Grand Natural Detours while on Route 66

Karla Locke
8 min readApr 24, 2022


The Petrified Forest

Route 66 meanders its way through some of the most beautiful scenery the United States has to offer, making this one of the Ultimate ROAD TRIPS. The old motels. The old gas stations. Neon lights glittering along the route. GIANT alerts and larger-than-life attractions. All make up the Mother Road, but there is more to this route than 66 nostalgia, it introduces travelers to some of the greatest wonders this country (and nature) have to offer. Grand landscapes, each unique, each of them JAW-DROPPING and Amazing.

We only did a part of Route 66, starting in Missouri and ending in Needles, California. The nostalgia and the time in the past created a fabulous experience, and so did the detours to some of the most stunning scenery we were privileged to witness.

Palo Duro Canyon

While in Amarillo, Texas, where everything is BIG, we enjoyed an afternoon in Palo Duro Canyon. Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon system in the United States. The canyon is about 120 miles long and 20 miles wide and is up to 800 feet deep. As you drive down the winding road, descending the 500 feet to the floor of the canyon, the sun hits the hillsides, and the colors glitter to life in a variety of geological amazement.

Palo Duro Canyon offers visitors a multitude of interests — history buffs will enjoy the historical significance of this great canyon. Outdoor enthusiasts will find a multitude of ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Campers will witness Mother Nature at her finest during amazing sunsets and sunrises. And, for those who like or study geology, they will be in heaven. For us photographers, the subject captures our attention and our lens and our breath, everywhere we turn.

Palo Duro Canyon

Readily accessible by car, motorhome, or fifth wheel and only 25 miles from downtown Amarillo and 14 miles from the Mainstreet town of Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon is the most spectacular and scenic landscape feature in the Texas Panhandle. It was formed by millions of years of water erosion by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River and the West Texas wind.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

New Mexico had a wonderful surprise for us. Our son told us of this place, down a long dirt road, hidden in a canyon, an archeological wonder, and a preservation of a historical sight that takes us way back in time. Chaco Culture National Historical Park was indeed worth the nineteen-mile, bumpy ride to this hidden gem. The National Park calls it, “The Center of an Ancient World,” and it was.

We arrived late in the afternoon so our time was limited and a bit rushed. The Park Ranger suggested we hightail it to the main site, Pueblo Bonito, where the excavation was the most intact. I wanted so badly to capture the place with my camera but its vastness was too much to consume. But what I really wanted was to capture how in awe I was of this once-thriving community.

While there, ayoung girl asked her parents if it was hot back then. They said, “probably.” But I piped in and said it was also probably cold. And just imagine the small canyons where rivers flowed, once filled to the rim with water and fish. Wildlife roamed freely through this protected canyon. And, the crops they must have grown. I could almost hear the children playing, see the women busily working, and the men off hunting. What a true wonder this place would have been. It was a hard life, but it was filled with a strong community of people who strongly supported each other.

Chaco Canyon National Monument

The park was established in 1907 as Chaco Canyon National Monument and was redesignated and renamed in 1980; it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The park occupies an area of 53 square miles (137 square km), which consists of a canyon dissected by the Chaco and Gallo washes.

Chaco Canyon National Monument

For all the wild beauty of Chaco Canyon’s high-desert landscape, its long winters, short growing seasons, and marginal rainfall create an unlikely place for a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture to take root and flourish. Yet this valley was the center of a thriving culture a thousand years ago. The monumental scale of its architecture, the complexity of its community life, the high level of its community social organization, and its far-reaching commerce created a cultural vision unlike any other seen before or since.

Read more of the history

Meteor Crater

We did the Standing on the Corner of Winslow, Arizona, but what a fine sight to see was — Meteor Crater. An unusual natural wonder. A fascinating and, yet, scary tale of a time long ago. Our visit was on a blustery day with gusts of winds sometimes pushing around the crater. You can walk the small path along the rim, but I am afraid of heights so I could only get so close to peek over the edge.

Over 50,000 years ago space and earth came together when a huge iron-nickel meteorite, approximately 150 feet wide and weighing several hundred thousand tons, impacted an area outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, with a force 150 times greater than an atomic bomb. The result of this impact was devastation for miles and the creation of the giant bowl-shaped cavity we call Meteor Crater, which measures 550 feet deep and almost a mile wide.

Petrified Forest National Park

A driving detour through Mother Nature’s Palette — the Painted Desert and The Petrified Forest was a true work of art. This landscape is a true inspiration for anyone with an ounce of creativity. The question is — how to capture something so beautiful to the naked eye and try to give it an ounce of beauty for others to see? It looks us hours to drive the short 25 mile road, there was so much to distract us and so many directions to point our cameras. Each spot as beautiful and stunning as the last.

Colorful badlands meet the Mother Road in Arizona’s high desert.
Looking like pastel mounds of Neapolitan ice cream, Northern Arizona’s Painted Desert is a vast, striated badlands that extends some 150 miles from the eastern end of the Grand Canyon into Petrified Forest National Park. A geologist’s other-worldly paradise, the colorful hills, flat-topped mesas and sculptured buttes of the Painted Desert are primarily made up of the Chinle Formation, mainly river-related deposits dating back some 200 million years. Inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years, the multi-hued sweep of pigmented rock in the arid high desert received its present name in the 1540s from the Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, who called the area El Desierto Pintado.

Petrified Forest and Painted Desert

Our final Grand Detour on Route 66 was the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Our first visit to this breathtaking wonder. Over 50 years of waiting to see the Grand Canyon was worth every minute when we caught our first glimpse. My descriptions and my photos will not do it justice. It boggles the mind when you first see it, the sheer amazement of what lies before you just leaves you awestruck. A Bucket List item that surpassed all expectations.

Grand Canyon

The weather was perfect that day, warm with a gentle breeze. The crowds were not too thick. I cannot recommend enough to visit this wonder of a place while the weather is cool and before the heavy crowds ascend. We did a leisurely walk along the rim, stopping every few feet for one more photo, each image capturing something different. As sunset approached we walked the rim looking for the perfect spot to watch the light change the colors in the depth of the canyon. Each spot, created a subtle or significant change so perfection was wherever you stood.

After a long day on our feet, we hit the road for the hour long drive back to Betty Jo (the Airstream.) A day of wonder and impressive vistas finally caught up with us, along with tired feet.

Grand Canyon

Layered bands of colorful rock reveal millions of years of geologic history with unmatched vistas from the rim.

13 Things You Didn’t Know About Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon

Route 66 has been the Ultimate Road Trip and the detours will provide us with some of the grandest memories from this Grand Adventure.



Karla Locke

My creative self needs an outlet, I do this with writing and photography and the occasional thought and opinion.