United at the Petrified Forest

I left from El Paso this morning headed up toward Petrified Forest National Park. Despite my worry that I got a late start, I quickly deduced I was well ahead of the other group so I got to take a bit of a scenic route to our meeting point. US-180 weaves over the mountains of Gila National Forest along the San Francisco River. It was a long drive, but absolutely beautiful and much more fun than roasting myself on I-10.

Tulsa ended up pulling a last-minute upset in the game against South Florida, which I missed while listening to Texas lose ground to Oklahoma State. So with a win and a loss, I switched back to my music and continued speeding toward the park. I’d never been there before and I was able to do a little exploring.

I didn’t know much about the park beyond its deposits of petrified wood. It’s a desert steppe with grasses but very few trees, and colorful badlands formations everywhere. Out of all of these, chunks of petrified wood emerge, scattered across the landscape.

I did the scenic loop and nature walk at Blue Mesa, one of the park’s top recommendations. The road is a spur off the park highway and runs atop the mesa with overlooks of the badlands, hoodoos, and petrified wood deposits.

Next stop was Newspaper Rock, which seemed to be about the same concept as the Newspaper Rock outside Canyonlands. Petrified Forest’s Newspaper Rock displays over six hundred petroglyphs created by ancestral Puebloan people living, farming, and hunting along the Puerco River between 650 and 2,000 years ago. Some of the creators may have lived at Puerco Pueblo, located less than one mile north of this site.

I checked my phone again and saw the boys about an hour out, so I headed to the north end of the park which overlaps Interstate 40. I’ve driven this stretch of 40 before and hadn’t realized that it unceremoniously bisects the park.

Turns out, there’s a placard about that. The Petrified Forest National Monument was created in 1906 by Roosevelt, and its boundaries have expanded multiple times in the last 100 years. It looks like I-40 would have clipped the north edge of the park when it was built in Arizona in the 60s to parallel much of historic Route 66. The northern expansions of the park seem to have happened after.

I sat down at one more stop to watch sunset over a beer. I figured 8 hours of squiggly-road driving and my intense hike one mile paved nature stroll earned me a beverage while I waited.

When the Park Rangers finally chased me out for being in the park after hours, the boys were about ten minutes out, so I sat by the freeway entrance and jumped into the interstate fray as they passed. We had a dinner and charging stop a few miles down the road and then finished the trip together into Flagstaff for the evening.

It was fun to see the Rivian R1T on the highway, even in the dark. Sounds like we’ve learned a lot about the particulars over the past two days. But a 650 mile day in an EV is a pretty significant achievement, and Andrew has only had it a few days. I look forward to seeing more of this vehicle tomorrow in daylight. I’m proud of Andrew for bringing a vehicle not only still clad in temp tags but still receiving OTA updates from his company, seemingly based (partially?) on reports and feedback he is submitting as we go.

Over a nightcap, Evan and I recounted our own automotive preparations for the trip. Turns out that while my battery was definitely toast in WaKenney, the positive terminal was in terrible shape as well, which caused the Xterra to fail to start a several times before I was able to order a new one and swap it out.

I replaced it a couple weeks back, easy peasy. But Nissan, can we talk about what a chicken-shit connector that is? That thing is designed to wear out because it’s so thin. And it’s extra cute that they’re made of unobtanium that only comes from authorized dealers or weirdo Amazon Marketplace vendors I probably shouldn’t be trusting. Give me a big ol’ hunk of zinc like the battery terminals in the old truck, please.

Evan, however, took upon himself many tasks, far more involved…

How much more than the purchase price of the Disco do y’all think I spent on repairs and maintenance before this trip?

A great deal more: new brake master cylinder, he had the roof repainted, paintless dent repair on hood and doors from hail damage, windshield cowl, new windshield sprayers, new rear propshaft, he fixed an exhaust leak, and also replaced two of the four oxygen sensors.

Tomorrow we finish the hell-ride west, arriving into the fancy Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley sometime in the evening. It’s been a long way out here for all of us — most of all for Andrew who started his trip at the Rivian factory in Illinois — and we’re excited to get to the fun stuff.