On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
LAVA FLOWS AT GRANTS, NEW MEXICO
As you speed along one of the broad highways of the US interstate system, it is easy to miss some of the most interesting things along the way. Of course, the driver is at a disadvantage in spotting some things not within her normal range of vision, but that won't prevent her from engaging in a mind game about what she is seeing and just what it might mean. Just as we can remember a vivid scene in a favorite movie, capturing the memories of spectacular sights in the Americana of the open road has endless possibilities. When organized and analyzed, the thoughts become part of our past, awaiting the sessions with family and friends when we tell our little stories. And we all have stories to tell.
On the road....again! as the letterhead tagline at the top of the masthead: Chronicles of a Footloose Forester persists because it represents a needed reminder that each and every chronicle is about an actual adventure during a sojourn from the past, or a virtual adventure into the land of mental concepts. This chronicle is about one of the longer trips on pavement, bitumen, and macadam; and joyed to be remembered in his personal chronicles... On the road...again!
Our destination was The Four Corners area of the American West. At the conjunction of survey lines where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico meet, it is possible to put your hand into all four states at the same time. At least that is what we have believed since the days in 1882 when the survey was completed and the first maps were drawn up. Getting started and making our way, however, was not something that could be described as a typical road trip. We would start out from our home in Virginia in our spacious and comfortable Infiniti SUV and end up 5385 miles later in a rental car from Indianapolis, Indiana.
As we drove west toward Indianapolis, the red warning Check Engine light came on. Since we were on vacation and not in any hurry, we decided to have the problem checked out sooner, rather than later. At the Infiniti dealership in Indianapolis, the chief mechanic informed us that we had a serious problem. It wasn't about the engine, that had only some 5300 miles on it since it was replaced in Cumberland, Maryland, following a burnt-out oil bearing. And although the frame itself had over 129,000 miles of wear, the body was in great shape and we did not suspect anything amiss. Of course, there had been that letter from Infiniti of North America, Inc. that notified us that our Model Year 1999 SUV was subject to a recall campaign; and that we would be notified with a subsequent letter where and when to bring it in. There was no follow-up letter.
To our good fortune, the manager of the Infiniti dealership accepted our explanation about not getting further instructions about the recall campaign. He then and there offered to make arrangements to buy our car on the spot; and to bear the cost of a rental vehicle for as long as it took to finalize the purchase transaction--back home in Virginia. He was as good as his word. A long three weeks and some 5385 miles later (data thanks to a small notebook and a short pencil), we pulled into our driveway in Greenbackville, Virginia in a rented Dodge Charger. We were happy to be home, safe and sound with memories of our traverse through 18 states. Thanks to the manager at the Infiniti dealership in Indiana, we had returned in a car about which we had no worries about its overall reliability.
A week-long stopover to visit Thu's cousin in Minneapolis was always part of the wide detour, thus penciling in an intermediate stop to see the granite monuments of US presidents at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota was a natural way-point. Truth be known, the Footloose Forester always hopes for those serendipities in life to keep his imagination alive. And the serendipity of driving by lava fields near Grants, New Mexico was one of the most satisfying aspects of our long journey... On the road....again!
Satellite view of lava field at Grants, NM
The lava flows visible from US Interstate 40 near Grants, New Mexico seem to be remarkedly fresh. This satellite photo was taken from an orbiting platform in space but then focused to an altitude corresponding to 31,000 feet. Notice the stark color contrast with the surrounding environs. When you see the pahoehoe type of lava fields up close they are equally jet black, suggesting that they are as fresh as similar flows on the flanks of the active Kilauea Crater volcano in Hawaii. At Kilauea on the island of Hawaii, the oldest of the exposed blankets of surface lava are no more than 200 years old in some places; however, the lava field shown above is at least 3,000 years old.
More remarkable than the jet black lava-crusted land that can be seen from Interstate 40, is the complex topography at nearby El Maipais National Monument. There, huge lava tubes that resemble long caves attest to the fact that in the geological past, the viscous lava flowed like an underground river. Yet, even adjacent to the heavily traveled interstate freeway, the terrain is so broken that it quite probable that no human being has ever once walked a straight line, for as little as 100 yards. In the best of circumstances, it is virtually impossible to navigate your way directly across the lava fields. Needless to say, there is no building or structure of any kind; except for the few roads that have been blasted through in order to connect population centers. If the lava fields were jungle, they would aptly be described as "impenetrable."