Saturday, July 1, 2017

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66: A National Park Odyssey Day 11

Holbrook, AZ to Grand Canyon via Petrified Forest

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Park #6 - Petrified Forest - has a piece of petrified wood in front of the sign.

We found it.  We have found a real live Radiator Springs.  Ever since Knox saw the first Cars movie, he has wanted to go to see Monument Valley for himself, and it’s one of the things we plan to do on this trip.  But we never dreamed that we’d stumble upon John Lasseter’s inspiration for the setting of the movie completely by happenstance. 

When we were planning our route and making hotel reservations along the way, we made a point to stay within the park boundaries in a national park lodge whenever possible.  If a park had no lodge, a Marriott property was our next choice.  In areas with no lodge and no Marriott, we relied on TripAdvisor reviews to help us find a place.  Since Petrified Forest has neither lodge nor Marriott, we ended up booking a room in nearby Holbrook, Arizona.
In spite of its dated appearance, the lodge was clean and well-kept.

When we pulled into town on the evening of Day 10, we were charmed by the Native Americans dancing a traditional dance in the local park, the many kitschy rock and souvenir shops, and the signs pointing out this town’s history as a stop on Route 66.  We noticed that our little hotel, the Globetrotter Lodge, looked like something straight out of the 1950s, and we joked that the Wigwam Motel across the street could have been the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars.  But we were only speculating.  We didn’t realize we were absolutely right. 
Straight out of Radiator Springs with the vintage cars out front to prove it

Our Austrian hosts at the Globetrotter Lodge took great care of us at breakfast (which was included), and they even had little flags at each table representing the home state or country of each guest.  A look around the room showed that we were the only Hoosiers but that there were Floridians, Germans, and some French guests staying in the spotlessly clean little motel as well. 

We came back to Holbrook later that day for lunch after visiting the Petrified Forest.  We asked Kinley to pick a place, and she chose a little diner called Joe and Aggie’s Café based solely on a quick Google search.  When we walked into the restaurant, we learned that John Lasseter, the creator of the Cars movies, had drawn inspiration for Radiator Springs from the town we had stayed in!  We really had stayed across the street from the inspiration for the Cozy Cone, and the restaurant was filled with cars, posters, and other items related to the movies.
Outside the cafe that inspired John Lasseter

In fact, the former owners of the restaurant were the inspirations for Stanley and Lizzie in the movie, plus the Disney Imagineers who animated the movie had eaten there for inspiration!  Being huge Disney fans, we were thrilled.  To top it all off, the food and homemade sauces were fabulous.  The place itself has been in business since 1943 and appears to have had little updating since then, so don’t expect a spotlessly clean and sparkling experience.  (I had to wipe the grease off of the seat before I sat down.)  But we would still recommend it for the food, the from-scratch sauces, and the Cars connection.
Cartoons drawn by John Lasseter for the owners

Pictures and notes from the Imagineers who visited
It's not health food, but the sauces are all homemade!

Before lunch we had checked out of the Globetrotter and driven the short drive to Petrified Forest National Park.  We took the obligatory sign picture and then hiked the Blue Mesa Trail.  This was a 1-mile loop that looked a lot like Badlands National Park, but the colors in the formations were tinged with blues and purples.  We were there at about 10:30, and the colors were already pretty washed out.  I can imagine that they would be more vivid at sunrise or sunset, but we still saw plenty of the main attraction – petrified wood.  Large chunks lay on either side of the path, and some areas looked like hillsides covered with mulch.  Upon closer inspection, however, they were covered with little chips of petrified wood.
Kinley and Knox on the Blue Mesa Trail
Kinley logged some drive time in the park.

We also wanted to do the .4-mile Giant Logs trail, and on the way we stopped to look at the Agate Bridge which is now held up by manmade supports and inaccessible to visitors.  The Giant Logs Trail is just behind Rainbow Forest Visitors’ Center and was an easy walk with impressive examples of the ancient trees.  Unlike the Blue Mesa Trail which was deserted (see what I did there?), this trail was loaded with people. 
The agate bridge is behind us.
This is just one of the petrified logs on the Giant Logs Trail.

Upon reflection, Josh and I decided that this park is the epitome of the Route 66 driving culture.  Most people just drive through this park stopping at overlooks.  We saw guests at the visitors’ centers and on the Giant Logs Trail, but otherwise we saw only a handful of people.  And while the heat was oppressive in June making any serious hiking difficult, it would be lovely in March or October.  And, of course, we still enjoyed it in spite of the heat.  The kids finished their Junior Ranger badges, we went back through Holbrook to have lunch (which I wrote about above), and then were on our way to the Grand Canyon and the historic El Tovar Hotel with the Cars soundtrack playing in our heads. 
We were able to get a rare family picture at the entrance sign since there were so many other people there who could take our picture.

