In eastern Arizona, along the loop that takes you from the interstate into the Petrified Forest, there stands a historical plaque marking the way westward. From that point, looking above and beyond the marker, lies a somewhat desolate stretch of dirt, lava rock, red dust and pieces of rock formed over the years from ancient trees.
If you look long enough you can see what appears to be an old roadbed. In fact, I can see it now, in my mind's eye. It stretches west and slowly rises to a small range of blackened rock-covered hills that probably bear some name given them by the ancients and passed down through the generation, or by prospectors traveling and mining in the area, or by hearty ranchers trying to squeeze yet another acre of sage and coarse grass out of the rocky soil for their herds.
It may be a place where outlaws roamed, hiding from the law and their pasts and their demons. It could be a place where Spanish Dons and their vaquero grazed too many steers on too little grass. If you stare at the "trail" for a while, you may be able to see the dust from a wagon train moving westward out of that great expanse of land that would become west Texas and New Mexico - seeking and hoping, for what God only knows.
But the sign doesn't talk much about the many "pasts" this stretch of Arizona land has seen. It tells another story.
For this is what's left of the road that led to California from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and other locales east of Amarillo. It was the road that called out to folks looking for a better life during the dust bowl days and the great depression. It was the road that projected great hope and promise, yet brought deeper despair to many.
It was the road that in time became the Main Street of America - the Mother Road -- Route 66.
When the images of the wagon trains and cattle drive and caravans of old pick-up trucks and rusty coupes and dusty sedans filled with farmers and their families and all they could carry leaving dust covered fields behind and searching for the groves and orchards of that Golden Valley, you just might catch a glimpse of our nation's more pleasant days.
Families vacationing "out west" where the meteors left craters and the trees turned to stone; where the Navaho and Zuni and other First Nations peoples built tourist attractions and sold trinkets and silver and turquoise to passers-by.
You might see the glow of a distant neon sign luring drivers to stop and rest for the night at the Starlight Motor Court or the Silver Saddle Inn, or simply to stop and enjoy a meal at Joe's Route 66 Diner.
It would take more time to tell you what might be seen and felt and experienced at this lonely, simple wide spot in the road -- the getting off place for the road no longer traveled. And then you wouldn't get the full effect.
You'll just have to go there. Then you'll know.