Sarah and I went to see the Watts Towers, something I had read about online, but as of yet had not convinced any of my friends to go see with me. My sell of, “Uh they’re these towers…” wasn’t very convincing. However, Sarah was game to go check them out, so we could find out exactly what they were.


When we got there, we were like, “this is a little ghetto.” It’s obviously a poor neighborhood. Dogs just roamed loose around the park.


Here’s what we learned: Simon Rodia was an Italian who immigrated to America at the beginning of the 20th century. Working as a cement worker and tile setter, in 1917 he purchased this triangle-shaped lot in LA. For 33 years Rodia worked in his free time to construct the Watts Towers, what he called “Nuestro Pueblo” (Our Town). Nuestro Pueblo comprises 17 interconnected structures: 3 main towers (98 ft, 97 ft, 55 ft) and 14 spires. Most of the Towers’ framework is made from scrap rebar. Rodia would bend the steel using the nearby railroad tracks as a makeshift vise. He used no scaffolding, machine equipment, welds, etc., only simple tools, pipe fitter pliers, and  window-washer’s belt and buckle. And yet the tallest tower contains the longest slender reenforced concrete column in the world. Rodia would build each tower by digging a shallow trench, filling it with cement, and embedding four upright columns. As the towers grew, he encircled the support beams with rungs, which he would then climb ladder-style to attach the next rung, decreasing the diameter with each one until the tower finished at a narrow point. He solidified the joints using wire mesh and mortar. For stability he built more than 150 flying buttresses. When the city subjected the towers to a stress test, the crane applying the force broke before any towers did.

‘ “At a hundred percent load — ten thousand pounds — Goldstone[a former aerospace engineer]’s instruments showed a horizontal deflection of the tower amounting to only one and a quarter inches,” the New Yorker reported. “The only perceptible effect on the tower was that one sliver of concrete or mosaic tinkled to the deck.” ‘

[Rodia on his towers.]

rodia watts towers

Rodia would then cover the iron bars in mesh, coat them with hand-mixed cement, and decorate using an eclectic assortment of found objects: shells, rocks, glass, tile, porcelain, bed frames, bottles, and scrap metal. In search of material, Rodia would walk nearly 20 miles down the Pacific Electric Railway right of way. Sometimes neighborhood children would bring pieces of broken glass and pottery to Rodia, but most of his material was damaged pieces from nearby Malibu Pottery or California Clay Products Company. Green glass came from recognizable soda bottles from the ’30s to ’50s: 7 Up, Squirt, Bubble Up, and Canada Dry. Blue glass was from milk of magnesia bottles. Designs in the mortar were hand drawn; flower-like imprints were made with a faucet handle.

Asked why he built Nuestro Pueblo, Simon Rodia answered, “I wanted to do something big and I did it.” Speculators credit inspiration to the festival towers of Nola, Italy, and the Pique Assiette mosaic style Rodia would have seen in his native country.



The towers are now seen as an example of prodigious Naive Art, or Urban Folk Art, but at the time they caused suspicion from his neighbors. Rumors that the towers were antennae for communicating with enemy Japanese or contained buried treasure lead to repeated vandalism. In 1955, tired of the community’s abuse, Rodia deeded the property to a neighbor and retired to Martinez, California. Rodia never returned. He died a decade later.

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Walking around the Watts Towers conjured images of a mosaic fantasy land. Whimsical and romantic, it seemed something far more likely to be found dreamed up in a Disney fairytale than in South Los Angeles between Inglewood and Compton. We were too late for a tour, but I wish I could have entered the towers- to literally stand within a man’s dream, brought to life by only his persistance, ingenuity, and two hands. Watts Towers is a hidden jewel within Los Angeles, well worthy of a visit.

Tours of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

General Admission: $7.00; Seniors and Youth 13-17 years: $3.00; Children 12 and younger: FREE

Twenty visitors per tour. All tours are conducted by docents and are on a first-come, first-served basis. No tours on rainy days. Smoking, eating, or drinking inside or near the Towers fenced area is prohibited. Admission fees, days, and times are subject to change without notice. Public tours begin at 11:00 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays when there is a pre-scheduled Visiting School Workshop.

