Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Arizona May 2016 Westward Ho! 16 Petrified Forest National Park Holbrook AZ

One of the things we really appreciated about New Mexico was the scenery along the roadside-I-40.  Commercialism tends to be one of the vagaries of choosing an interstate over smaller routes but now that time was a factor we were choosing to travel them.  How much we appreciated the lack of "extraneous" views in NM would become evident the instant we entered Arizona where the roadside was littered with billboards and a tourist centered group of shops on the border.  The billboards were reminiscent of the South of the Border signs along I-95 (NC/SC border) on the East Coast in number if not cleverness.

But, roadside billboards were the least of it as the rain from the morning continued and at one point turned to sleet.  We arrived at the north entrance to Petrified Forest National Park with grey skies, rain and cold.  I was so cold I resorted to hauling out my winter jacket and we decided that rather than making salad or sandwiches for lunch we'd go to the cafe at the Visitor Center and have a nice hot lunch.  We spent some time looking at the maps and history of the park, had lunch, walked the animals and got back on the road.  Disappointed that we'd be seeing the spectacular Painted Desert under cloudy skies we were thrilled when, halfway through the loop the sun started shining on distant areas and then broke through the clouds and the day became a much nicer one.  Painted Desert is viewed from a series of lookouts that are large enough for the MoHo to pull in easily so we'd seen most of it through the windows. The fact that the weather had cleared would mean that we'd be able to get out and walk to see the sites in Petrified Forest which had some short (optional) hikes at the stops.

From Painted Desert we crossed back over I-40 and onto the 28 mile stretch of road that extends from the northern to the southern entrance. The Petrified Forest is one of the best places to see fossils and records from the late Triassic Period, including the prehistoric forests that covered this area, now toppled and petrified.  My friend, Carolyn Ehle's father gave her a piece of petrified wood when we were in 4th grade and I became fascinated with the idea that wood-however heavy it might be- and porous could become this rock, most of them with beautiful colors, that bore little relationship to a tree.  I also loved tales of magic as a child and walking through these areas of lignum nunc saxa was would be magical.

We crossed over the Santa Fe RR tracks o which we'd seen trains running constantly. I could see no train in the distance but within minutes of taking this one rumbled into view heading east with its load. 

Once you cross back over I-40 and head south in Petrified Forest the scenery is at first quite plain.  But there are a number of stops which can be viewed from the parking lot and several have short hikes to get a more detailed view.

Newspaper Rock was our first stop.  A number of rocks, with a total of about 650 petroglyphs from multiple years made by Puebloan people.  Because the markings are from different periods and cover different subjects they cannot be "read" but stand as a really good example of petroglyphs

 We then continued south with incredible views and rock formations along the road

The Tepees

When we got to Blue Mesa we took the loop drive and then the 1 mile hike.  We were quite cold and kept our jackets on.  Walking down, we ran into several couples who were carrying theirs and as we walked along the bottom of the trail, with a clearing sky, we discovered why.  The heat finally forced me to take off my jacket and tie it, as well as I could, around my waist.  I felt, and looked, like a lumbering animal as I made my way along the trail.  But, it was so beautiful I ceased to care. I began to wonder how many ways beautiful can appear.

The MoHo sits above waiting for us (left) as we hike through Blue Mesa

MoHo again

We'd read that the Crystal Forest Museum and Gift Shop, just outside the southern gates, had free overnight parking but were unprepared for how nice it was.  A parking lot, for sure, but level, gravel with a few ramadas, a separate area for tenters (or the choice to shelter in this tepee) and free stays for up to 4 nights.  We ended up staying 2, since we had not visited the Crystal Forest or the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center and we wanted to go into Holbrook.  We were lucky to have a Dutch couple park next to us and got to spend an evening talking with them about their  traveling around the western US.  Each year they come for 4 months and rent an RV and travel around.  Once again, I was struck by how many more foreigners we tend to see at our National Parks but also by the breadth of information they have about where they have been and what they have seen.

The colors in petrified wood can be amazing

The museum also held some crystals...

and set into the pillars outside some beautiful examples of geodes and 


 The second Day we drove up to the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center and Giant Logs trail

The museum had a number of fossils

and then to the Crystal Forest

 Part 1
 Part 2

After spending the morning in the park we drove over to explore Holbrook before coming back for the night.  The sunset over the plains drew me out with my camera and then as I stood there I heard a rumbling which ended with a crash and, as I turned, the whoosh of what was an antelope bounding across the road.  The thundering I'd heard was him, with his partner, coming across the plains and then crashing through the bushes on the roadside before passing less than a body length away from me.  I turned soon enough to see what it was and to feel my hair blow but not to get a picture.  His partner decided not to cross the road and ran alongside it until she felt safe enough to cross over.  As I was taking the pictures the moon had also been rising and put on a show of its own.

We left Crystal Forest the next morning, drove back through Holbrook and got on the road to our next planned stop, Cottonwood, AZ, but would make a short side trip along the way to see Meteor Crater.

Previous Stop: El Malpais National Monument Grants, NM
Visit: Holbrook
Next Stop: Meteor Crater

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