After going through Monument Valley we went through the town of Kayenta, circled back around and set up in the town of Bluff for the night. The next morning heading out to Four Corners monument which is where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. Nothing much there, except the monument, and the little booths where the locals sell their beautiful arts and crafts. Apparently during the tourist season you can wait up to 45 minutes to get a photo…we got lucky as there were not many people around.
We made it short day, and after leaving New Mexico, we set up in the town of Holbrook for the night, about 20 miles from the Petrified Forest National Park. we travel the few miles back, and enter the Petrified National Park. At first glance, it appears to be fallen trees strewn all over the fields, maybe some sloppy logger had been in there. Some logs appear to be cut with a power saw, as if someone possibly bucked them up for a fire, or for stumps to sit on, but we know THAT wasn’t the case. There are full size trees, stumps and shards of rock everywhere! During the Triassic Period, 225 million years ago this whole area was tropical, with vegetation and many rivers with fish, clams, snails and crayfish making meals for the dinosaurs that roamed through the areas. Over the past 200 million years, the climate changed, earth moving, and areas uplifting, the river, along with plants and animals were buried in sediment. Years of wind, wind and temperature changes transformed the lay of the land, molding and sculpting the area, and eventually removing some of the sedimentary layers, showing us the secrets of the past.
We stop at the visitor centre, and the fellow shares some of the information of the “Off the Beaten Path Hikes”, giving us several topigraphical maps of a couple hikes as they are not on the main map. We decide on the Onyx Bridge hike, again, we pick the longest hike in the park. Leaving from the Painted Desert Inn, the 6.4km (4 miles), starts out with a very deep descent down into the grassland and dry washes below. I’m happy we left in the cool of the day, because once on the valley floor, the temperature rose quickly. Hiking was pretty easy, however, we needed to use our route finding skills once down onto the grasslands, when the managed trail disappeared. All along the hike, petrified wood spotted the landscape. We followed the written directions and the topographical map and then had to pick one of the washes to walk up, and the first split in the wash stay to the right, the second split stay to the left, and then climb up a rock fall to the Onyx Bridge. We followed directions, but still not sure we were in the right wash, we made it! We were more fortunate than the couple that went before us that said they climbed through several of the washes before finding the right one. We got it on the first attempt, which is so unlike us! We sat on the rock log, and had some water and a snack before scrambling back down, and up the rocks and heading back to the Painted Desert Inn sitting high above the desert floor.
Thousands of fossils have been found in the park, and can still be found today. Pottery and arrowheads indicate human history as far back as 13000 years ago. The area also has sites where petroglyphs are drawn on many rock faces, we stopped in a few of these areas. There is little information as to most of their meanings at this point in time, however the solar calendars are very distinct as they mark the summer and winter solstice while others mark the equinoxes.
Once back at the truck we continued on through the park arriving at the trail head to the Long Log and Agate house. With the park closing at 5, we did pass a few sites that we may have gone to see had we left more time, but as usual, it was the “next time” scenario. Most of the trails are short, and easy jaunts, as this one was, however, not all trails are marked well and we found ourselves wondering off looking at bigger logs petrified out in the desert! It is an incredible sight to see all this ROCK in the middle of the desert. Many of the logs have been petrified with the bark, making it even that much more amazing to visualize the miles of forest, water, and trees, with nothing left but sand, some grass and petrified trees. Throughout the entire walk we did not come across any pieces of wood, other than those that had been transformed into rock.
Leaving the park we drove down the highway, past Holbrook and the wonderful KOA Campsite that we spent the night before in. We drove through a few “sketchy” RV parks and continued down the route until we decided to camp with several dozen others in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Winslow Arizona. There is something to be said about camping in a parking lot. As far as we were concerned, this was the safest place to camp in this town.