Call 213.847.4646 for more information about the Watts Towers Arts Center-Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center Campus events, classes, and about our Visiting Schools Program and Large Group Tour arrangements.

Simon_Rodia 35mm negative

You know that poem about the plums?

This Is Just To Say

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Well, it was kinda like that.


For my second graffiti adventure I took along my friend Sarah. We went to 203 S Garey St: the middle of Little Tokyo, the Arts District, and Skid Row. There was more graffiti than our eyes could hold…


Running of the bulls, cave painting style.

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We met one of the graffiti artists that worked on this wall! But more on that later…

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Reminds me of Edward Scissorhands.

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It’s funny if you imagine the old man sniffing up the girl’s umbrella.

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A violent rendition of Pocahontas’s Colors of the Wind.

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Three-eyed Gerber Baby monster

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“Turn back around and fix it, you love him.”

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Tie graffiti, the new yarn bombing?

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JFK doesn’t approve.

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We didn’t understand this one.

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Shadow graffiti! Very clever.


HOTEA? AETOH? Hot tea?

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We also found these two items of contention:

Hobo igloo or art?


Preventing wildfires or lighting up? Also, wildfires… in LA…?


[title pic by Julie Lake]

My sister and I went graffiti exploring. I don’t think I need to write much for this post; the general message is that LA is beautiful.

Around 7th & Mateo

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Around Melrose & Martel

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The Traffic Snackiff is an essential part of any rush hour routine. You know the routine- get in your car, drive about six inches, angrily shout at other drivers, look around aimlessly, complain about how tired your clutch ankle is getting with all the stop and go. And then… HUNGRY.

Because rush-hour tends to coincide with dinner time. You’ll be happily motoring along (yeah right, what a joke), and then like a cobra, starvation will strike. It creeps up stealthily until all of a sudden  you can no longer speak, no longer think, can hardly support your head to observe that you’re was going nowhere, you are so ravenous.

That’s why I came up with Traffic Snackiff, the (what are we on now, Taco Bell?) fifth meal of the day.

There are a lot of donut shops in LA, and an inordinately high concentration of bizarre donut-something else hybrids. I’m talking donuts and fried chicken, donuts and sandwiches. Well all the places I stopped invariably seemed to be donuts and crack cocaine. But starvation is a harsh mistress. Neither sleet, nor snow (both common in LA summers), nor tweaking junkie outside, could deter me from pulling over to get my traffic snackiff: old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut and chocolate milk.


Yum, people. Yum.

Now when when your mind starts to clear as your hunger slowly fades, and the angry buzzing in your ears dissipates to be replaced by a lazy sugar smile on your face, you may hear conversations occurring around you of the type like, “I’m telling you man, it’s fine. I’ve never done time.”

At this point it’s time to go.

But that’s just part of Traffic Snackiff’s charm. Now not only are you no longer hungry, satisfied with delicious chocolatey comfort in your stomach, now you are also happy to be in your car, back on the road, driving away from whatever nefarious den you just exited.

Traffic Snackiff™


Some of the places I went in LA seemed more like something out of an  SNL skit than real life…

If you’re looking for a place to stock up on supplies for your lates witch’s brew, I have just the place for you. Guarded by three large dogs, Necromance is your one-stop shop for anything fucking creepy. Located in East-West Hollywood, this store has everything: freeze-dried bats, squirrel-feet necklaces, scorpion lollipops, human vertebrae, tortoise shells, armadillo/badger limbs, and complete snake skeletons. Need some light to read by? Don’t forget to check out their lamps made out of deer forelegs. l

Necromance, 7220 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA


Need a date with a bearded dude? Or, alternatively, like music? Brave a hallway of judgemental hipster eyes to enter Amoeba Records, the world’s largest independent record store. Come in dressed in your beatnik costume with prepared “cool” affect to browse thousands of records and pretend you know what you’re looking at. Then think to yourself, “I don’t need this shit, I have Spotify.”