When we entered our second park of the day, we were shocked to find a line, an actual queue, to take pictures at the park sign.  In all our years of taking park sign pictures, we’d never seen a line like this.  The Grand Canyon was clearly the place to be!  When our turn came, we felt so much pressure to get our pictures quickly and get out of the way that we forgot to get a picture of just the kids.  Josh and the kids got in line and waited again to get the picture.  And that wasn’t our last line.
The line for pictures at the Grand Canyon sign

The line at the Visitors’ Center to get Junior Ranger booklets and ask a ranger for advice was even longer.  Again, I can’t remember ever seeing a line like that at any park.  Standing in line was certainly worth the time, though, because the ranger told us about the special Junior Ranger badge that the kids could earn during our overnight at the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch.  We had no idea that there were multiple Junior Ranger badges and were excited to let the kids earn two!
The line to speak with a ranger at the visitors' center

We wanted to get to El Tovar before sunset since its location right on the south rim was the perfect spot for viewing the changing colors of the canyon.  El Tovar was built in 1905 to house visitors to the canyon who had arrived on the Santa Fe Railroad. 
Josh and Knox pose in front of El Tovar.  We made reservations here 13 months in advance.

We checked in, made a late dinner reservation for the El Tovar dining room, and headed outside so that the kids and I could get our first views of the magnificent wonder that is the Grand Canyon.  And we certainly weren’t disappointed.  It was vast and beautiful and intimidating and scary and breathtaking and awe-inspiring.  We watched the sun go down and were so entranced that the presence of thirty or so other people didn’t bother us at all.
Our hotel room was maybe 30 steps away from this beautiful sunset view of the canyon.

As the last light faded from the sky, we went inside for a spectacular dinner in the dining room.  You can dine at the El Tovar dining room even if you’re not staying at the hotel, and they’re not snooty about what you wear at all.  Sure, there were people there dressed in nice casual clothes (there was even a bride and groom in their wedding attire), but our family’s tee shirts and shorts weren’t given a second glance.  The concierge did say that guests shouldn’t wear flip-flops, tank tops, or athletic shorts, but other than that he said they weren’t picky.  If you can get a reservation – we got ours just a couple of hours in advance – we recommend having lunch or dinner there. 

To try to economize a bit, we decided that Knox would order off the children’s menu and then Kinley, Josh, and I would split two entrees.  (Confession:  We still ordered two appetizers and a dessert, so I guess we didn’t economize that much.)   Our dinner was excellent, and we all tried something we’d never had before – wild boar with blackberry sauce.  We were glad we took the waiter’s advice and ordered it medium rare since any further cooking would have rendered it too tough to chew.  The chicken with cherries and mushrooms was much more tender and juicy, though we finished off both dishes with Knox eating the last boar chop pretty much on his own.  For dessert, the waiter steered us away from the shortcake (“hard as a brick,” he told us) and toward the coconut crème brulee (easily the best I’ve ever had) and the desert fruit blossom, an edible flower-shaped bowl filled with custard and berries and other fruit.
One appetizer was a salad with mozzarella rolled with pesto.
The chicken was a hit with all four of us.
The wild boar was tasty, too.

The desert blossom came with brightly-colored sauces on the plate.
This was the best coconut creme brulee I've ever tasted.
After dinner we admired the murals on the dining room walls and read more about the history of the railroad and Mary Coulter, the architect who designed all of the historic properties in the park.  We returned to our room, eager to get some sleep.  Sunrise over the canyon was just a few hours away.

You can see one of the murals behind us in the El Tovar dining room.


  1. GC is the BEST :) We went through a few years ago, in March. We'd wondered ahead of time if the weather would allow for ease of our travel through Denver, to Lubbock, and then home via the GC. We almost switched our trip based on the weather report, but decided to keep it as was, and THANK GOODNESS! There was a blizzard and the park was closed down for 1 or 2 days, on the two days we would have been there, but the weather ended up absolutely gorgeous for us coming and going, and I got my dream, photographing the GC with some snow in it! We stayed outside of the park, but staying inside the park seems so dreamy! I hope to make it to the petrified forest!

  2. Snow on the canyon would be so beautiful! I can't even imagine it being cold after experiencing it in such extreme heat.