“Don’t worry”, I yelled over my shoulder to Al while swiftly walking to the truck. I had my camera slung around my neck, water bottle in one hand, and truck keys in the other. I was on a mission that morning, and I wasn’t about to let a little weather curtail my fun.
The vast vistas allowed me to see more than 100 miles in any given direction, but with such openness comes wind. Northeastern Arizona is the windiest section of the state. The relatively flat, lightly vegetated mesas, buttes, and valleys do very little to slow the movement of air.It was calm at the moment, but I kept in mind, winds in excess of 40 miles per hour are common around here and gusts over 60 miles per hour aren’t unusual. Hang on Toto!
Before climbing into the truck, I scanned the skies to the west. The ominous line of clouds still looked pretty far away. I figured, I’d have at least an hour before the storm hit. However, I failed to take into account the driving time needed to get from one end of the park to the other.
The Petrified Forest National Park encompasses more than 230 square miles (600 square kilometers) with only one main road going through the center. The 28 mile scenic drive takes visitors from the northern entrance located off Interstate 40 to the southern entrance off Highway 180.
It was late August 2016. We spent the night at the Crystal Forest Gift Shop near the southern entrance of the park. The gift shop allows free overnight camping in an area off to the side. There’s even some picnic tables, but absolutely no other amenities of any kind. It’s free and considering we’re self-contained and self-sufficient this location worked perfectly for my photo excursion into the national park.Since I was starting at the south entrance, I needed to plan my stops carefully keeping the weather and my priorities in mind. The day before, we had entered the national park via the north entrance with the RV in tow and I was able to get a quick overview.
Petrified Forest National Park is very doable with any size RV. Some pull-outs are a little more big RV friendly than others. Regardless, to really delve into this geologically fascinating park, it’s best to explore without the RV and constraints of finding adequate parking.I hadn’t been in the truck driving more than fifteen minutes when hubby called with an urgency in his voice. He informed me of a severe storm heading our way. A semi-tractor trailer had flipped over on Interstate 40 due to a wind gust just east of Flagstaff and those high winds, hail, and torrential rain were heading our way. All I managed to say to hubby before the call was dropped was, “Ok”. You can assume cell phone coverage to be spotty in this remote park in Arizona.Hurry Ingrid was at the fore front of my mind as I continued on my quest. I wanted to touch those fossils and even though there were plenty of petrified logs where we were camped, I wanted to see a forest of them. Wood turning into stone is a rarity and takes special conditions for the process to occur. There’s only a few places in the world to find petrified wood and I was exploring one of those places.
Most of the petrified wood around here is made up of mostly solid quartz. The rainbow of colors is produced by impurities in the quartz. Over 200 million years ago, logs washed into an ancient river system and were quickly and deeply buried by massive amounts of debris and sediment. Oxygen was cut off. Minerals absorbed into the porous wood and crystallized within the cellular structure turning wood into stone.
There are several areas within the national park that have a concentration of these huge petrified logs. The petrified trees lie strewn across the hills and are broken into large segments. The smooth ends look like they were cut with a chainsaw.
Who Cut the Wood? During the gradual uplifting of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 60 million years ago, the still buried petrified trees were under so much stress they broke like glass rods. The crystal nature of the quartz created clean fractures, evenly spaced along the tree trunk, giving the appearance of logs cut with a chainsaw.
Although the petrified wood is the primary draw to this national park, I had one more quirky stop to make before returning to the RV.
The famous old Historic Route 66 road used to go right through Petrified Forest National Park and there’s a popular landmark showcasing the location. This 1932 Studebaker is a fun place for a photo-op. The original telephone poles (seen to the left of the car) remain standing in the very spot they were originally installed all those years ago.
The weather may have cut my visit short, but it was just enough to pique my interest in a return visit. I found the fossils and the process of their creation rather fascinating, much to my surprise. Just one more place going on the must return list 😉
My visit was a week before my birthday and as such a little souvenir shopping was in order. As much as I would’ve liked a nice chunk of petrified wood, the size and weight wouldn’t be conducive to life in an RV. I opted for a lovely bracelet that I found at the Rainbow Visitor Center Gift Shop.
Please, please, please NEVER take rock from national park land. Not only is it against the law, it undoubtedly would impact the abundance of fossils for all of us to enjoy today and in the future. Purchasing polished petrified wood that was harvested on private land supports the park system and local economy. And much of it is very inexpensive, unless you want a huge chunk, then that’ll cost. The bigger the piece, the more expensive and the heavier. My cute bracelet, similar to the one shown below, cost less than $25 and is a lovely daily reminder of my adventurous morning.Fortunately, the worst of the storm bypassed our immediate location, but we did endure some nasty gusting winds and torrential down pouring rain. I returned to the RV unscathed, to a relieved husband, and looking like a drenched puppy. The minute there was a break in the weather, we hooked up and rolled in the opposite direction from those threatening clouds. Hmm, where to next?