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Amoeba Music, 6400 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA


Are you Lady Gaga, her impersonator, or a dancer in her music video? LA’s hottest shop to get your outfit is… the store that doesn’t exist on Google Maps. Seriously, I had to do some CSI shit on my computer to see the name of a store across from it in the reflection of a picture I took. So I know it’s located across the street from Explosion (7555 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA). It gets weirder: this store also does not have a door into it. To get in you have to go next door and ask the nice middle eastern man if there’s an entrance. After telling you it’s all custom made, and none of it’s for sale, he’ll let you in through the secret back door (which he then shuts behind you so no one else can see it exists/enter). This mystery shop has everything you need to be a pop star/futuristic super hero: horse-face armor, mohawk made of quartz crystals, horned face-mask, rib-bone collar, spiky cod piece, shoulder pads for days, nefertiti chain veils, and much, much more. Trust me, in these outfits people will respect your personal-space bubble.

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If you looking for a fart machine, the perfect post card for your Mormon lover, Henri Rousseau Art stick-on tattoos, or justification for your chocolate addiction, LA’s best store for anything and everything is Wacko Soap Plant. Located on the outskirts of Little Armenia, Wacko is crammed floor to ceiling with knick-knacks, decoration, and toys, with an art exhibit nestled in the back. Go here if you enjoy browsing cute curiousities. Wacko, 4633 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA

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Finally, LA’s hottest club is Jumbo’s Clown Room. Located on Hollywood Boulevard,this little joint is packed to the brim with enthusiastic dancers and even more enthusiastic patrons. Opened in 1970 and converted to an exotic dance bar in ’82, this bar embodies burlesque without crossing into the vulgarly agressive territory. All different shapes and sizes, tattooed and pierced chicks dance/strip to 80’s hits and rock picked off the club’s jukebox. No actual nudity- the skimpiest they get down to is underwear, which I at least appreciated. Different levels of skill and style range from a duo jazz dancing to footloose, to a serious acrobat pole dancer doing the splits on the ceiling then dropping straight down to catch herself, head inches from the floor, just by the strength of her inner thighs. Goddamn. The crowd goes wild and bills fly onto the stage. No cover charge, so drink well and tip the dancers on stage. (Ps. Courtney Love danced here in the early 90’s. Cool.)l

No pictures allowed, so I found this one online. Jumbo’s Clown Room, 5153 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA



The first morning we were in Los Angeles, I woke up early and went for a run. Boy was spring in the city looking pretty.

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I love LA because everything is so colorful, from the fences, to the houses, to the fire hydrants, to the walls. Oh, the walls. Graffiti and murals are everywhere. It makes your whole world art. But I have whole posts dedicated to street art to come.

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After my glorious morning run, my father asked me to come with him to look at some outdoor furniture. I looked like this:


It looked like this:


Possibly an alien capsule sent from space? Not my thing. But I did get the pleasure of seeing this very awkward use of a “ballerina” in their catalogue.


Later that night after dinner my sister and her friend convinced my dad to act in a skit where he plays a beat up psychiatrist advising her on anger management. I’ll link to that video once my sister puts it up. But let’s just say I was surprised and impressed by her make-up artistry and his improv acting. It was very strange.

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I picked my dad up from the Flagstaff airport, and off we went. He was in good form, immediately losing his phone (he was sitting on it), and mistakenly trying to go into the girls’ bathroom (I stopped him). Anyway, eventually we rolled up to the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon.

(Image is an approximation of our actual arrival.)


The El Tovar opened in 1905 as a first class accommodation for travelers on the Santa Fe railroad, which had finally reached the Grand Canyon. As the card in our room informed us,

“Nothing was spared to make this one of the great hotels of its era. The building was completely equipped with electric lights powered by its own steam generator. Railroad tank cars brought fresh water for the hotel from Del Rio, 120 miles away; fresh fruit and vegetables were grown in greenhouses on the premises. The hotel even had its own dairy.”

Nowadays it’s a destination for thousands of short-pants ruffians like ourselves. It’s right on the edge of the canyon, prime location. Our first order of business was to check out the view.

