I remembered the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert from cross-country trips as a kid, but Linda had never been here. Today, we covered most of the highlights of this fascinating place.
After staying just outside the entrance last night, we ventured into the Petrified Forest National Park about 10:00 am.
I can barely remember my prior visit, sometime in the 70s I guess. Linda had never been and didn't quite know what to expect or what it was all about.
One thing is for sure. The Petrified Forest looks absolutely nothing like any "forest" you've ever seen.
There is a twenty-eight mile road running through the park that connects the southern entrance with the northern entrance just off of I-40.
There is a museum and visitors center at the southern end, but we decided to drive all the way to the northern end to the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see the film about the park and start from there so we would end up near home in the afternoon.
On the way, we made a couple of stops thinking the photos might be better then than on our return trip. This is a section of the park known as "The Teepees".
Moving on and looking out to our left, we were struck by the colors of the Painted Desert. We stopped at the first of many overlooks.
Pinks and reds and mounds and canyons as far as the eye could see.
We continued on and finally arrived at the Painted Desert Visitors Center.
There we watched the 20-minute park film to give us a better understanding of this geologic wonderland.
The film tells how this area was once a subtropical climate 225 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed. Rather than me trying to explain what happened here to create the unique environment, I'll just link to the park's Petrified Wood page.
After getting a better understanding of the park and why it was designated as a National Monument in 1906 and later a National Park, we started our journey back to the south.
There are eight "points' overlooking the Painted Desert within the first few miles. Here Linda is reading the sign at one of them.
We then made a quick stop at the Painted Desert Inn National Historical Landmark. Apparently it was once a private inn overlooking the desert long before any roads or services were available. It has been completely remodeled, so we passed on photographing the new structure.
We made another quick stop at the old Route 66 historical marker.
Before Route 66, the park was only accessible by railroad. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles dramatically increased the tourism and, unfortunately, led to much removal of petrified wood from the park.
Next, we stopped at the Puerco Pueblo. It was the remains of a pueblo built around 1250. The short trail also has overlooks where you can view numerous petroglyphs.
The photo above includes what I would guess to be a Great Blue Heron with a frog.
We moved on to the next stop. Newspaper Rock was also an overlook of more petroglyphs. There was an abundance of images "picked" into the rocks, but they were not as close as at the pueblo. Binoculars needed at this stop.
We went back through "The Tepees" and turned left on a side road to Blue Mesa. It's a 3 1/2 mile road on a mesa looking down into the "badlands" of the park.
We stopped at the first overlook for a view of the eroding landscape that continues to uncover more petrified logs.
Here you can see one of those logs teetering on top of the mounds.
The views from Blue Mesa certainly make you feel like you are on another planet.
We made our way to the Blue Mesa Trailhead. This shot is looking northwest from the top of the trail.
Another view along the trail.
Then the trail descends steeply down into the heart of a section of the badlands.
At the bottom, there is a one-mile loop where the vivid purples and and shades of white contrast with the brown pebbles and colorful petrified wood.
It was one of the most unique hikes we've ever been on.
I couldn't get over the purple throughout the rocky mounds.
Linda posed with a large chunk of petrified log.
We eventually made it back to the top where our Jeep was waiting.
With as little as we have hiked the last two months, we were surprised we weren't more winded. It's not 8,000 feet elevation like the ranch in Colorado, but the park does range from 5,000 to 6,250 feet.
We made one more stop on top of Blue Mesa. This is a view down into the area where we hiked.
Near the end of the Blue Mesa Road, Linda spotted a small herd of Pronghorn Antelope in the distance.
With me out of the Jeep pointing my zoom lens, soon we had several cars stopped to look at the fastest animal on the continent.
We skipped the stop called Agate Bridge and stopped at the Jasper Forest overlook.
According to the sign, the Jasper Forest had a huge concentration of petrified red jasper. But because this section was so close to the railroad, the petrified wood was hauled out in bunches. It is thought that the decimation of this "forest" is what led to the designation of the land as a national monument in the early 1900s.
Next we stopped at the Crystal Forest where there is 0.8-mile paved trail. Most of the crystals that gave this area its name have been taken by tourists. The film we saw said that about one ton of petrified wood is taken by tourists each month even with all the signs and warnings that it is a federal offense to remove anything from the park.
Still, the petrified "wood" is in abundance in the Crystal Forest.
It's amazing. It still looks like wood, but the wood "cells" have been replaced by various mineral cells. The varying mineral colors create beautiful patterns.
One of the most frequently asked questions is "Who cut the logs?" Well, over time, with freezing and thawing and shifting of the ground underneath, the logs fracture. Here is a shot that exemplifies how a log breaks as the ground underneath erodes.
This was one of the longer logs in the Crystal Forest.
They say that many of these trees were in the 200-foot tall range. We walked one off that was about 100 feet.
As we neared the end of the Crystal Forest Trail, I took one more shot of a huge tree section.
We made one last stop. That was to take the Long Logs Trail. It was a half-mile walk from the parking area and then a 0.6-mile loop.
The brochure says this is the largest concentration of petrified wood in the park.
Another great specimen showing the various colors.
This log was almost as round as Linda is tall.
We headed on home after that. We covered just about the whole park and hiked about five miles in addition to the driving. It's certainly a place that can be seen in one day. The good news about being here in November is it's not very crowded at all, it's cool, and the sun stays at a low angle so lighting for pictures is pretty good even in the middle of the day.
We had a great time.