April 19th: Exploring Petrified Forest National Park
and the Painted Desert
Our night at the Motel 6 in Holbrook AZ was quiet and uneventful. We arose at the usual times 5/6 am, had our morning coffee, got our stuff packed up and walked next door to Jerry's Cafe for Breakfast. It was here we met The Waitress Who Never Smiles and at 7:30 in the morning we found the place was completely empty. Maybe this was why she was not smiling. A quick web search listed the place as "Closed". Perhaps they are still trying to get things started up again.
While waiting for our Denver omelet we walked across to take a few snaps of the work the city of Holbrook was doing.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
Holbrook is sprucing up with a nice gateway to the business district.
Here is our first "hands on" chunk of Petrified wood. By the time our day was over and by the time you look at all these photos you will feel like you have seen enough petrified wood to last a life time.
After enjoying our omelet and hash browns (which we split) we headed down I-40 east to exit 311 - the exit for Petrified Forest National Park. We stopped briefly at the Painted Desert visitors center for a park map and then drove the short distance to the Entrance Station.
Petrified Forest National Park is a United States national park in Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona. Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, the fee area of the park covers about 230 square miles (600 square kilometers), encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands.
The Petrified Forest is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Period, about 225 million years ago. The sediments containing the fossil logs are part of the widespread and colorful Chinle Formation, from which the Painted Desert gets its name. Beginning about 60 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau, of which the park is part, was pushed upward by tectonic forces and exposed to increased erosion. All of the park's rock layers above the Chinle, except geologically recent ones found in parts of the park, have been removed by wind and water. In addition to petrified logs, fossils found in the park have included Late Triassic ferns, cycads, ginkgoes, and many other plants as well as fauna including giant reptiles called phytosaurs, large amphibians, and early dinosaurs. Paleontologists have been unearthing and studying the park's fossils since the early 20th century.
We handed over our Senior Pass and ID to the Entrance Station attendant. Before handing them back he asked "Do you have any petrified wood on your person or in the vehicle?" To which I answered: "No, but we will when we come back through". I was surprised he chuckled rather than groaned as he handed back our pass and ID along with a park brochure.
Our first stops were Toponi and Tawa points to take in the fabulous views of the Painted Desert.
The Painted Desert is a United States desert of badlands in the Four Corners area running from near the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. It is most easily accessed in the north portion of The Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors, that not only include the more common red rock, but even shades of lavender.
The Painted Desert was named by an expedition under Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola, which he located some forty miles east of The Petrified Forest National Park. Finding the cities were not made of gold, Coronado sent an expedition to find the Colorado River to resupply him. Passing through the wonderland of colors, they named the area "El Desierto Pintado" - The Painted Desert.
Much of the Painted Desert within the Petrified Forest National Park is protected as the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area where motorized travel is limited. But the park offers both easy and longer hikes into the colored hills. The Painted Desert continues north into the Navajo Nation where off-road travel is by permit.
In this kind of landscape one could easily snap hundred of shots in a very short order - and I did!
At this point in the day it was still cool, breezy and quiet. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. But with each passing minute that would change. So we decided to make just a few more stops and move on to the Main Event.
If you look in the map near the top of the page you will see a dashed grey line marking out a now obliterated historic section of Route 66 - AKA "The Mother Road".
U.S. Route 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending at Santa Monica, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s.
US 66 served as a major path for those who migrated west, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and the road supported the economies of the communities through which it passed. People doing business along the route became prosperous due to the growing popularity of the highway, and those same people later fought to keep the highway alive in the face of the growing threat of being bypassed by the new Interstate Highway System.
US 66 underwent many improvements and realignments over its lifetime, and it was officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985, after it had been replaced in its entirety by segments of the Interstate Highway System. Portions of the road that passed through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been designated a National Scenic Byway of the name "Historic Route 66", which is returning to some maps. Several states have adopted significant bypassed sections of the former US 66 into the state road network as State Route 66.
As most of us know, the US National Park Service seldom disappoints when it comes to facilities, infrastructure and interpretive displays.