Woah. It made us a dizzy the first time we looked into the canyon. It’s just so massive and deep, and all the different layers of color funnel your vision down, but you can’t even see to the bottom. Only in a few spots can you glimpse the Colorado River.


Second order of business was to get some food in us. We sat out on El Tovar’s deck and looked out over the canyon while sipping on tea and munching on vegetarian chili and crab cake sliders. Twas good.

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Properly fueled, we ventured out to walk the Rim Trail. This is just a paved path that goes along the rim. My dad was mad because it wasn’t more trail-y, but it had some educational merits of its own. There are no rails anywhere, because to rail the whole canyon would  require as much metal to go halfway around the earth, then for every foot of height you’d need another bar of rail, multiplying that amount. Besides, people would climb over it anyway, so the park admitted there was just no point. However, there are plenty of copies of the book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, detailing the 550 deaths in the Grand Canyon, on sale everywhere you go to give you ample incentive of your own not to wander too close to the edge.

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Overlapping the Rim Trail, the Trail of Time  is set up to give you a physical metaphor in the distance you walk comparing to the amount of time it took for the Grand Canyon to form. Along the way there are plaques explaining the formation of the different rock layers. Dad helped to further elucidate in his coloquial style, “Look, so there’s where that shit seeped through”.IMG_1411

They’ve also mounted rocks from each layer and era so that you can touch them. Dad insisted we walk along petting each rock. After this first one he paused to analyze the texture and came up with his official scientific observation: “This would make a great granite counter top.”


One plaque shouted at us that 1.2 billion years were missing from the rock record. Dad muttered to himself, “Goddamn teenagers.”


Then he made us take this picture where “it will look like we’re falling into the canyon”.IMG_3734 Shortly afterwards he came running up behind me yelling I had to stop. He wanted to show me this ancient geological specimen he had found…IMG_3740

Ie. a piece of the road.


We finally made it to the end of the Trail of Time and this vista point.


Dad tripped and almost fell off the cliff taking this picture of me, evoking a shout of “Jesus fucking Christ, Dad!”


So then we had other people take pictures of us.


After that we went to fancy dinner back at El Tovar. You could tell it was fancy because their butter is stamped with a crest.


Also because they had a crumb sweeper. This is someone who comes around after they take away your bread and sweeps away all your crumbs with a little silver comb so that you are aware of how messy an eater you are.


Honestly, their food was pretty bad. My dad’s celery soup was inedibly salty, they brought him the wrong entree, and though it’s hard to mess up a salad, it just had too many over-powering components to be truly enjoyable. Even their pie was too sweet. Their chefs obviously had heavy hands.


The next morning we got up early to go on the Cedar Ridge Hike, a Ranger lead hike down the Kaibab trail. I have to reiterate how awesome park rangers are- always so nice, with zillions of helpful and interesting things to tell you. I was particularly comforted by his presence, because everywhere on the trailhead and heading down there are posters detailing all the different ways you can die. I must also give props to their commitment to making visits to the park exceptionally educational, especially when visitors usually show up with no intention of it being so, and environmentally friendly. Nowhere in the canyon will they sell you bottled water, because the bottles end up in landfills or blown into the canyon by the wind. They provide their own water in filling stations along the trails, straight from the Roaring Springs below the North Rim.

Before we started, Dad made me take this picture of him to prove to his personal trainer that he was warming up. So here you go, Craig…


Then we started down in a group with about 12 other people. It was a little chilly, but just in the way of nice, brisk morning air. Our ranger told us that of all the thousands of people that come visit the canyon each year, only 2 percent actually descend into it. What punks.


The trail is unpaved, 3 miles round-trip, and descends 1.120 feet. It took us a little under 3 hours, and that was with stopping at the bottom to chill out and snack. It’s somewhat steep and rough going, windy, and it certainly would be possible to fall off the edge and die, but if you hold on to your hat and pay attention to where you put your feet, it’s so much fun! The views were spectacular, exponentially better than you get just walking along the rim. Our ranger told us interesting anecdotes about the building of the trail, some of the plants along it, and the park’s legal battles with Ralph Cameron, an original settler on the canyon.













