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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Geology Day in Arizona

Easter Monday, April 25 – and we are driving east along I40 towards the Meteor Crater. Today we are going to see, at last, those geological formations we learned about in earth science, lo those decades ago in public school. Like everything else in Arizona – there is an awful lot of space between one place and another. The Meteor Crator is 33 miles from Flagstaff, the only site we visited that wasn't a National Park. The turn off on is just one more small road heading south, but you can see the slight crater shape, and certainly it's width, from the interstate.  

On that same road we also see one of those oddities (to me) which are so common (out there) – a juniper bush growing right out of a rock!  

The crater site has a good movie theater (yes, we watched the movie) and a gift shop, rim walks as well as guides to take you further around the rim of the crater. We opted only to walk only in the open parts of the rim – which were impressive enough. The tour took an hour and we wanted to take in the Petrified Forest and Painted Dessert today too – both of which were east of Winslow.  

If you stay quiet as you look at the crater, and open yourself up to the sensations, you can get a feeling of the earth as part of outer space. Suddenly I whispered “we are not alone” as I shivered with a tiny bit of extra terrestrial presence. I know it's just rocks – and dirt – but ... it is different.  

We spotted a little lizard, dining on (and drinking from) this blossom.

There is a large bit of meteor on exhibit in the building that houses the gift shop and it was here that I picked up some (legal) pieces of petrified forest and a few other rock souvenirs. I wanted bits of tree that still had bark on them because I remembered, as a child, how disappointed I was to be shown .... just a rock ... and nothing that remotely looked like a tree, the first time I saw a sample from the Triassic era.

For that matter – I remember being completely flummoxed by the concept of a tree scared stiff – after all, I thought petrified meant scared and trees are already stiff. Ahh well. Children are often mystified by things adults say. So – It wasn't long before we were driving through Winslow AZ – just a couple of miles long and maybe 3 blocks deep, with only a single intersection of tourism to pay homage to the Eagles, amidst desert scrabble. The town is on the Little Colorado River, which had a little water in it – perhaps the only reason the town exists at all. The soil was a pale yellow and all around were wide vistas of course tufted grass, sparse growth, not even any junipers.

The only loop along I 40 between Winslow and Holbrook took us through the little town of Joseph City ... with this beautiful petrified forest wall and plaque. I took a lot of petrified wood photos and did come away with a few colorway idea shots – but none of them showed off the gleaming, deep, rich beauty of these mineralized fossils. Still – I'll try to paint with words their utter beauty.

The Petrified forest and Painted Dessert is one of the first national parks. We gave it more than half a day and thoroughly savored the vistas, walks and arid scenery. The trees are absolutely gem like. At the first visitor center we watched the short movie which was laced with warnings about the price you pay if you try to drive off with pieces of the trees in your pocket. I, too, lusted for a piece and completely understand the urge that prompts people to loot. I didn't loot, of course. But I sure wanted one of those big hunks of tree/rock. I know why it's wrong and I even agree that it's dreadful. Over 1 ton a month is stolen from the park still. So, I'm only saying I grasp what makes people lust for it. As for me, my hands touched and stroked and petted all afternoon long.   

These are Triassic trees – so they predate the dinosaurs. Their organic matter was replaced by silica so I wonder if there were volcanoes here. I could believe almost anything about this landscape. We took our time, this windy blue-sky day, moseying around the pathways that lead you through the bones of this ancient forest. The reds and golds were the most common colors but the blues and blacks and translucent whites gleamed beneath the unrelenting Arizona sunlight

Ancient peoples lived out here in more recent times. It feels funny to write recent and ancient in the same sentence but the petroglyphs we saw as we drove north through the park definitely have that prehistoric look. This rock is called Newspaper Rock. Park literature states that many of these sites were used as "solar calendars" to track the yearly movement of the sun across the sky through the interplay of sunlight on the petroglyph. They function the same today as they did when they were created almost a thousand years ago. 

The sun was aiming at the western horizon as we traveled the last bit of parkland, through the most distinct and vivid examples of the Painted Desert. Though it reaches as far west and north as the areas around Cameron – where we were on Saturday – it was here that the layered formations were most beautiful. And oh my – the distances one could see – in every direction there was just more more more open spaces with mounds, ravines and cliffs around every bend. 

Alas – as we neared the end of our park tour it dawned on me that I was coming down with Somebody's cold. I popped some ibuprofen to relieve my symptoms, but I knew it was no cure. Ahh well. This much wind and dry air and sleeping in strange beds and riding in a car with cold germs – it was bound to happen. Happily, it never got too bad and didn't take too long to get rid of – but it did have an impact on what we decided to do the rest of the trip.

We spent the night in Winslow, where we asked the desk clerk's advice about a good Mexican Restaurant. It was different, certainly, and spicier than the food we'd had in Williams but truth? It was as heavy as lead. Not a place I would recommend, even if I make allowances for my incipient cold. We went to sleep leaving our plans for the rest of the trip wide open.

1 comment:

  1. The formations in your second-to-last photo are absolutely beautiful! What a wonderful trip you must have had!