Just behind the above and to the left of the sign sits this rusted out hulk of a 1932 Studebaker.
Detail of the window crank.
The songs, stories and poems about this fabled highway recount how one would see numerous broken down and abandoned vehicles along the side of the roadway as families headed west in hope of a new life.
This is the area called "The Teepees".
This couple was from Kansas and on a road trip. It was nice to hear their rig almost silently glide by rather than hear the obnoxious roar of a Harley.
This shot was taken at the beginning of the Blue Mesa Loop - the Main Event.
Fortunately for us, our Social Director and personal Trip Advisor Donna Bhatnagar had consulted with us about this trip. She had assured us the Blue Mesa Loop and hiking trail was a "must see".
She was not wrong.
It seemed so strange to see the big pieces of petrified wood sticking out of the ground all over the place. One had to wonder how many pieces are buried and out of sight.
We saw thousands of the diminutive Desert Primrose in bloom.
This is looking down into the Blue Mesa area from the trailhead observation deck.
Here we are at the start of our walk. I tried to get Betsy in most of the shots to get a perspective of the vastness of the landscape and the size of the land forms.
Conglomerate is a coarse-grained clastic sedimentary rock that is composed of a substantial fraction of rounded to subangular gravel-size clasts, e.g., granules, pebbles, cobbles, and boulders, larger than 2 mm (0.079 in) in diameter. Conglomerates form by the consolidation and lithification of gravel. Conglomerates typically contain finer grained sediment, e.g., either sand, silt, clay or combination of them, called matrix by geologists, filling their interstices and are often cemented by calcium carbonate, iron oxide, silica, or hardened clay.
The size and composition of the gravel-size fraction of a conglomerate may or may not vary in composition, sorting, and size. In some conglomerates, the gravel-size class consist almost entirely of what were clay clasts at the time of deposition. Conglomerates can be found in sedimentary rock sequences of all ages but probably make up less than 1 percent by weight of all sedimentary rocks. In terms of origin and depositional mechanisms, they are closely related to sandstones and exhibit many of the same types of sedimentary structures, e.g., tabular and trough cross-bedding and graded bedding.
Pebbles, pebbles - everywhere!
We saw lots of Indian Paintbrush in bloom.
Note the small figure on the right.
The variety of textures we encountered was fascinating.
Down, down, down we went. We were very thankful for the cooling breezes. The place must turn into an oven as the temps rise.
That thin white line in the distance is a train running on the Santa Fe railway.
I was wishing Tom and Heidi were here to explain all this geologic puzzlement.
I thought these pebble rivulets made an interesting pattern.
Those ravines are full of sections of petrified wood.
This was two of about 10 people we saw down in the bottom. Nice...
I tried to get representative shots of these undercut sections of ??? but I could not quite get it right.
At one point we decided to wander off the trail for a closer look at a few things. We got paranoid about being off the trail, but we saw no signs restricting us to the pathway.
As it turns out we did not have to worry.
As these two trucks came bouncing noisily across the landscape we realized we could do no harm. It turned out this was a NPS trail crew dropping off equipment at a staging area.
It was hard to quit snapping the shutter.
I wonder how tall this tree might have been. What kind of tree? What were the shape and size of the leaves. The texture of the bark?
It does not take much imagination to see why this material is so sought after to make highly polished decorative items.
Another ravine full of petrified wood sections.
This interestingly patterned group of pebbles was laying on top of a trailside mound. How did they get there? Why that specific pattern? Fascinating.
There were chunks of wood lying about here and there. At this point in our visit it was quite the novelty.
A parting shot as we ascended to the van.
And one last shot from the overlook before we moved on.
As we completed the Blue Mesa loop I stopped occasionally to take a few snaps.
This 30 foot section of log was embedded along the road way.
The log had produced many fragments as it was subjected to the elements. There are literally millions of such fragments scattered about.
Here we are at the Agate Bridge.