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The hike up is a bitch, but stop to rest frequently and it’s fine. Excellent father-daughter bonding time. If I come back, I want to do the hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon, where you can stay the night at Phantom Ranch, then hike back up the next day. But that’s for another trip.

We were back on the road. Next stop: Los Angeles.

There’s no place like home. Even if it’s someone else’s home.

When Rachael and I got to Flagstaff, I dropped her off at the airport (only one gate, what!?) and went to go find my friend Clio. Flagstaff was nothing like I’d expected. I guess I thought Arizona was all red rock cliffs and desert, but I was way off. As I drove through Flagstaff, I found myself in a quaint little mountain town. It was so peaceful. Exactly the sort of place you’d want to drive into after a long day of skiing to get hot cocoa and nestle into your bed with a nice book, plenty of covers, and a snowy forest view. Meanwhile it’s the middle of summer for me in real life, but this is a town that immediately captures your imagination.

Flagstaff was one of my favorite towns I visite; I wish I could have stayed longer. Maybe I was just so grateful to be in a real home, eating a real home-cooked meal, with some of the nicest company in my friend and her lovely mother, but I immediately felt so relaxed and happy to just be there. This wasn’t the kind of town that shouted at you, “See this! See that! Buy this weird trinket and everything else we can throw at you!”. No, this was the kind of town that just was. It was itself, and though I can’t say I had time to make a thorough study of it, I can say it had its own personality and charm that had nothing to do with trying to seduce tourism.

The first thing Clio did was to take me on a walk out her front door, straight into Buffalo Park. She told me a funny story: the guy that bought this land in the 1960’s wanted to make it into a Wild-West themed wildlife park. He brought in more than 200 animals: buffalo, elk, antelope, llamas, etc. And they all pretty much immediately escaped. The park lasted fewer than 5 years, and then eventually was absorbed by the city as a recreational park. As we walked around and she pointed out remnants of the shoddy fencing,  she told me she often sees Olympians training there because of the high elevation. That’s pretty cool. Not to mention the views of the mountains are awful pretty.

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Next was a delicious, just-what-I-needed, home-cooked meal. Her mom’s from-scratch pizza. It was glorious! Way better than most of the restaurant meals I’d eaten so far on the trip.

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The crust was so light and fluffy! And fresh out of the oven, the pizza was perfectly warm, and crispy, and ooey gooey just like it should be.


After dinner we exchanged our dish-washing services for clio’s mamma to whip up some chocolate chip cookies. I was in heaven.


The next morning Clio took me to Macy’s for some people watching. I learned that 1)she did not mean the department store, and 2)that Flagstaff is home to some cute mountain men! It’s a college town, so there were great prospects here. I mean every guy was wearing flannel and had a beard, but that was kinda part of their allure. Exceptions were those that looked like they’d been on the mountain so long they were starting to become part yeti. Yikes man, no beard should be long enough that it can start to meld in with your chest hair.


On the way there we passed Biff’s Bagels, which touted this mural on the outside. I immediately was like, “Whoa what the what? Who’s acid trip was this?”


Then Clio pointed into the shop through the window- the walls were decorated with hundreds of portraits of dogs. She explained that at Biff’s, if your dog dies and you’re really sad, you can bring in a picture of it and they’ll hang it on the wall for you. Biff is actually the name of the founders’ beloved dog, who passed away in ’95. That crazy mural is a portrayal of The Rainbow Bridge. It’s really a sweet story, and made me even more partial to this town where such compassionate people live.

Macy’s was obviously the real deal, because it was packed. The decor was hippy meets hindu-investigator meets weird pregnancy photographer. Seriously, there were a lot of photos of the naked-pregnant-belly type.


Then menu was very vegan-friendly, but we just got a coffe and chai. Excellent Oregon Chai, I must say.

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I have a lot of friends from all over the world, but I have to say, there’s something to seeing someone in their home element. Clio looked beautiful and happy, and I was glad to see it 🙂 It was a perfect visit for me.

But my travels were far from over. It was back to that tiny airport to pick up my dad, then onto the Grand Canyon…

Did you know that our National Parks are basically the best thing our government has ever done? I can’t ever recall having been to one before this road trip, but now I’m going to shout it from the rooftops (eh internet). National Parks are awesome.

