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Petrified Forests (Not People)
The area around Holbrook, Arizona, is known for its abundance of petrified wood, as well as minerals and rocks. Genevieve, our amateur geologist, was eager to check out some of the local “rock shops.”
We found two promising shops, only to discover “closed” signs in both of their windows (perhaps because we were traveling off-season, during the holidays).
We made a special detour to drive by the Wigwam Motel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This motel was built in 1950, offering Route 66 motorists the opportunity to sleep overnight in a concrete replica of a teepee. The Wigwam Motel was closed in 1982, but was reopened in 1988 after restoration of the 15 teepees. To help create a nostalgic mood, the owners have placed vintage cars in the parking lot.
Outside of town, we came across another rock shop, Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Co., at the junction of Highway 77 and U.S. 180.
The building may look a little austere, but the interior was a wonderland of rocks, minerals, gems, petrified wood, trinkets, fossils, and more. Genevieve was thrilled to find a small chunk of her favorite mineral, galena (which is used in electrical objects, such as refrigerators, light bulbs, blenders, and other common household items).
The shop had an extensive array of geodes and nodules—rock “bubbles” filled with crystals. Geologists are not entirely in agreement regarding how geodes are created. However, a sign at Jim Gray’s shop offered this explanation: Geodes start by being blown out of a volcano, as a bubble. The bubble then hardens and is buried under volcanic ash. Over millions of years, silicon and quartz seeps into the center of the bubbles, filling them with beautiful crystals.
When the hollow center of the bubble becomes completely filled with crystals, it is called a nodule.
There was a display of many geode and nodule slices, with humorous titles. Two of my favorites were “Happy Jaws” and “Sun Your Buns”:
One of the stars in the shop was "Wild Bill"--a 2.9 million year old fossilized alligator skeleton from Florida:
Outside the shop was a small collection of dinosaurs. Sebastian and Genevieve each picked out their favorites.
For Sebastian, it was the coelophysus (found locally):
Genevieve liked the allosaurus (spelled “allosarus” here):
We could have spent hours at Jim Gray’s shop. Genevieve said that it was “better than a book store”--and that is saying a lot, as she loves books! She added, “Each rock and mineral has its own personality.” (I love that girl!)
We pulled ourselves away, heading onward to another exciting place—the Petrified Forest National Park.
When I hear the word “forest”, I normally picture lots of trees standing tall and close together, with some type of greenery, and animals wandering around. The Petrified Forest, however, was completely different. This forest consisted of fossilized logs that were scattered around, lying horizontally on the desert ground. It was fascinating!
The transformation of trees into “rock logs” is a magical trick of nature. The desert here was once a vast floodplain. Numerous streams washed fallen trees into the floodplain, and the trees became covered with silt, mud and volcanic ash, which slowed down the decaying process. The groundwater contained silica, which seeped through the logs and gradually replaced the cellulose in the wood tissues, cell by cell. The silica eventually crystallized into quartz, changing the logs into petrified wood.
The colors found within the crystallized logs were exquisite:
These colors are caused by the minerals in the silica-saturated waters—iron, magnesium, cobalt and others.
We started with the visitor’s center, which had a small exhibit about the dinosaurs that used to roam around here:
There was also a display showing all of the different types of petrified wood that are found all over the United States:
Genevieve and Sebastian picked up Junior Ranger booklets and immediately set to work finding all of the answers.
We hiked a short trail near the visitor's center to see the park’s largest log, known as “Old Faithful.”
Genevieve in front of Old Faithful:
Another view of Old Faithful, with Sebastian:
We then hiked two more miles, starting out with the Long Logs trail, which has the park’s largest concentration of petrified wood. At the beginning of the trail, we could see the striped mounds of the Chinle Formation in the background.
Genevieve and Sebastian were enthralled with the snow. They called, “Mom! Come and look at these snow crystals!”
Sebastian made a snowball and tossed it into the air (can you find it in the photo below?):
We hiked past countless pieces of petrified wood.
It is against federal law to remove any petrified wood from the park (even the tiniest chip). However, each month visitors go home with approximately one ton of it concealed in their pockets and vehicles. Over time, the park’s landscape has changed, as the ground cover of petrified wood slowly diminishes.
A few people feel so guilty about stealing a piece of petrified wood, that they send the piece back to the park, along with a note of apology.
Outside of the park are acres of private land with petrified wood. Anyone who wants a piece merely needs to visit one of the many shops nearby that sell it for very reasonable prices. (For a mere $16, I bought a beautiful and colorful chunk, a hefty 8 inches across, complete with a layer of thick petrified bark.)
The scenery on our hike was gorgeous, and I never failed to catch my breath when looking at the soft dusty stripes of the Chinle Formation.
The Chinle Formation is made from a mixture of mud, silt, clay and volcanic ash. The clay in the mounds swells when wet and then contracts and cracks when dry, resembling wrinkled elephant skin. The surface movement makes it difficult for plants to grow, and also increases erosion.
We were stunned to see distinct faces, naturally appearing in the bare hillsides. Can you see noses, foreheads and eyes here too?
The northern slopes of the Chinle Formation were covered in snow:
Sand and snow patterns:
Sebastian was enchanted with the icicles on this bench.
We continued hiking to the Agate House, a partially restored 8-room pueblo made of petrified wood logs and mud. Archeologists estimate that it was originally built in 1050 to 1300 A.D.
The view from the pueblo:
Back at the visitor’s center, Volunteer Ranger Dick Jones carefully reviewed the children’s answers in their Junior Ranger booklets. Then he swore Genevieve and Sebastian in as Junior Rangers at the park.
The park has a 28-mile road that passes some interesting rock formations as well as petroglyph areas. Here are some views as we headed north:
We stopped to take a short hike to see the Puerco pueblo ruins, a 100 room village that was inhabited by the ancestral Puebloan people between 1250 and 1400 A.D. The pueblo was built in a rectangle, with windowless one-story rooms around a central plaza. The people grew cotton, corn, squash and beans on the sandy slopes below the village, and carried water from the nearby Puerco river.
The lower walls of the pueblo have been partially stabilized.
Genevieve and I took a photo of our shadows among the ruins:
The area below the village contained many petroglyphs, carved into the dark rock faces.
Genevieve and I, with the floodplain in the background:
There were no other visitors at the ruins while we were there; however, these resident ravens were hanging out in the parking lot (probably hoping for some food).
These dry desert grasses had a reddish tinge:
Continuing north within the park, we reached the area known as the Painted Desert:
We passed the Painted Desert Inn, which was originally completed in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, with updated designs by Mary Jane Colter (who designed the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon).
From 1947 to 1963, the Fred Harvey Company operated the Inn. Public protests kept it from being demolished in the mid-1970’s. It has been declared a National Historic Landmark, and reopened in 2006 as a museum and bookstore. We arrived in the late afternoon, and the Inn was closed for the day.
We continued wandering along Route 66, which merged in and out with the interstate into New Mexico. Sometimes the snow on Route 66 had not been plowed, so we were forced to drive along beside it on the highway.
Here are some photos in the fading daylight:
The setting sun enhanced the pink glow of the rocks:
These hills had a softly rounded shape:
And a day in the desert just wouldn’t be complete without the long hoot of a train whistle:
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