A Conversation in The Petrified Forest


The desert landscape streamed past their van, an unending palette of tan, brown, and grey in the morning sunlight.

“My back hurts. I can’t sit much longer.” Her husband reclined in the passenger seat.

“We can stop at the Petrified Forest, get out and stretch,” she suggested.

He sighed and settled further into the seat. “What? Hike miles in the hot sun to look at some rocks?”

“It’s right off the highway,” she said.

“I don’t want to walk.”

“You do realize that we’ll be at the Grand Canyon tomorrow? There will be walking there I imagine.”

“You do what you want then, you always do.”

“I’m sorry. When we get to the hotel you can rest your back.”

When she saw the exit sign for the park visitor’s center she left the highway. As she parked the van she turned toward her companion.

“I’m getting out, you sure you don’t want to come with me?”

“Just roll the windows down.” He shifted away to stare out the glass.

“It might get hot here, there’s no shade.” She leaned into the van, her hand rested on the door handle.

“Go on, I don’t care.”

She stopped at the visitor center to pick up a brochure and then hiked to the first overlook. As she approached the trailhead she spotted a figure silhouetted against the horizon and when she drew closer she saw that it was a man, a little younger than herself, dressed in jeans and hiking boots.

“Hello.” She nodded at the stranger and paused beside him. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?”

He smiled back at her. “Sure is. Morning light is the best.” He held up his camera.

“Those hills look like petticoats don’t they? You’d never think of those colors in the desert.”

“That’s why they call it the Painted Desert I guess.” He laughed and held out his hand. “I’m Matt.”

“Sara,” she said. His grip was softer than she expected, his palm smooth and warm.

They stood there several moments in silence, watching the play of light over the ruffled red stone of the distant mesas.

“Say,” he said, “can I take your picture?”

“Me?” she asked, then laughed. She touched her hair and smoothed it back from her face. “I’m not exactly cover girl material.”

“It’s good for scale,” he replied, “but you’d do fine as a cover girl.”

“Will this work?” She turned to look out over the Painted Desert, one hand on her hip and one foot placed forward as though she were stepping out onto the path.

“Perfect,” he answered as he paced off the distance to frame the landscape and snapped several shots. “This will be great, thanks.”

“Sure, but I won’t head off to the runway anytime soon.”

“If you want I could email you the photos.”

She glanced down the road toward the visitor center. “That’s okay, I better get going. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, have a safe trip.”

When she got back to the van she saw her husband outside, leaning against driver’s side door.

“My back is a little better, I took some ibuprofen,” he said. “I could drive for a bit.”

“Okay,” she answered as she climbed into the passenger seat.

“How was the view? Was it worth the stop?” he asked as they pulled out. She glanced out the window, and saw the photographer raise his hand in a wave, or was it a salute?

“Just a hike to see some rocks,” she answered, her gaze fixed on the mesas, their skirts flounced and painted, princesses dancing at the ball.

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