April 25, 2012

Arizona, and the Petrified Forest National Park

We crossed the Continental Divide on highway 40. There is a labeled exit off the highway that you can take, that places you right on the divide. There you will find this sign:

The Continental Divide in New Mexico on I-40 

Soon after, we crossed the border into Arizona, our fifth state on this journey! We stopped at the visitor’s center, picked up a few maps and brochures and set off towards the Petrified Forest National Park. To get to the park entrance you take exit 311 and follow the signs. The entrance fee is usually $12, but it turns out this week is Fee Free National Park Week, so all the National parks in the US are free, we didn’t even have to show our America the Beautiful Pass.

Visiting the park is best done in a car. You drive along a 28 mile long road, and use the park brochure to identify viewing points and trailheads. There are two entrances to the park, the north entrance, which comes in from I-40, or the south entrance, off of highway 180. We drove in the I-40 entrance, and went south along the 28 mile route.

First, we encountered awesome vistas of the Painted Desert. Striations of different minerals color these desert mounds many beautiful colors. They were especially beautiful in the later afternoon light. There are several viewing points from which you can see this beautiful landscape. Then you cross over I-40 and head into the lower portion of the park.

The Painted Desert view from Tiponi Point
At Newspaper Rock we saw hundreds of petroglyphs etched into the rocks below the overlook.

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock
Then we drove through the Tepees, which is another collection of cone-shaped mounds in the desert that are colored with different minerals (iron, carbon, manganese).

The Tepees
We drove the 3 mile Blue Mesa loop, stopped to view the Agate Bridge (a fallen 110 foot petrified tree that has created a natural bridge over time), and then visited the Jasper Forest.

On the Blue Mesa loop
The Agate bridge
Jasper Forest is a valley where erosion of the rocky bluffs has left hundreds of petrified logs once encased in the bluff strewn across the land (I might have stolen that wording from the park brochure..) The history of this valley was pretty fascinating. Before taking petrified wood became illegal by Federal Law, folks used to come and haul off the wood by the train loads, to sell for high dollars. It was kind of funny to think that what we were left to look at was the discarded “ugly” logs that no one else wanted..

The Jasper Forest valley
Further on the drive you come to the Crystal Forest, which is an .8 mile walking loop that you can get our your car and actually walk among the fields of petrified wood. On this trail you can see all the wood up close, and touch it. Dogs are allowed on the trail, so we took Sam and Chloe. They had been dying to get a closer look at that wood as well. Thankfully they didn’t leave any of their own logs behind. :o) That might have petrified the park rangers…

Petrified wood up close
We exited the park in the South Entrance, and were lured into the “gift shop” with signs advertising free pieces of petrified wood. There were also signs for free RV parking. The first shop was closed already, so we walked across the street, where we got our free piece of wood (its tiny..smaller than a penny), and found out that dry camping was free, but hook ups were $10. We had almost decided to stay for the free dry camping, but then I get a better look at the other cars in the parking lot. There were about 10 other cars in the parking lot aside from our truck and trailer, but something was off. I first noticed that some of the “customer” cars were on blocks, and that others had flat tires. Then the rest of the cars had either missing license plates, or really expired tags (think 2001). What we realized was that these cars had been put in the parking lot to make it look like there were lots of other “customers” already inside the store, buying up their goods, and that it was worth a visit. How creepy! After seeing that, we hightailed it out of there and headed to the nearest town for a night in a Wal-Mart parking lot!

All the cars in this picture are fake!
See more pictures of the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Dessert, click here.

Happy Petrified Forest Exploring,


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