1
They were planting in the full moon
They had given all they had for something new
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming
And the water shone like diamonds in the dew.
It would be one last ride for the Nomad, the would-be vagabond. For the last fifteen years, my baseball travel tended to begin and end with my regular trip to Spring Training in March. The exceptions were the occasional trip to Queens to see my Metsies or a visit to a ballpark while traveling for business. This year, my baseball travel continued to opening day, throughout the summer and into the fall.
That season’s long baseball travel ended on Saturday night October 12th at the Arizona Fall League’s “Fall Stars Game.” However, when I booked my journey, I didn’t realize that the AFL had an all-star game. Moreover, I didn’t know that they took an All-Star break after the game. As such, there were no games scheduled for Sunday. Since I didn’t leave until Monday, I had a free day.
However, I was confused. As the trip ended, I knew I was entering a “new normal” where I didn’t have a big baseball trip to occupy my time. The trip was supposed to give me time to decide what my new direction would be. Unfortunately, as I write my latest post, I still haven’t figured that part out.
Moreover, I am struck by some equally profound questions. Do I understand why I made the trip? Why did I need to go away? Why didn’t I do the expected, and find another job?
What to do? I took a lonely, revealing, and rewarding drive.
Morning – Drive North Past Flagstaff
And I was just getting up, hit the road before it’s lightNeil Young – “Thrasher”
Trying to catch an hour on the sun
When I saw those thrashers rolling by,
Looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin’ like my day had just begun.
My goal for Sunday was to see as much of Arizona as possible, so I left early. My first stop was to be the Sunset Crater Volcano, just north of Flagstaff, about 180 miles away. Since it opened at 9:00 AM, I left the hotel around 5:30.
The drive took me up through the Coconino National Forest. As I drove, the altitude grew from 1,000 feet in Phoenix to 6,000 feet in Flagstaff. The sun was rising as the terrain transitioned from desert to forests and grassland filled with ponderosa pines. The brilliant orange sunrise cast a hopeful glow on the hills.
I drank my Monster Energy drink and ate a couple of granola bars (bought the night before) as I drove. Energy drinks are a new find for me. I first tried one as I was making a similar drive from Dallas to Houston earlier in the summer. They don’t taste bad and keep me more alert than coffee. Also, I can get sugar free versions – so they don’t add calories.
I entered the park a little before 9:00 and drove onto the 35-mile “Loop Road.” The road connects the Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments to the main highway.
The first stop was Bonito Park. I saw the volcano on my left and the San Francisco peaks to my right. The San Francisco Peaks dominated by Humphrey’s Peak – the highest point in Arizona. The vista is covered with trees and grass and is so much different from the desert in Phoenix.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Where the eagle glides ascendingNeil Young – “Thrasher”
There’s an ancient river bending
Down the timeless gorge of changes
Where sleeplessness awaits
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.
I arrived at the park gate to the monuments and had a dialogue with the booth attendant: “I need a pass.”
“How old are you?”
“61 – will be 62 in December. Does that help?”
“Colorblind, pre-diabetic, a tad overweight and a bad sense of humor.”
“It’s $25 unless you want to buy the national park pass for $80.”
I bought the $25 pass and traveled on.
As I drove, the scenery started to include large, dark lava rocks and ash — an apt setting for a location named the Cinder Hills. I stopped again and walked the short A’a Trail, a jagged lava trail with bright-colored plants growing through the black rocks.
Further up the road, I spent about an hour walking through the Lava Flow Trail that winds around ash hills and lava rock mounds. It is the closet location to the foothills of the volcano. The trail slopes downhill, and there are stairs on the other side to take you back up to the road. Along the way, I passed weathered and twisted trees.
However, the better view was at the “Cinder Hills Overlook,” just another short drive up the road. From there, I could see the volcano’s crater surrounded by ash and the vegetation that was slowly recapturing the landscape.
In my questioning loneliness, the trip around the volcano reminded me that nature is all-powerful. That when things are destroyed, life goes on.
It was around 10:30 AM, and I had to move on to stay on schedule.
Wupatki National Monument
It was then I knew I’d had enough,Neil Young – “Thrasher”
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends I still don’t understand.
I started the 18-mile drive up the Loop Road toward the Wupatki National Monument. The terrain changed from the tree-covered mountains to the grassy Antelope Prairie. In the foreground rose the Painted Desert.
The Wupatki National Monument consists of a series of pueblos that are roughly 800 years old. My first stop was the small Wukoki Pueblo, which is about two miles off the Loop Road. The structure has just a few rooms on two levels. A small group of people likely occupied it.
In contrast, the largest dwelling at the Wupatki Pueblo has about 100 rooms. The site also includes other smaller structures. The indigenous population arrived in the area around 1100. They likely left their previous farms that were closer to the volcano. This new area was hospitable because the volcanic ash provided good nutrients for their farming. However, by 1250, they were gone. Their diaspora started due to drought, disappearing nutrients in the ash, and other natural resources. 2 Another lesson remembered: times change and people move on. People have been doing it for thousands of years.
I was barely on schedule. It was getting close to 12:30, and I had to keep going. I drove by a few other smaller pueblos that seemed similar to Wukoki and headed down to Sedona.
Afternoon – Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, and Montezuma’s Castle
Oak Creek Vista Point
They had the best selection,Neil Young – “Thrasher”
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting.
