The loop drive through Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument exemplify the essence of what I hoped to capture with Route 66 Backroads. See, driving Route 66 is an adventure everyone should experience at least once.
However, to myopically focus on the gems and treasures that line the shoulder of this legendary highway is to miss its most amazing attribute as a portal to an endless array of adventures only found with short detours to the north or the south.
This delightful loop drive of 35 miles begins less than 25 miles north of Route 66 and the community of Flagstaff, Arizona. Stunning scenery, haunting ruins, horizons broken by snow covered peaks and the haunting beauty of the Painted Desert are but a hint at what this amazing detour of less than one hundred miles has to offer.
The drive north on US 89 begins with the hustle and bustle of Flagstaff but soon gives way to pastoral scenes of vintage stone constructed ranch buildings nestled among towering pines against the backdrop of the snow covered San Francisco Peaks. Tragically an almost endless stream of traffic makes it very difficult for the driver to notice but that all changes the monument you enter the boundaries of the national monument.
The first stop is Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a stunning wasteland of red cinder and black lava flow sprinkled with towering pines and dotted with the looming cone of Sunset Crater to the east and the snow covered San Francisco Peaksto the west. A number of hiking trails, short and paved as well as rocky and semi strenuous, provide enough access to the inner sanctum of this wonderland for a lifetime of memories and to spark a hunger for return visits.
From Sunset Crater the landscape begins a dramatic change from forested to one of stark high deserts broken by formations of terraced red rock. Enhancing the haunting feelings inspired by these vast empty lands are the broken towers and ramparts of Wukoki Pueblo and Wupatki, Lomaki Pueblo and Naiakihu Pueblo, remnants of a vanished civilization that once dominated this forbidding land.
For those who enjoy scenery best when it is seen through the windshield this drive is a must. For those who enjoy mixing the pleasure of awe inspiring scenery flowing past the windows and walks among the ruins then this little Route 66 detour should not be missed the next time you motor west, or east, on the old double six.