Split Top Picture of the Week

Split Top--An unnamed cinder cone in the San Francisco Lava Field that looks like a scored loaf of bread when viewed from space.
Split Top–An unnamed cinder cone in the San Francisco Lava Field looks like a scored loaf of bread when viewed from space.

(Note: I sent out a copy of this post earlier this morning, but I don’t think your copy was emailed (at least, I never got a copy in my inbox). I’m resending today’s post to make sure you get your money’s worth. If this is a second copy for you, please forgive me.)

When I was half my current age, and between wives, I didn’t need anyone’s permission to take a road trip. I’d close the blinds, lock the front door, and disappear for a couple of days whenever I had the urge—and an extra $20 for a tank of gas. Like the time, my friend Russ (of ‘Russ-Bus’ fame) and I drove to Lee’s Ferry for a weekend of fishing.

I don’t recall why we got a late start, but it was probably because he had to work on Friday and close up his shop. I guaranteed our room and told the innkeeper that we’d arrive late. She said she would leave a key for us, so there wasn’t a pressure to get there at a specific time. After he showed up at my apartment, we loaded his equipment into one of my $500 wonder wagons and headed north to Flagstaff, where we stopped for gas and a burger.

It was dark and cold when we piled back in the car. Still, at least the car heater worked, so we were cozy as we continued north on U.S. 89. As we started down the long grade north of town, we chattered like a couple of school girls about family, customers, fishing, and photography—the usual guy stuff. About halfway down the hill, I began to have trouble seeing the road, so I asked Russ if the headlights seemed dim.

“Well, we could always drive without them,” he quipped.

“Have you ever done that?” As I asked the question, I reached down and switched the lights off and counted—one thousand one, one thousand two. In that short amount of time, everything outside went topsy-turvy. The countless stars gave the sky a milky white glow, and everything below the horizon was a black hole. We couldn’t see the highway lines, much less the pavement.

Russ screamed and shouted, “DON’T DO THAT,” so I turned the lights back on.

As we drove on, I realized we were running on the battery, and it was getting critically low. The headlights were dim, but no idiot lights glowed on the dash. I wondered if we could make the gas station at Cameron twenty miles away. We swapped ideas and decided to try coasting as much as we could. There was no other traffic, and if we could keep up a minimum speed, maybe we could reach help. I let the Chevy roll to a crawl, fire it up for speed, and coast again. We got through three cycles before the battery was drained completely. Ahead, I saw a single light on at Hank’s Trading Post, so I coasted into the lot and stopped beneath it.

We popped the hood and wiggled a couple of things, poked at something else, looked under a lid, and kicked one of the front tires—all of the things men do when they’re stuck. I slammed the hood and looked around. All we had was the empty highway and an old telephone booth. Both options seemed useless since neither of us had any change in our pockets.

With no other choices, I tried a Hail-Mary pass. I went to the booth, pushed the door open, stepped inside, lifted the handset, and pushed the ‘O’ button. An angel’s voice said, “Operator.”

“Hello. I’m stranded on the highway, and I need to call a tow truck and charge the call to my home phone.”

She politely explained why she couldn’t do that but offered to stay on the line and get help for us. She dialed a few numbers without success, but on the third try, a man answered, “Cecil’s garage.” I think I forced our predicament out of my mouth with one breath.

“I’ll be there shortly,” he reassured.

I started to hang up, but the operator’s voice interrupted, “Don’t hang up. I’ll stay on the line until he arrives.” I thought it could take an hour, but Cecile pulled up ten minutes later. I thanked our operator about a thousand times before saying goodbye.

Cecil only took moments to determine that we needed to drag the old Bel Air wagon back to his shop. Once there, he put a charger on the battery and poked around in the engine compartment. “This is the wrong alternator belt,” he said, pointing to the culprit. I don’t remember if it wasn’t the right length or width, but it wasn’t making complete contact with the pulleys. He quickly took the old one off and held it against the row of dust-covered belts lining the upper wall. After finding one he liked, he pulled it down and muttered, “This one should work.”

After Cecil installed the new belt, I started the car, and it ran like a champ. Even the headlights were bright again. “You should be good to go. It’s charging, so the hour drive to Marble Canyon will fully charge the battery,” with that, he handed me a shocking bill. Before he could change his mind, I wrote him a check for the $15.00 he charged us for the belt.

That’s my most memorable U.S. 89 story, and it explains why I wave and give Cecil a shout-out each time I drive past his shop. You’re asking how does this story relate to this month’s project? Well, you turn onto S.P. Mountain Road—the road out to the lava fields— on the south side of  Hank’s Trading Post. “It’s a small world after all . . .” (Stop. There’ll be no singing dolls in my post).

I took this week’s picture just a short jaunt down S.P. Mountain Road; it’s the first cinder cone along the dirt road. In my search, I didn’t find a name for this peak, but when I viewed it on Google Earth, it looked like a rustic bread loaf where the baker scores the top before putting it into the oven. That’s why I called this week’s picture Split Top.

You can see a larger version of Split Top on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when we continue on the dirt road to another volcanic cone that does have a name and an amusing story. We’ll see you then.

Till next time


Over the past couple of weeks, I built and published a page to make it easier for new people to subscribe to my journal—a subscription page. I think it came out terrific. To protect new subscribers, the system sends an email to confirm that they want to sign up, so you can’t just willy-nilly add strangers to the list. So, if you know someone that would enjoy seeing new pictures and reading my musings, don’t be stingy and share me with your friends and family. Who knows, they may be just as crazy as we are.

4 thoughts on “Split Top Picture of the Week

  1. I remember hearing about that adventure. Cecil was under paid. I am sure you had a few things to say that made him chuckle.
    I do like the contrast of yellow flowers, bread loaf and blue and white sky.

    1. You’re right. I was lucky to get off the cheap. I feared I’d have to pay more than the car was worth. I also forgot that none of those charges appeared on my phone bill. Anne said the same thing about the yellow flowers, but it’s really grass. – jw

  2. I had a similar experience when I lived in Flagstaff and was working in Salt Lake City. I rented a U Haul truck in Flag and got a late start moving to Salt Lake, so we had to turn on the head lights when it got dark. Well …. the truck had a bad alternator. When the battery went dead, I would unhook the VW pickup I was towing , take the battery out of the U Haul, drive to the next town and look for some place to charge the battery and fix the truck. Oh I forgot to mention it was Sunday and nobody was open to fix the truck. Where was Cecil when I needed him? After several battery swaps I did get into Salt Lake the next morning while meeting several nice Mormons along the route and U Haul paid for everything.

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