Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Day in the "Forest"

When you drive north out of our White Mountains home, you decrease in elevation. The ponderosa pine trees disappear, and are replaced with pinyon pines and junipers. And then they, too, disappear, leaving a seemingly desolate landscape of grasslands, rocks, and sky. In January, it's not green like it would be in summer; it's mostly a palette of neutral grays and browns, with the ever-present huge blue sky towering above.

We've had a mild winter, to put it mildly. It's been hovering around the 50's and sunny for the past several weeks. It's a little nerve-wracking to be thoroughly enjoying your dry, sunny, warm winter, though, because every day this weather continues, we know that we are approaching a more and more dangerous fire season come spring. But what can you do? Enjoy it, we say.

So today we decided to take a half-day road trip to the Petrified Forest National Park. The Park is 1.5 hours away from our front door. We packed up a lunch and the dog, and left in the morning. We got to the park shortly after 9:00, and I think we were one of three cars there (all of them had at least one dog with them--good people, no doubt). We pretty much had the place to ourselves, which is an unusual experience in National Park World.

So what is petrified wood? Well, it all started in the Triassic period (largely before dinosaurs roamed in this area, but over time, the Park has seen their share of Jurassic dinosaurs as well), when this area was actually in a different, more tropical location on the planet. Tropical forests covered this landscape, and eventually, these forests were overtaken by silt-laden seas. The mineral content in the water infiltrated the trees, replacing their organic matter with a variety of silica-based compounds. The trees became less tree and more rock. They kept their shape, however, and turned into geologic wonders of rusty-brown, white, purple, olive-green, and black "logs," laying on the ground like fallen giants. Time, weathering, and erosion have left this area strewn with broken petrified logs, rocks, a gravel-like substrate from this petrified wood, and dinosaur bones. It's really an amazing place, and if you're ever in the Holbrook, AZ area, stop by. Especially if it's going to be 50 degrees in January.

We decided to take the Long Logs trail first. The trail leads through one of the highest concentrations of petrified logs, many of them showing their full length--if not whole, then split into lengths but aligned as they fell. The trail eventually led to the "Agate House," an 8-room structure built by the natives who lived in the area around 1000 AD. They build the Agate House from natural block-sized remnants of petrified wood. Since petrified wood is stronger than tempered steel, and only 2 points less than diamonds on the hardness scale, that was about the only size they could manage.

Some photos from the Long Logs / Agate House trail:

Can you believe this color??? Stunning!

After that nice 2-mile walk, it warmed up a bit as we headed to the Crystal Forest stop, and walked around there. Named Crystal Forest due to the higher level of mica and other minerals that were found in logs in this area, these rocks, logs, and substrate glisten in the sun.

Look at the long log on the horizon!

After meandering through the Crystal Forest, we headed back to the south entrance where we began. While Bruce cooked burgers on the grill, I walked the dog through the short trail behind the visitor center. We came back to burgers and 'tater salad.

After that nice lunch and remarking on what a great day this was in just a tiny part of the surreal and sublime landscape that is northern Arizona, we headed home--back to a new appreciation of the live trees that surround us.


  1. Wow - gorgeous photos Sue. Love your descriptions as well.

  2. Beautiful, magical place. TRACKS helped build some trail and my help build more this Spring. Great descriptions Sue.