Tuesday March 26, 2013
Today was a driving day – the objective: to get from Flagstaff, AZ to Sante Fe, NM. Again, mostly driving the I40. Part way across Arizona, we discovered the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Wow – what a discovery! Per the travel websites Gwen likes, we cut off of the I40 early, and drove the 20 miles down the US 180 to the southern end of the Park. Turning left into the park, the first thing we came upon was the first of three Ranger Stations. This one, the Rainbow Forest Museum, has a very well-done exhibition of dinosaurs and other bones found in the park. It also had an explanatory video showing the history of the place as currently understood.
Behind the museum is a field of petrified logs, with concrete pathways to follow. We took a circular path of about a quarter mile and passed by quite a few multi-colored logs strewn in no pattern to be discerned. I’ve seen petrified wood before, but never in such quantify, and in such colorful variety. Large logs as big around as Gwen down to small chips of rock hued in dark reds, purples, yellows, whites, and grays. Some were very long, along the path, some sitting on end. We later were to learn that the colors are determined by the chemistry of the silica crystals that replaced the wood fibers. From the handout booklet, “Petrified wood’s varied colors came from minerals in the silica-saturated waters. Iron, carbon, manganese, and sometimes cobalt and chromium produced patterns and blends of yellow, red, black, blue, brown, white and pink.” Really beautiful patterns of all kinds, but all obviously following the original wood structure.
We carried on into the park, driving by hills that are colorfully striated: red, white, and a variety of browns and grays. We thought this was the Painted Desert, and it certainly is related. Turnouts are provided in several places, and we took advantage of most of them. One of the first was on the edge of another field of petrified wood logs. Lots to see in all directions.
I took plenty of pictures as Gwen drove through the park. The other aspects of interest included human habitation, the petroglyphs, and lastly, the designated Painted Desert. There is ample evidence of human habitation, dated first from the 1100’s, and then from the 1300’s, but when the Spanish explorers came through in the 1540’s, human habitation had disappeared.
The remnants were building foundations, which showed small rooms around a central court. Nearby are rocks with black areas that have been chipped out into petroglyphs. While not obviously identified, the petroglyphs indicate that the inhabitants were hunters as well as farmers.
There is a rock which is called “Newspaper Rock” where the petroglyphs are numerous in a reasonably small spot. The park service does not let you near it, but instead have provided a platform above with fixed binoculars to allow viewing. Thankfully I have my telephoto lens with me!
We kept going, and once we had passed over the I40, there were several turnouts that showed various perspectives on the Painted Desert. What spectacular views! The colors were the same as in the petrified forest, but were created by the washing to various levels of the layers of sediment. You’ve got to see the pictures. The sun was hidden behind clouds, unfortunately, as I suspect the colors would be even more spectacular were the sun available to highlight and contrast. The sun also creates shadows, which give added depth to the scene.
One of the last stops was the old hotel. Built in the 1890s, and then rebuilt twice, once during the depression using CCC personnel and funding, and the last time in the 1950s, the hotel is in the pueblo style, and is clearly intended to be a site for conferences to take place. Unfortunately, the building is not suitable for habitation any more, so it is only open for us tourists to take pictures and to go around to the back and view the Bad Lands of the Painted Desert.
After that, we went through the exit to the park, and headed out to Santa Fe. About 75 miles later, we stopped off in Gallup, NM and ate lunch at the local Applebee’s. The trip through New Mexico was more scenic than even Arizona had been. On the left hand side for most of the way, were one–after-another peninsulas of higher land, like we were driving through the bottom of a long valley, with the cliffs of the shoreline 1000 feet above jutting out towards us, or occasionally showing us faces which paralleled our progress. Just like the Painted Desert, the weathered cliff faces showed various strata, colored in a variety of pinks, grays, browns and reds running along horizontally with us.
Slowly these cliffs receded, and as we turned north (from the I40 to the I25), they disappeared. But they provided such a variety of landscape that driving didn’t feel boring at all. Running along parallel to us, and usually between us and the cliffs are railroad tracks, and we saw a number of trains, sometimes close up to us, and sometimes far, far away – once so small as to seem like they were toy trains that we could pick up at our whim. The trains were mostly freight of one kind or another; oil tankers in a great line, automobile carriers, but mostly container-car trains. The trains usually had three engines, but one shorter train we saw had three engines in front and four in back. We guessed that the engines in back were just being taken to their next job.
We arrived in Santa Fe around 6:30, and without too much difficulty, found our hotel. This one is the Inn at Alameda, a boutique hotel that is living up to its name. It is quite well done, and we are enjoying it.