Monday, January 21, 2013

Petrified Forest National Park

     Petrified Forest National Park is located on a lonely stretch of Route 66, 20 miles East of Holbrook, Arizona.  This is the only National Park that protects a portion of old 66.  It is a beautiful length of grassy desert, with flat roads that expand into the distance.  The sand glitters alongside the road, filled with thousands of gems made from petrified wood.  

     It is good to know ahead of time that the park closes at sundown, no matter the season.  This is due to the fact that careless people continue to steal the quartz from the park.  Only a scant amount remains in what was once the most dense collection of petrified wood known on the planet.    

     There are many things to do here, but don’t expect to leave the concrete and gravel paths too often.  This is to protect what resources the park has left.  There are many paths that range from 1/4 of a mile to several miles long.  These paths take you past petrified wood, mesas, intricate plant life, and sandy slopes.  Some seem to lead you right up to the flawless blue sky.

     The land is filled with history, sealed forever in beautiful quartz crystal.  The stones that are scattered across the ground are the remnants of 3 extinct species of trees that lived during the Triassic period.  During this time, the American Southwest was apart of the continent of Pangea and was near the equator.  Dinosaurs lived among these trees. 

     Over time, minerals have taken the place of the wood and have combined under serendipitous conditions to create the spectacular textures and colors of these petrified trees.  

     We were there on Halloween of 2012; the few (living) trees in the park were boasting beautiful fall color.  

     The roads extend impossible distances, disappearing at the horizon line.

     People have been roaming these lands for 13,000 years, and people have been settling here as far back as 2,000 years ago.  There are remnants of ancient Native Americans’ homes, perhaps belonging to the Ancestral Pueblo,  that you can walk right up to.

     There are hundreds of petroglyphs dispersed throughout the park.  Their meanings are mostly unknown but it has been deduced that they used some of these carvings as a way to track the sun throughout the year.  The park has kept secret where many of these petroglyphs are located in order keep them protected, but you will still get a chance to view several that are in plain sight.  Many are carved into the sides of giant, flat rocks.  These are referred to as "newspapers".

     As the late afternoon sun began sinking, we decided to just pull over on the side of the park’s main road.  It was a quiet night; we saw only a few cars pass us by.  We stayed along that stretch of road and watched as the shadows deepened the color of the sand, turning it a shimmering indigo, while the sun illuminated bright orange plants and grasses.  

     Here I stepped just slightly off the road, but carefully, so as not to disturb the land, and got up close to one of the tiny jewels that lay in the sand.  

     These small pieces are what many thoughtless visitors snatch up and carry away during their visits.  It might not seem like a big deal, but this totals up to a ton of petrified wood being stolen from the park each year.  

     Orange grass, blue sand and sky.

     The unique beauty of this park was something that I hadn't expected.  Of course, I'd known all about the petrified wood, but the glittering sand was like an ocean, and the bright orange plants looked like fire towards the end of the day.  On the other side of the road there were purple mesas, also aglow with red sun.

     From where I stood I could see the light moving up and away from this plant in the foreground.  The last rays of sun are the quickest to go, it seems like.

     The quiet road:

     The sun disappeared and that signaled our leave.  We continued on down the road, watching all the color fade, until we met back up with Route 66.

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