Not that our government can take credit for creating this natural beauty, but when at one point it had its shit together enough to protect it, that was a great move. I never knew how beautiful America was until I drove across the country, and these parks and their rangers have done an amazing job of pointing it out, preserving it, and educating the public on how it came to be.

Now Rachael and I were just driving along from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, when we noticed that this Petrified Forest National Park was right on our route. We had time, so we went to check it out. The first stop is the visitor’s center/gift shop where you can wet your appetite by looking at all the polished specimens of petrified wood and educate as to wtf it is anyhow. Also grab a map, because the park is on a 23 mile loop that you drive through with hikes to stop and do along the way.

Right, what is petrified wood exactly? I will quote from the visitor’s center:

“Petrified wood takes us back in time. These fossils are pieces of trees that lived in ancient ecosystems. Logs were buried in layers of sediment along a great river system, the silica gradually replacing organic material. The rainbow of colors comes from trace minerals such as iron and manganese oxides. The petrified wood found in Northeastern Arizona is from the Late Triassic, over 200 million years ago. ”

Next you start to drive, but you must stop at a Ranger Checkpoint, where they ask you to declare any petrified wood you bought in the gift shop. You aren’t allowed to take any from the actual park. But what are the going to do, search your car when you exit? (No.) It’s mostly a pre-emptive guilt-trip strike, but still, don’t be a dick. Hands off the wood. (Yikes, somehow that combination of words got unintentionally phallic…)

Once you are on your merry way, it’s time for some confusion. Everywhere they tell you to stop looks out on this gorgeous desert. But are you…supposed to be able to see the wood from here? No, what you are seeing is the Painted Desert, something you only caught vague reference to in the gift shop because it was one of the options of design on their souvenir penny machine. Nonetheless, it is absolutely stunning. The inspiration for its name is obvious. Reds, golds, greens, and oranges are dabbed across the hills below, like the strokes from a paintbrush. And I never even knew such a thing existed.

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Because we are not boys, we had enough sense to consult a map. In this way we figured out that to see the actual petrified wood we wanted to take the Crystal Forest Loop. Back on the road, there was nothing like driving through this beautiful desert with the wide open blue sky above us. The road wound through one section in particular where we were surrounded by little haystacks of hills that had those very obvious different layers of strata in bright colors. It felt like driving through one of Doctor Suess’s books.



Wait. I just realized I’ve been living one of his books. Hot air balloons in Albuquerque…


Jazz in New Orleans…


Caving in Carlsbad…


Anyway, on from that revelation.

We finally made it to the petrified forest! You could just walk all over whereever you wanted and touch anything you liked. It was like the world’s coolest science museum. If we had been brought to places like these as kids when we were learning about geology and the history of the earth, it would have made such a difference in our education experience. It felt like when I saw Starry Night by Van Gogh in real life in New York, or the Mona Lisa in France. Suddenly this thing that I’d read about my whole life in books and seen in pictures was expressed to me in actuality. Really tangible! The history of our earth was right in front of us.


It was oddly disconcerting to look at something that seemed exactly like wood, then reach out and touch it and feel smooth stone beneath my fingertips.


There were little petrified wood chips all over the ground. I could see why the rangers made such an effort to dissuade people from taking them. It was tempting when these pretty little splashes of hard color were right under my feet.

Ps. my hair was lookin great.

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Walking along the three-quarter mile path, the sun beat its dry heat down on us, and our ears were filled with the howl of the wind across the plains. The shattered trunks of ancient trees rested on either side of us, but rest isn’t the right word. It didn’t seem peaceful, natural, like that word implies. They were broken, smashed. We had the eery sensation of walking through the ruins of an ancient civilization. The kind we could tell had been great in its day, but now lay in shambles at our feet. Or in a more macabre view, I had this image of walking through the scene of a massacre, where the corpses and chopped body parts were strewn all around me.

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The colors and setting were so fantastical it was almost surreal.

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Then back to the highway. Now that is what I call a side-trip.

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