Sunday December 29, Winslow AZ
Yup, we are in the town made famous by the Eagles song. But more about that in Monday’s blog post.
Today was a time of exploration in two varied parts of one national park, Petrified Forest. This high (elevation just under 6,000 feet), dry grasslands suddenly has two elements that spring out and grab your fascination. The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.
While I liked science in school, I still am unable to fully recite the myriad of changes that have graced the North American continent. But evidently this area was covered with trees and streams, with vast foliage and water resources.
I don’t intend to provide a detailed science lesson, park rangers would probably find many errors in my recounting. But in effect, weather patterns and continent shift resulted in today’s amazing site.
The Painted Desert, north of I-40, features rolling hills of eroded bentonite, a combination of clay and volcanic ash. Erosion over the years has combined to form hills and valleys with varied colors due to the mineral content.
The Painted Desert area is colorful, but less so than Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior. The vastness goes on, supposedly the area is about 120 miles long and 60 miles wide.
What we observed was smaller; we hiked about a mile along a rim looking primarily north and west. From this location, we believe we were observing the San Francisco mountains over by Flagstaff which we will see soon. On the hike, we met a woman who, a few years ago, had spent time mapping the underground caverns in Blanchard Springs in Arkansas that we visited in late October.
The park has restored the Painted Desert Inn, an original and very small lodge used by travelers in the 1920s era. The famous Fred Harvey Company took it over after WWII. Mary Jane Coulter undertook the renovations. She did most of the Fred Harvey Company locations as well as Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon and the La Posada Hotel in Winslow where we are staying tonight among others. The Painted Desert Inn sits on top of the mesa overlooking the Painted Desert. Guests would have had amazing views.
After a “lunch” of peanut butter and Ritz crackers washed down with water and Snapple, we went south of the Interstate to visit the Petrified Forest portion of the park. While both of us have seen petrified wood in museums, seeing the massive collection “up close and personal” provided a deeper impression.
As you probably know, petrified wood is created from fallen trees covered by a mix of silt, mud, and volcanic ash. This slows the log’s decay and allows silica-laden groundwater to seep into the log and replace the wood fiber with silica. Eventually the silica crystallized into quartz and voila, petrified wood. Later, the trees were revealed when erosion worked its magic.
The park tells the usual story of vandals and thieves robbing the area of petrified wood over the years, particularly up until the 1930s. This despite the fact that the park was protected beginning in 1906. Without any enforcement agency, looting was rampant. But, there must have been enough to go around as we walked the trail among hundreds of remnants.
The variety of colors dazzles one. Obviously many take a shape similar to a small portion of a tree but there are other broken off sections that look only like a quartz type rock.
We left the park and headed for Holbrook, AZ. We planned to have a late lunch/early dinner and making 5 pm Mass in Holbrook. The meal went fine at a local diner and we got to church pretty early. However, after we sat in the car for a while doing research for tomorrow’s activities, the priest saw us and came over to indicate the 5 PM Mass was canceled. They only hold it when the teen group is meeting and they were not meeting today. So, no Mass.
We finished up our drive to Winslow where we found the La Posada Hotel. Wow, what a place! More tomorrow.
Ed and Chris Sunday Dec. 29 10 PM