Friday, 8 June 2012

The great Arizona road trip - 6

From rosy sunset to white dawn

A State of extremes
We wake at 6.00am in a room bathed in a cool eerie light. Looking through the window our view has become monochrome, the trees covered in snow with more falling from the pewter grey sky. Closer inspection shows our dark grey car is transformed into a white model. The weather forecast indicating a 70 per cent chance of snow was a conservative one.

As my trusty Italian hiking boots had parted company with their soles on our mountain hike in the Ponderosa we had planned to pick up replacements or at least some rubber boots in the Yavapai General Store in order to make the most of the day. But seeing the deepening snow, and conscious of our lack of clothing, not to mention our flight back to the UK on Monday morning, we decide to leave a day early.

I put on two pairs of thick socks, the emasculated hiking boots and tie plastic bags on each foot as temporary protection.  We clear the 10 cms of snow and ice off the car with the plastic plates out of the picnic box - very effective - and carefully make our way out of the Park, driving in the tracks of others who are making the same decision. The temperature is 28 degrees and snow continues to fall. 
We reach Williams, passing a number of snowploughs which are focusing on the local airfield, and get on to Interstate 40 (the good old Route 66). The conditions are still pretty grim, but at least we are on a highway. Then, after just 20 miles, we see a police car facing us on the hard shoulder with warning lights flashing. We slow down and then come to a complete stop behind a long line of cars, pickups and huge American trucks. We tune into various radio stations but there is no traffic news. There is no network coverage on our phones. Nothing moves.

Route 66: Nothing moving ahead...
After half an hour Rod gets out to stretch his legs and chats to the driver of the car in front, who is doing the same. He tells Rod that there are three separate truck crashes on the way to Flagstaff, and that we are likely to be stuck here for two to three hours. The information has been obtained by telephoning his son, who went online to get the info. He offers us water. This is the last thing on my mind, as although Rod has managed a comfort break by one of the sparse trees on the roadside, the bleak and open Arizona  topography offers no opportunity of discrete cover for me.

...and plenty backed up behind.
The snow continues to fall. Two paramedic vehicles pass by sounding their sirens. Rod tunes into a local radio station called Calm, which provides unexpected entertainment as we try to guess the origin of each incredibly laid back, lushly orchestrated number. We find a small bag of peanut M & Ms and share them out.

Then as forecast, after 2 hours 28 minutes, there is movement. Driving carefully on the snowy highway, we pass the three accident sites, each close to an intersection, where tow trucks are manipulating the crashed lorries. We pass another accident scene. The snow starts falling more thickly and the temperature drops to 24 degrees. It seems extraordinary that only three days earlier and 150 miles away we had been seeking shade in the 94 degree heat of Phoenix. 

As we approach Flagstaff, conditions worsen and each slip road and exit presents a challenge. Snow falls thickly and swirls of mist obscure traffic and signs. We negotiate on to the highway going south and at last, as the elevation starts to fall below 4,500 feet, the temperature begins to rise and the snow is replaced by squalls of sleety rain.

Stormy skies in  Red Rock Country

We see the familiar rosy mountains of Red Rock Country, glowing against dark clouds, and the welcome signs for Sedona and Oak Creek Village. We pull into the Canyon Villa B & B, stretch our legs and retrieve our suitcase. Sadly there are no rooms free that evening, so we decide to fill up the petrol tank and make a run for Tucson. I change into my new Navajo socks and dry trainers. We call Cathy and Steve, tell them we are arriving back a day early and ask them to reserve a table for us all at a local restaurant for dinner.

The landscape changes to the familiar pale ochre desert dotted with the welcoming arms of saguaro cactus reaching cheerily up to the clear blue sky and as we sweep into the driveway lined with palm trees the temperature has risen 40 degrees to a balmy 64. After a shower, shampoo and change of clothes we set off to enjoy margueritas,  Mexican food and a Mariachi band – and marvel at the contrasts of Arizona.

Back to sunny Tucson
Photographs by Rod and Sandi Rhys Jones.

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