We left the charms of the El Rancho in Gallup, New Mexico, drove west on Interstate 80 for an hour or so, and re-entered the Petrified Forest National Park at its northern entrance. We were early. The park had just opened for the day, not too many people were around, and the temperature had “only” reached the mid-80s. Thirty miles and several hours later, we emerged at the southern entrance to the park dazed from the heat but happy that we came.
This is a long post. I thought about dividing it, one for each subtopic, but decided to just do one final dump of photos from this interesting National Park.
Ready? Here we go…
The only road through the National Park branches off of Interstate 80 and makes a wide curve to the west before turning south and re-crossing the freeway. We had seen some of this section on our previous visit, so passed by fairly quickly. There were no hiking opportunities, so we settled for a few photos.
A word about “hiking opportunities”. Strange as it may seem, we were told that people are free to walk pretty much wherever they like in the park. I guess if a person had the inclination, plenty of water and a snakebite kit, they could take off from the spot I was standing in the photo above and head for the horizon.
As we approached Interstate 80 heading south, we crossed the site where Route 66 used to pass through the park. You’d have to look hard to find any trace of the road now, but the location is memorialized with a sign and the remains of a 1932 Studebaker.
The park road passes over Interstate 80 at this point: no entrance to or exit from the freeway. After several flat and relatively uninteresting miles (like the countryside behind the Studebaker), we took a side road to view the remains of Puerco Pueblo. Droughts in the thirteenth century caused people to move to larger, shared communities like this one. But not for long. By the end of the century, the place was abandoned.
Nearby was a collection of petroglyphs and a device to identify the summer equinox.
If you look carefully to the left of the shaft of light, you will see a circular petroglyph. When the light falls on the center of the drawing, it’s the equinox. We were there a few days after.
Our next stop was Newspaper Rock, a few miles off the main road. We almost didn’t go. Who cares about a rock that looks like a newspaper? Whatever that means.
Turns out it was worth the detour. “Newspaper” references a group of rocks so covered with petroglyphs that someone compared them to a news-filled publication.
Look closely. You can see petroglyphs on several rocks in the first photo. A close-up of “main” rock is in the second photo.
Moving on, we started to see more interesting geology. Notice that there is less red than in the north – more grays and browns. Notice, too, that petrified wood is starting to appear.
Should we? Should we not? We decided that we could not pass up the Blue Mesa trail. So down we went. It was a nice change to look up at the terrain rather than down.
Notice all the petrified wood “chips” in some of the photos.
When you think about it, it seems obvious. Trees turn into petrified wood deep underground. Water passes through soil, picking up minerals, which the tree absorbs. Add a large amount of time and voila, rocks that look like trees.
Add more time and the layers of rock covering the petrified trees erodes away, revealing what we find today. The Agate Bridge is an example of a partially-revealed tree. People used to walk over the Agate Bridge a hundred or so years ago. Now it’s off limits and has a support to guard against collapse.
Here are a couple of other examples of buried trees returning to the surface.
This is an area called the Jasper Forest. Lots and lots of petrified wood.
As we approached the southern end of the park, we thought it would be a great idea to take our longest hike at the hottest time of the day. The 3-ish mile trail was called Long Logs. Can you guess what we found there?
Also, a cute little lizard. Zoom in for a better look.
Still with me? Good for you!
After Long Logs, we dragged ourselves back to the Plucky Corolla, cranked up the air con, and headed for our night’s rest in Snowflake, AZ (named for founders Erastus Snow and William Flake. True!) and an excellent Chinese dinner.