Arizona’s Petrified Forest and Painted Desert

Spring Break 2013 provided a terrific excuse for two things: a visit from my mother and a road trip out west together. It was my Mom’s first time in the Texas Panhandle, and as nice as it is in this part of the country, I wanted to take her on a trip through the western portions of the United States. So, early on a Saturday morning, we merged onto I-40 with Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park as our itinerary’s first stop.
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I admit that I made a rookie traveler’s mistake and didn’t pay attention to the weather forecast along our route. As the gray clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped. Then it started snowing. By the time we got to the national park, the snow was coming down in spurts, the wind was strong, and the conditions were frigid. Still, that didn’t prevent us from hopping out for some great photo opportunities as we drove the 28-mile road through the park. This natural wonder sports two attractions: lots of petrified wood and the painted desert, so named because of the landscape’s beautiful colors. You get a sense of that from the first two photos.

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The photo above features just a few of the thousands of petroglyphs, or prehistoric rock carvings, located in the park. Notice the one that looks like a bird. Archaeologists believe it is a depiction of the White-faced Ibis, which is native to the area, is found around water, and eats frogs as part of its diet. According to a nearby information board, the carving likely is not meant to be a literal depiction of the bird but rather a symbol of aquatic resources and fertility.

Below, you’ll find just one of what I suspect are thousands of examples of petrified logs within the park. As a kid, I remember hearing about the Petrified Forest and thinking it must have looked like the tall pine forests of my native Alabama, except all of the trees were now rocks. Not so, of course. The trees that became the petrified logs of today fell centuries ago.

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The petrified log above might be one of the more famous petrified wood displays in the park. Dubbed “Agate Bridge,” it’s a great example of what happens when rushing water removes rock and sediment from beneath a fallen log. To keep the petrified log from collapsing, the concrete support structure was placed underneath it in 1917. As you might imagine, visitors are implored to resist the urge to walk across it.IMG_1720

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The two pictures above are from my favorite part of the park: the Blue Mesa badlands. It’s easy to see how it gets its name, and for me, it’s the most gorgeous part of the experience. The colors are astounding, and it left me wondering about the geological processes that created these formations, which are estimated to be 220 – 225 million years old.

Bonus photo!

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If you enter the Petrified Forest National Park on I-40, you’ll drive south through the park to Highway 180, which eventually links back up with I-40. If you take this route, you’ll travel through Holbrook, Arizona, one of many communities located along historic Route 66. I stopped to snap this photo of an homage to Route 66, which was painted on the side of a local building.

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