It took 15 minutes to head down route 89 to the point where I entered the Loop Road in the morning. Then I drove another 30 minutes to Flagstaff, where I grabbed a couple of McDonald’s burgers. As I ate, I continued to retrace my morning’s route by going west on Interstate 40 for about ten minutes. However, instead of going south on route 17, I took 89A the “Sedona – Oak Creek Canyon drive.” The drive is a designated Arizona scenic route that spans more than 2,000 feet of elevation between Flagstaff and Sedona. 3
I stopped about eight miles down the highway at the Oak Creek Vista Point. The overlook is, “a spectacular overlook perched on the lip of the Mogollon Rim.” It is “the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau and Oak Creek Canyon.” The canyon floor is 2,000 feet below the rim. 4
The canyon was my third ecosystem of the day. Sunset Crater was mountainous terrain covered in lava and ash, the Wupatki Pueblos were in the prairie, and Oak Creek Canyon was a windy, deep gorge covered in trees. Native Americans selling handcrafted ceramics and jewelry lined the path to the overlook. Yes, after bargaining a bit, I bought a couple of ceramic bowls for Mrs. Nomad. I thought they were an excellent way to say thank you for her support during my long trip.
So I got bored and left them there,Neil Young – “Thrasher”
They were just dead weight to me
Better down the road without that load
Brings back the time when I was eight or nine
I was watchin’ my mama’s T.V.,
It was that great Grand Canyon rescue episode.
I continued my drive down to Sedona. Google Maps reported that the 16-mile trip should take 30 to 45 minutes or so. However, the journey took me closer to 90 minutes. There are a series of switchbacks on the road right after the Vista Point that slowed me down. I stopped to take pictures, and as I arrived in Sedona, the traffic was stop and go. It was Sunday afternoon, and the tourists were out in force.
The drive took me to the bottom of the canyon, and tall rock formations started to appear to my left and right. It was challenging to drive around the people parked along both sides of the two-lane highway. They stopped to enter the state park or to venture down to the creek that ran along the side of the road.
So far, my travels had taken me through the Desolation Row” of the volcano, and Puebloan ruins to a relatively new paradise. With all of this breathtaking scenery, I remembered that life goes on and times change.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop in Sedona. It was late, and the traffic was heavy. Even if I had time to stop, what would I do and where would I go? There were too many things to see and too little time to see them. A short stop wasn’t a way to experience the town. I guess I have to go back.
So I drove slowly through the town as the scenery changed from the treelined canyon to the barren, sandstone, and limestone rock formations of Red Rock National Park.
Where the vulture glides descendingNeil Young – “Thrasher”
On an asphalt highway bending
Through libraries and museums, galaxies and stars
Down the windy halls of friendship
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip
The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and bar.
Toward the southern end of Sedona, I took route 179, heading southeast to Route 17 and Montezuma’s Castle. I made frequent stops on the 26-mile drive to take pictures of Red Rock’s beautiful rock formations. The 40-minute drive took closer to an hour, and I arrived at Montezuma’s Castle around 4:15. There was just enough time to see the Castle.
The Castle is a “20 room, 5-story structure built into a recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet adobe the ground.” The Sinagua Indians inhabited the area in the 14th century. 5
A little further down the path are the ruins of “Castle B.” From the trail, you can see a few rooms carved into the limestone wall. More interesting are the holes in the wall that held beams used to support an exterior five-story complex.
Needless to say, the Castle was a reminder that the Sinagua Indians were another civilization that moved on and left its great works behind. I need to reconcile with the idea that change is necessary.
Long Drive Home
But me I’m not stopping there,Neil Young – “Thrasher”
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrashers comes, I’ll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I’ll know the time has come
To give what’s mine.
A little before 5:00, I left Montezuma’s Castle for what I thought would be a less than two-hour drive. After all, it was only 120 miles back to Mesa. I planned to stop for Mexican food as I got close to the hotel. The day had been great, and I was ready to relax and watch the night’s playoff game. Maybe have a beer or three.
The Astros were playing the Yankees in Game Two of the league championship. Instead, there were travel delays on the way back. I stumbled into the hotel at 8:30 and settled for a flatbread pizza at the Courtyard by Marriott’s Bistro.
The Astros won the game in the bottom of the 11th inning. Yankee pitcher J.A. Happ tried unsuccessfully to sneak a fastball passed Houston’s, Carlos Correa. The ball landed in the rightfield stands – 394′ away.
I flew home the next morning, understanding that people come and go. There are powers higher than us and – as people say – sometimes you hit the ball over the fence, and sometimes you strikeout. Sometimes your fastball gets by the hitter, and sometimes it doesn’t.
I don’t have the answers to all my questions, but I now understand the situation.
Note to my loyal readers. Please don’t despair about the end of the baseball season. I have a lot more stories to share. Stay Tuned.
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- All Song Quotes – Neil Young © Silver Fiddle
- Stewart M. Green, Scenic Driving Arizona, Copyright Morris Book Publishing, LLC. 2009, page 46.
- Stewart M. Green, Scenic Driving Arizona, Copyright Morris Book Publishing, LLC. 2009, page 105.
- Stewart M. Green, Scenic Driving Arizona, Copyright Morris Book Publishing, LLC. 2009, page 106