We were very eager to hit the road on the morning of day three. Finally, we’d arrive “out west” and also visit our first National Park of the trip.
We were back on I-40 heading west by 8:00 local time. Our first stop was just outside of Amarillo at Cadillac Ranch. How could we resist spray painting ten Cadillacs nose diving in a Texas field?! Jeff got to work adding artwork while helping the kids who got most, but not all, paint on the cars! Since space was tight, we hadn’t made room to bring our own paint cans but several had fortunately been left behind by artists before us.
We do highly recommend wearing boots as the field was extremely wet and muddy with several puddles around the cars. We spent quite some time cleaning our shoes off before settling in for another long day of driving.
We raced through the rest of the western half of the Texas panhandle (the speed limit is 75 miles per hour in these parts) as our dashboard view changed from grassy cattle fields to barren, harsh desert hills.
We made the obligatory welcome center stop when we arrived in our sixth state, New Mexico, and continued on to Albuquerque where we ate lunch and restocked a few supplies at Whole Foods. Albuquerque was quite hectic and we were eager to head out as soon as our bellies were full.
The western half of New Mexico’s I-40 corridor was more picturesque than the east with more rough canyon walls. Despite temperatures in the 70s on the road, we began to see distant snow-capped mountains to the north and the boys enjoyed watching trains on the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe track that never veered too far from sight.
We had plans to make this afternoon a little more interesting, but missed a planned diversion to take the parallel Route 66 for a dozen miles and then Continental Divide exit was closed due to construction, so we stayed the course and figured we would have more time to explore the Petrified Forest if we got there sooner anyway.
The Arizona sign was a welcomed sight as it represented the place where, after nearly three solid days of travel, we would finally slow down and explore the west. We stopped at the welcome center, of course, and then traveled about 50 miles further to the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park.
The boys really aren’t fans of viewpoints!
After a brief stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to watch the park film and purchase my usual magnet and postcard souvenirs, we stopped at a few viewpoints along the road north of the interstate, but the winds were strong and the boys weren’t interested merely looking at a view so we set a course down the road through the park. After a quick stop at Newspaper Rock, we found the Blue Mesa Trail. I knew we would only have time to hike one trail and this one is advertised as the best. The colors were gorgeous and the paved trail was just long and steep enough to give everyone a decent workout after nearly three solid days of sitting in a car.
The Jasper Forest was our next stop. Other than being disappointed that there wasn’t actually a sign with the words “Jasper Forest” in front of the petrified wood so that Jasper could take a picture with “his” forest, we all really appreciated the uniqueness and beauty of the petrified wood.
At picnic tables near the southern entrance to the park, we ate our dinner of pasta salad (for the kids) and sushi (for Mom and Dad) that we had purchased in Albuquerque earlier in the day.
As the sun was setting, we drove the remaining distance to nearby Holbrook on route 180. Our digs for the night were the kitschy Route 66 Wigwam Motel. Wigwam #15 was small, but clean and more than adequate for our needs. It was also the cheapest night of the entire trip so we’d stay in a wigwam every night if we could! There was also a great sense of Route 66 history and nearly all guests were out taking pictures of their wigwams and the old fashioned cars scattered around the parking lot. Even the busy railway adjacent to the grounds gave it a nostalgic feel (and, thankfully, the air conditioner inside muffled the train whistles all night long!). Night three was by far the most unique lodging experience of the trip!