Today’s direction was west. We drove about two hours on I-40 to the Petrified Forest National Park. The most striking thing about the drive was how flat and empty the landscape was. Most of the trip is along a perfectly flat plateau with only two towns of any size visible from the road – Winslow and Holbrook. Outside of those towns, some of the land is Navaho reservation land, and some was commercial cattle grazing land.
As we got closer to the park, the tourist trade picked up. Although we didn’t see any signs to top yesterdays ‘friendly Indians’ billboards, we still had more than once chance to purchase jewelry, knick-knacks, and t-shirts. We wound up stopping at Jim Grey’s Petrified Wood Company, where I bought some small cacti and some jewelry made of polished petrified wood. We aren’t exactly sure how I’m going to get my new cacti collection home, but I’m sure a plan will come to us before Sunday.
Other than that bit of shopping, we went directly to the park’s south entrance. It was colder than anticipated (which seems to be the standard for this trip) so we opted to picnic in the car. Although the weather was a little cold for sitting and eating, it was perfect for hiking. We started out by walking the ‘Long Logs’ trail loop past Old Faithful – the largest petrified wood sample in the park. Interestingly, Old Faithful had been cemented back together after a lightening strike in the 1950’s.
Our next short hike was through ‘Crystal Forest’ a few miles further up the park road. The crystals – mostly amethyst – are long gone from the petrified wood in the park, but it was still a neat walk. The snow melt had left the desert trails uncharacteristically wet and muddy, which made it slightly easier to picture the hot and humid Jurassic world these trees must have grown in.
We also saw Agate Bridge, which is a very large petrified log which spans a small gully. The work of the concrete loving 1950’s conversationalists is apparent here as well as at Old Faithful – the span is held in place with large concrete slabs. The materials provided by the Park Service are almost apologetic about all the concrete – they continually reiterate the current philosophy of allowing ‘natural forces that create unusual features to continue’.
There were more ruins to be seen at our next stop in the park, Puerco Pueblo. The ruins were interesting, although smaller than yesterday’s. The really fascinating part of this stop, however, were the petroglyphs. The drawings were amazingly preserved. My favorite was of a very large bird that appears (to my remarkably inexperienced eye) to be eating a very small person. I’m not sure was the message was, but it has lasted 800 years in that stone.
As we drove north up the park loop, the piles of petrified wood gave way to huge sandstone outcroppings, with distinctively colored layers. The road climbed up to Kachina Point, where we parked and walked along the Rim Trail for a little ways. The view from the rim is impressive – we even picked out the mountain peaks we’d left behind in Flagstaff this morning. The desert is bare of vegetation, but the sandstone (I think it’s sandstone) is layered with reds, browns, and bluish grays.
Our drive back to Flagstaff was uneventful, but capped by an amazingly good dinner at the Cottage Place restaurant. We’ve mostly been packing lunches and eating in, but this was a notable exception. Tomorrow, it’s back to Phoenix, and from there, home.
The rest of today’s photos can be seen here.