Continuing with our road trip in February, 2012:
Petrified National Forest is about 115 miles east of Flagstaff. It is comprised of 170 square miles that extend to the north into the Painted Desert on the north. We drove almost 30 miles through the parks, and did a bit of hiking as well. Every corner we turned provided more reasons to “ooh” and “ahh.” It’s so easy to understand why this area was called the Painted Desert – it truly is a rainbow of earth, rock and foliage.
The Petrified Forest has over 50,000 acres of mesas, buttes, badlands, and grasslands, not to mention petrified wood.This site was declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962.Although it is illegal to take petrified wood from the park, it’s estimated that 12 tons are stolen from the forest each year, endangering the ongoing existence of this beautiful asset for the public. The petrified wood that you see in surrounding shops comes from private lands of reservation lands.
Deposited about 225 million years ago, these trees may have been toppled during a heavy rainstorm and swept downstream to where they rest today. They were buried under layers of silt, mud, sand and volcanic ash, protected from decay. Over time, mineral-laden water, carrying silica, percolated down through the layers of sediment, and saturated the absorbent dead wood. Silica crystals grew within the cell walls, filling the central cavity. Eventually the wood was completely replaced by silica, becoming a stone copy of the log. Trace minerals also soaked into the wood, causing the different colors – red, orange, blue, purple, black. etc.
Natural bridge in Petrified Forest
In addition to the petrified wood, there were amazing views of the Painted Desert. Some formations look like striped teepees, with white layers of sandstone, dark layers of high carbon content, red layers of iron-stained siltstone, capped by clay. Some of the outcroppings are very smooth, others craggy. Sometimes, the smooth rocks are topped with stones.
The Painted Desert was named by an expedition under Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in his 1540 quest for the Seven Cities of Cibola, which he located about 40 miles east of the Petrified Forest National Park. After finding the cities, and seeing that they were not made of gold, he sent an expedition to find the Colorado River. On their way, they passed through this area, and named it “El Desierto Pintado.”
Only a portion of the desert lies within the park. It is about 120 miles long and about 60 miles wide, about 7,500 square miles.
As in so many areas of Arizona, there are pueblo remains. Newspaper Rock is an archaeological site in the park which has over 650 petroglyphs covering a group of rockfaces. These petroglyphs were created by many peoples between 650 and 2,000 years ago.
If you look, you can find examples of modern petroglyphs as well. We humans do love to leave our mark.
Located near the Painted Desert Entrance is the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. It had been built in the 1920’s using petrified wood. It was renovated between 1937-1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, using adobe for the façade. The Inn operated until 1963. Slated for demolition in the mid-1970’s, public outcry resulted in the building being reopened for limited use in 1976. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
The old buildings were extensively rehabilitated, and reopened as a museum and bookstore in 2006. There are restored murals by Hope artist Fred Kabotie. You can peek in the windows of some of the rooms to see what the rooms were like for travelers staying at the Inn – very cozy.
On our way back to Sedona, we saw billboards advertising Geronimo’s Trading Post near Holbrook, saying that they had the largest petrified tree in the world. Of course, we had to stop and see – it’s what we do. It was pretty darn big, but the biggest? Who knows. As long as we were there, we checked out the offerings of souvenirs, much of which was pretty nice.