Thursday, March 6, 2014

Petrified Forest

We left San Antonio to begin our westward journey on Friday, February 28th.  We drove about 300 miles westward on Interstate 10, ending our day in Fort Stockton – deep in the heart of Texas!  If you’ve never driven through West Texas, you’re missing out!  There are miles and miles and miles of nothingness!

On the second day on the road we traveled another 400 miles northward, going right through southeastern New Mexico.  And if I ever thought West Texas was bad, I obviously had never driven through southeastern New Mexico!  There weren’t even billboards to read along the way to entertain us, although we did have fun watching the tumbleweed cross the road in front of us.  What a boring drive!  We ended our day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by staying overnight at Kirtland AFB.

On the third day on the road, we drove due westward from Albuquerque into Arizona, stopping at Petrified Forest National Park along the way. 

We arrived at the park right at lunchtime.  It’s a good thing we didn’t arrive any earlier.  According to the park ranger, the park had received four inches of snow early that morning!  By the time we arrived, it had all melted except for a few isolated spots in shaded areas.  What luck!

We started off as we normally do, by watching the park film at the visitor center.  Then we drove – WITH the camper - through the park roads to see the sights along the way.  Interstate 40, which is the east-west road we were driving on, runs right through the national park, bisecting it into a northern section and a southern section.  North of the interstate is the Painted Desert.  We stopped at several viewing points to see the panorama of the desert, stopping at the historic Painted Desert Inn along the way.  The inn served as a resting point for travelers along the historic Route 66, and it contains wall murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie in the dining room and elsewhere in the inn.

On the park road just before crossing over the interstate into the southern portion of the park is a memorial to Route 66.  This famous road was the first highway across the country, linking the eastern United States to the west coast.  Route 66 started in Chicago, went through Missouri , Oklahoma, the panhandle of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, then finally ended in California.  It was the only automobile route that crossed the country for decades.  When the interstate system was introduced in the 1950’s, Interstate 40 replaced Route 66.  Finally in 1985 the road was decommissioned.  Today there are some historical remnants of Route 66, but most sections of the famed route are completely gone.  The Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park in which Route 66 ran through.  Today there is a small memorial to the legendary road.

After crossing over the interstate highway and entering into the southern portion of the park, our first stop was at Puerco Pueblo.  This was a 100-room Native American village built between 1250 and 1380.  We walked over a short paved trail through the site to see the ruins and historic petroglyphs on the sides of the rocks.

Since we were pressed for time, we continued our drive through the park but skipped over some of the attractions.  We ended our visit by stopping at the far south end of the park and going to the Rainbow Forest Museum (where our youngest son completed the Junior Ranger badge), where the best concentrated examples of petrified wood can be seen.  This was certainly a forest!  The petrified wood can be seen strewn over miles and miles of the park, but especially over the many acres near the museum.  We walked along the Long Logs Trail and the Giant Logs Trail and saw some exquisite examples of the colorful mineral deposits that created the petrification of the fallen ancient forest dating back to when this area of the country was a tropical forest at the equator.  Hard to believe, since it’s now a flat desert nowhere near the equator!

After spending two hours touring the park, we got back onto the interstate and drove to our final destination:  The Grand Canyon!