From Albuquerque, New Mexico we headed back toward the west. We left early as there was a time change between New Mexico and Arizona, plus it was the spring-forward of Day Light Savings Time. Our first stop of the day was Petrified Forest National Park.
This area is known as a shortgrass prairie. By the late 1880s sheep and cattle ranches were established and commercial interest in the petrified wood was threatening the fragile landscape. In 1895, the Arizona Territorial legislature petitioned the US Congress to protect the area as a scientific and cultural treasure. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating a national monument and in 1962 it became a national park. The park is divided into 2 sections, with the Northern part being the Painted Desert and the southern part being the petrified forest. The Painted Desert certainly lived up to it’s name.
The Painted Desert Inn was built in 1920 by Herbert David Lore. It was purchased in 1935 by the park service and renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. After being a stopping point on Route 66 for many years, it is now a National Historic Landmark.
Normally you would travel on part of Route 66 to go from the north to the south of the national park, however, replacement of a bridge required us to leave the park and drive through Holbrook, Arizona, driving on a portion of route. The town has a whole corner dedicated to the famed road. However, PFNP is the only place that the Famous and Historic Route 66 is totally protected. In 1853, the US Congress authorized a survey for railroad routes west of Mississippi River. A route near the 35th parallel was discussed and in 1857 the government hired E.F. Beale to build a wagon road along this route. He experimented in using a camel corps to build the road. This was the beginning of Route 66. It stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California and became a destination in itself. It was officially established as a national highway in 1926. In 1956, with the establishment of the Interstate Highway System, Route 66 was no longer the preferred road. In 1985 the road was official decommissioned, but the romance and love of Route 66 lives on.
The Southern half of PFNP was at one time a tropical rain forest. Over 200 million years ago, the climate changed, river systems moved, and the plants and animals were buried by layers of sediment. PFNP is one of the best examples of fossils from the Late Triassic Period. The remnants of the prehistoric forests are now petrified wood.
We stopped at Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center and walked the Giant Log trail. On the trail there was a plaque honoring Stephen Mather. He was a millionaire but also a conservationist. In 1917, the US realized that with numerous national parks, they need an agency to oversee them. Mr. Mather became the first director of the National Park Service.
The Giant Log trail lived up to it’s name.
The inside of the petrified trees is very colorful. When minerals such as manganese, iron, and copper are in the mud during the petrification process, they color the quartz crystals that are formed.
As we drove through the park, we noticed the landscape… its rather eerie and pretty at the same time.
Our next stop was Crystal Forest trail.
There were very good informational signs along the trail., telling about petrification and dinosaurs that lived here. Looking at the stark landscape, it was hard to imagine a swampy forest.
We learned that once the tree is petrified, if there is any ground movement, the tree will break apart, much like a piece of chalk. The logs look like someone cut them, they are so perfectly “sliced”.
We couldn’t believe how vivid the crystal colors were on the logs.
You would look at the tree and the bark looked so life-like. Some of the trees you could see where the branches were attached.
It had already been a very adventrous morning but we still had 2 more stops, so onto Winslow, Arizona.