I got up very early, around 5:30, to hit the road for Flagstaff, where I was to meet up with Tom and Mark, my hiking buddies, in preparation for our hike of Humphrey’s Peak the next day. I left around 7:00 and managed to avoid the worst of the LA traffic, which, by this point, all of the non LA residents had fully realized must be the worst traffic in the world (imagine pulling into a parking lot, parking, then having the parking lot move about 2 mph for the next, well, forever, and you’ve got the feeling; better yet, just watch the Gridlock episode from the new Doctor Who).

I made pretty good time, setting my cruise control to about 85 most of the way (don’t tell Avis). Note: Don’t ever stop in Needles, CA for gas – they are a total rip off. Plan to drive straight from LA to Flagstaff, if possible, as gas is cheaper in both locations.

Anyway, I arrived a bit early, as I intended, as Brent, Debi’s brother-in-law, suggested I visit the Barringer Meteor Crater while in Flagstaff. On a space/science kick after Griffith Observatory, I planned to fit it in. I swung through Flagstaff around 3:00 and made it to the crater visitor’s center around 3:45. As I was driving I began noticing signs for the crater that looked like, well, commercial signs. I was kind of surprised by this as I figured a crater would most likely be part of a national park or something. Nope, it’s privately owned and run like a business. Entry to see the crater costs $15 and there is a Subway inside the visitor’s center. I was particularly impressed/disturbed by the uniforms of the people working there. They looked identical to those of national park rangers except for a patch on the arm that said “Meteor Crater.” As for the science and museum exhibits, after seeing Griffith Observatory, I was a bit disappointed. Even the brochure they gave me (for my $15) was cheaply made (a tri-folded 8.5 x 11 piece of paper printed on a cheap printer). Anyway, enough about the visitor’s center…

The crater itself is amazing. It’s huge and shocking to see the damage something from space can do. Granted it was a big something, but it wasn’t really that big (see the Wikipedia link above). I just missed a crater rim tour/hike, but probably couldn’t have done it anyway as I had to get back to Flagstaff to meet Tom and Mark (at least, so I thought).

Here’s a pretty cool panorama of the crater (in Quicktime format).

Thinking I had to be at our meeting location in downtown Flagstaff at 5:00, I didn’t spend a lot of time at the visitor’s center. We agreed to meet at a vegetarian friendly restaurant in Flagstaff called Mountain Oasis. It had good reviews on Yahoo and we all needed dinner, so we decided to give it a whirl. On my way back into Flagstaff Mark called to inform me that Tom was not feeling well and that they were making frequent stops at restrooms all the way from Salt Lake to Flagstaff. As a result, they were running almost 2 hours late. Not sure what to do, I headed back to Flagstaff and looked for an internet connection to pass the time.

I first tried the Barnes & Noble, but they no longer have free wi-fi. I pulled out my trusty handheld with wi-fi-fo-fum and did a little wardriving. Downtown Flagstaff has dozens of wi-fi networks, many of them not protected. I took my laptop to the town square, just across from Mountain Oasis, and borrowed someone’s connection for about an hour to check my email and get some more information about campsites in the area. Whoever’s connection I borrowed, thanks! Tom and Mark arrived around 6:30 or so. After finding a parking spot we headed to Mountain Oasis.

Tom was really suffering, so much so that all he could do is nibble on some crackers. Mark and I, however, really liked the food. After catching up for a while over dinner, we headed to Albertson’s to get our foodstuffs for the hike the next day. We were then planning on heading up to a campground, but Tom suggested he might be more comfortable in a hotel. Considering the circumstances, that made sense. So, we stopped at a nasty Travelodge on the eastern edge of town and booked a room (2610 E. Rt. 66; Flagstaff, AZ 86004 – don’t stay here, it’s nasty!). After a few chess matches (Tom won them all, even in his delirious state), we crashed for the night. Well, sort of… Tom continued to need to use the bathroom frequently, switching from rear exit to vomiting about half way through the night. It was pretty rough.

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