For Part 2 of this series of articles, please click here. And now, on to Part 3.
Seligman, Arizona was 25 miles behind him and the site of a 26,000 mile per hour collision lay 90 miles ahead when Giro Cardan passed Ash Fork, Arizona on his way to the Casita plant in Rice, Texas.
Like Seligman, Ash Fork had boomed, beginning in 1882 as a railroad siding, becoming “The Flagstone Capital” after World War II, and snagging its share of travelers from the section of Route 66 that ran through its business district. Sadly, its fortunes declined even more precipitously than Seligman’s. Another cycle of success and failure for Cardan to muse over in the context of his own life.
Like Seligman, Ash Fork suffered when the railroad moved its line and U.S. Route 40 made U.S. Route 66 superfluous. Unlike Seligman, fires in 1885, 1893, 1905, 1977 and 1987 destroyed almost all of Ash Fork’s historic structures. As Cardan passed by the town, Ash Fork’s Ranch House Café played siren to late morning hunger pangs, but he drove on. Dark clouds loomed in the east and might bring mountain snow. He had miles to go before he could sleep.
Leaving Ash Fork behind at 5,144 feet, Cardan gained an additional 1,600 feet by the time he passed Williams, Arizona, also a railroad inspired town. The town has proclaimed itself the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. The South Rim lies only 58 miles north. William “Old Bill” Williams, a hard drinking, master fur trapper fluent in several Indian languages, served as the town’s namesake. He died in March 1849 at age 62 in a Ute warrior ambush. In his book, “Old Bill Williams, Mountain Man,” Alpheus .H Favour suggests that the warriors apparently didn’t know who they had attacked until it was way too late for Old Bill. Williams received burial honors ordinarily reserved for Ute Chiefs.
As Cardan continued east, snow and icy rain began to coat the alpine vegetation and Ponderosa Pines that replace semi-desert vegetation at elevations above 5,500 feet. At 7,100 feet, he passed Camp Navajo, designated Navajo Ordnance Depot when it opened in 1942 to provide for storage of the ammunition used in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
The climb continued for several more miles until Cardan reached the Arizona Divide, the highest point on U.S. Route 40. At an elevation of 7,313 feet, the ridge of the Divide changes the direction of the flow of water from north and east to south and west. Drainages west flow to the Gila and Salt Rivers, while drainages east flow into the Little Colorado River.
Five miles or so past the Divide, Cardan stopped for gas in Flagstaff, Arizona, where several inches of wet snow had already accumulated. Flagstaff sits at the southwestern edge of the 130,000 square mile Colorado Plateau, and is surrounded by the 1.856 million acre Coconino National Forest, home to the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the continental United States. Its scenery has more than trees going for it. A 9,298 feet lava dome, Mt. Elden, gives the city a stunning backdrop, and the beauty doesn’t stop there.
San Francisco Peaks, the remains of an eroded volcanic range, dominate the landscape only 10 miles north in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness. The name Kachina comes from the Hopi culture and their belief in Kachina People, spirits living in the area and sent to give them help and guidance. An aquifer within the range’s caldera supplies much of Flagstaff’s water. Humphreys Peak, the highest of the Peaks at an elevation of 12,637, is also the highest point in Arizona.
About 13 miles east of Flagstaff, Cardan passed the exit for Winona, a forgettable town made memorable by Bobby Troup’s admonishment, “Don’t forget Winona,” in his song, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” Placement of the Winona mention after the song’s Flagstaff lyric conflicts with the east-west sequence Troup used in writing the song, but Troup apparently was a pragmatist. He needed a city on U.S. Route 66 in Arizona whose name would rhyme with Arizona, and Winona was it. Who could have guessed that Nat King Cole would ever sing about this town, much less that Christina Judd would adopt the first name Wynonna because she liked how town’s name sounded in the song.
A short while later, Cardan glanced at his car’s altimeter and saw that since leaving Flagstaff, he had descended 1,000 feet. He soon left pine trees and snow behind as he entered the high desert terrain of northeastern Arizona. It was here that Cardan came upon the scene of a truly monstrous collision.
Big rocky objects orbit in a belt between Jupiter and Mars. Scientists call them asteroids. A mere half billion years ago, two of these objects collided, and a 150 feet wide iron-nickel fragment spun off into space headed, as luck would have it, directly for the planet Earth.
Fortunately, no one lived in Arizona 50,000 years ago. The fragment struck the northeastern Arizona desert just six miles south of today’s U.S. Route 40 traveling at an estimated speed of 26,000 miles per hour. On impact it caused an explosion that had the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT. The asteroid vaporized instantly, but left a stunning imprint: a crater with a depth of 550 feet, a diameter of 4,100 feet and a circumference of 2.4 miles. Now that is boom and bust.
Join Cardan in Part 4 of his odyssey as he leaves the crater behind and continues east through the natural wonders of northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico.