Sunday, April 13, 2008

Petrified Forest

Saturday morning, April 5, we left Arches National Park to drive towards Grand Canyon National Park. For a while, the scenery was more stunning red rock canyons. As we approached northeast Arizona, the landscape became flat and prairie-like. Sarah decided it would be a depressing place to live. It was flat in all directions with virtually no trees, the wind seemed to howl constantly, and most of the buildings looked run-down. There was also trash everywhere along the road. Fences separating the ranches from the road just served as trash collection spots as the wind blew litter into the fence wires.

After a couple hundred miles of prairie, we reached Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. The interstate highway cuts through the park. Visiting the park entails exiting the highway for a 28-mile scenic drive with some overlooks and short hikes. The area of the park north of highway is the Painted Desert; the area of the park south of highway contains most of the petrified logs that the park is famous for.

Our first stop (other than a brief pause at the visitors center) was an overlook for the Painted Desert. The land was striped with red and white layers.

Next, we saw the Painted Desert Inn, which is a National Historic Landmark. The interior of the inn uses the petrified wood from the park (collected before it was a park – now it is illegal to collect petrified wood) and has art from Hopi artists.

Continuing along the drive, there were more vistas of the Painted Desert.

Just before reaching the point where the scenic drive crossed I-40, there was a roadside exhibit about Historic Route 66. Historic Route 66 ran through the park close to where I-40 does today. There was a cool old rusted car and grill along with the interpretive sign.

Next were more views of the colorful badlands.

Then we stopped for a short stroll to the Puerco Pueblo ruins. This pueblo had a hundred rooms and housed up to 1200 people between A.D. 1250 and 1400. Today, there are a few partial walls outlining several of the rooms.

After Puerco Pueblo was a stop to view Newspaper Rock. Newspaper Rock is named for the dozens of petroglyphs that adorn its sides. These could be viewed through a scope at the overlook. Presumably to limit damage to the petroglyphs, it wasn’t possible to get very close to them.

The Tepees Area was next, with more colorful formations. The white layers are sandstone, the darker reds are iron-stained siltstone, and the tops of the tepees are clay.

From there, we took the spur road to Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa had more badlands with petrified wood strewn around. There was a really interesting-looking hike through the base of the formations, but it was nearing closing time for the park and we decided to skip it.

Continuing along the road, Brian spotted a pronghorn. This isn’t an animal we see often, so we took the opportunity to snap some photos from the car.

Our final stop at the park was the Great Logs hike. This is a short interpretive trail behind a visitors center with some of the largest logs in the park. The logs were petrified 225 million years ago. Trees were covered with sediment, which deprived them of oxygen that would normally cause them to decay. Then, silica-filled groundwater permeated the logs and eventually turned the logs to colorful quartz. The colors come from other minerals that were dissolved in the silica. The logs really were immense and very colorful.

The whole time we’d been at Petrified Forest National Park, the wind was blowing fiercely. At a couple of overlooks, it was actually difficult to stand up. In the visitors center, Sarah asked the ranger if the wind was typical. The ranger laughed and said it was a calm day. Winds had been 25 to 30 miles an hour with gust up to 40. A typical day has sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. Yikes!

At this point, it was early evening, so we continued west towards the Grand Canyon and to look for lodging for the evening.

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