Winding My Way through the Past, and the Petrified Forest

Last time I blogged, I promised I’d write about the drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. Well, I completely forgot about the miles between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Flagstaff. So Monterey will have to wait.

Let’s begin this leg of the journey with a story: when I was younger, I was famous for running my car out of fuel. I wound up stranded along the side of the road more times than I can count. Usually, that meant calling a friend for help. Or a husband. Not this time, though.

I had so much fun at the balloon festival that I left 90 minutes later than I planned, at 10:30 a.m. After dropping by Cracker Barrel to rent an audiobook, I stopped at Garcia’s Kitchen for brunch. There, I ordered sopapillas, which I hadn’t eaten in two decades. Not since the last time I was in Texas with family. I split open the delicious pockets of deep-fried dough and filled them full of butter and honey. And was I on Cloud Nine!

My book on tape kept me occupied, and awake at the wheel, since I’d gotten up at 3 a.m. to see the balloons. Before I even knew it, I had driven through Gallup, New Mexico, and then finally, crossed into Arizona. Where I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Painted Desert and the Petrified National Park – which carried me back to my childhood days, when my parents, my sister, Lisa, and I visited on a family vacation.

It felt like déjà vu, and when I snapped a quick photo of some pieces of petrified wood inside the shop for tourists, I was certain I had been there before. The clerk said I was actually standing in the original building, which had been much smaller. But yes, it had been there since the 1950s. How’s that for a good memory? Even as I grew more bleary eyed by the moment.

I didn’t plan to drive through the entire park, just wanted to grab a few photos and then hop back on I-40. But a nice park ranger said if I wanted to keep going, the road would lead me back to the interstate 20 miles or so later. And I’m so glad I did. It was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring portions of my entire journey.

Having logged quite a few miles already, I really wanted to break early for the night, but every motel I passed was full. Then, as I left Winslow, I realized I had forgotten to fill my gas tank. My digital dashboard said I the tank would be dry in less than 15 miles. I hoped I would find a gas station somewhere soon, since I was already on the entrance ramp and in the midst of traffic.

I was wrong.

I even exited again, not long after, when a sign with the word “Shell” held out the promise of fuel. That sign lied – plus, I was the only soul there. So I headed west on I-40 again. By the time I drove 16 miles past the zero on my dashboard indicated the tank was “empty,” I feared each successive minute would find me stalled along the road. It wasn’t late, not quite 8 p.m., but the traffic on that stretch of lonely highway was sparse. And pitch black!

So when a road sign with the words “Twin Arrows Resort” appeared, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Surely, where there was a resort, there would be a filling station, right? Nope. Not a single one. Instead, bone weary, I drove into the parking lot of the resort, which turned out to be a Navajo Casino. And there, the nicest young man, a valet attendant, used his walkie-talkie to contact hotel security. He wasn’t sure they would have unleaded fuel, though, or how long before security would arrive, so he suggested I grab a coffee from the café inside. Considering I’d been awake since the middle of the previous night, I did just that.

Now for a confession: I’ve been inside a couple of casinos throughout my life. But I have never even operated a slot machine, much less played blackjack or any other game. Not once. (I have, however, learned that I am a gambler. I’ve gambled twice now, on husbands. Let’s just say I didn’t hit the jackpot either time.) Instead of playing the slots, I wandered around looking at the luxury all around me, and felt compelled to take a photo of the lobby chandelier, which looked like it was created from beads of oil.

Thirty minutes later, the casino manager gave his approval and a sweet security guard poured unleaded fuel into my tank. I wasn’t even a paying casino customer, but they refused to take a nickel of my money to cover the cost. Someone has since told me that’s true western hospitality. Call me a believer.

I made it to Flagstaff after another 30 miles, and by then it was close to 10 p.m. I checked into a motel and fell into bed. All in all, I’d driven 430 miles. Leaving another 800 or 900 to go.

I hope y’all will join me next time, when we finally cross the California state line and wander up the most beautiful coastline in the country.

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My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.