Enthusiastic visitors, fascinated by the bridge worked to preserve it through the establishment of Petrified Forest National Monument in 1906. Conservationists felt this ages-old natural bridge needed architectural support and in 1911 erected masonry pillars beneath the log. In 1917 the present concrete span replaced the masonry work.
Current National Park Service philosophy allows the natural forces that create unusual features to continue. If discovered today, Agate Bridge would be left in its natural state.
This restored structure was a former NPS contact station, and then a restroom. Now it offers a breezy respite from the heat and searing sun.
The view from the breeze way.
The pointed timber ends are "vigas".
Vigas are wooden beams characteristic of older adobe construction in the southwestern United States of America, and commonly encountered for ornamental rather than functional purposes in Pueblo Revival Style architecture. They are significant in the archaeology of the American Southwest, because construction techniques used by ancestral Puebloan peoples have left intact vigas in some structures and distinctive holes in cliff faces where cliff dwellings were constructed where the vigas have subsequently deteriorated.
Our next stop was the Jasper Forest which had some amazing specimens.
The petrified wood strewn in the Jasper Forest valley was once encased in the surrounding bluffs. When erosional forces removed the softer rocks, the petrified wood tumbled and accumulated on the valley floor. Once filled with fallen logs, Jasper Forest was plundered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by commercial collectors seeking petrified wood to sell as souvenirs.
I thought this an interesting contrast of fallen rocks and petrified woods chunks.
Quite the nice seat.
The old and the new. The plant is Calochortus, or Mariposa Lilly. There are nuerous species with a wide color range occuring thoughout the west.
By now it was lunch time so we got out the bread and peanut butter and munched on our sandwiches while enjoying the view.
Our next and final (outside) stop would be the Crystal Forest which has many logs with quartz crystals.
To get this photo I had to lay down on the job. You can make out the white bands of crystal if you click on the pic to get a bigger image.
As you can see, there is a high density of wood lying about.
Why do the petrified logs look like someone cut them with a saw? Petrified wood is mostly silica—quartz. The logs are very hard (7.8 on the 1-10 Mohs hardness scale!), but brittle. After petrification, but while the logs were still encased in matrix rock, the logs cracked under stress. As the logs eroded out, from gravity and ice wedging, the cracks widened and segments separated. Silica naturally breaks on a clean angle.
A fallen giant.
"High density" indeed!
Look at those colors. Imagine a high polish on this beauty.
Here is another lovely spring ephemeral whose name I have forgotten.
This Common collared lizard seemed to be quite unconcerned by our presence.
The eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), also called common collared lizard, Oklahoma collared lizard or collared lizard, is a North American lizard that can reach 8–15 inches (20–38 cm) in length (including the tail), with a large head and powerful jaws. They are well known for the ability to run on their hind legs, looking like small versions of the popular images of theropod dinosaurs. Chiefly found in dry, open regions of Mexico and the south-central United States including Missouri, Texas, Arizona, and Kansas, the full extent of its habitat in the United States ranges from the Ozark Mountains to southern California. The collared lizard is the state reptile of Oklahoma, where it is known as the mountain boomer.
It is not easy to see here, but this specimen and ones below were quite sparkley.
Amazing. What more can one say?
Click for the big picture.
Quite the RoadTripMobile!
Complete with roof top pop up tent.
Our final stop was the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitors Center. I have to say I am glad we did not stop here first as we would have ended up spending the day. It is an amazing facility and a must see.
Here is the greeter at the front door - Smilosuchus gregorii.
They had these cool posters for sale which are for hand coloring.
More wonderful displays await those who wander to the back of the room.
And that concludes our tour of Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert.
Now it was on to Albuquerque, New Mexico and another Motel 6. This crappy place proved that not all Motel Six's are created equal. It was noisy, dirty, shabby and had the slowest internet speed since dial-up. So slow in fact we could barely get Google to load let alone use Google Maps to help plan our next day's route.
Although we use paper maps for navigating you cannot beat Google Maps for calculating distance and for finding hotels, etc. I struggled all evening trying to get my photos uploaded and finally gave up. Such is modern living...
The Canyon Country of northwest Texas.
See you then...