Monday, August 6, 2007

July 31, 2007

Pinetop Arizona -- Petrified Forest National Park & Painted Desert

The Petrified Forest was not too far north of where we stay and it is the main trip we had planned to take from Pinetop. We prepared for the trip with water bottles and maps and took off about 10am. We traveled up Highway 180, 30 minutes from Show Low to pass through the little town of Concho. It is a little town named for the shells the first found in the nearby stream. It was founded in the 1880s by New Mexican sheep herders of Basque descent and later Mormon settlers. We passed a Zuni Indian Reservation then came to the Petrified Forest National Park road which stretches north 28 miles. We stopped at the visitors' center and got our passports stamped, then saw a film and some very large petrified trees laying around broken. The trees had fallen and sunk in the bottom of a marshy land and are with fossils in the colorful Chinle Formation earth from the Late Triassic period. The logs still had very visible tree growth rings and it was amazing to see how the minerals had formed in each wood cell to petrify it. Some of the minerals in the trees are quartz, jasper, crystal, and even amethyst. It can only be cut with a diamond tipped saw. In fact people used to dynamite the petrified trees to get the amethyst. And the area has one of the best geological and fossil examples of the period in the world. These 225 million year old fossils were of the smaller dinosaurs and other things.

Driving along the road we stopped at each trail and observation point. My favorites were the Giant Logs trail, Newspaper Rock with hundreds of petroglyphs on the boulders from early Indians, and Puerco Pueblo, a large dwelling village from 1250 to 1400 AD. The petroglyphs are from 650 to 2000 years old and were etched into the patina or desert varnish formed on the stone surface by oxides and microorganisms. They were very interesting to see and included the Hopi Indian kachina doll symbol and a big bird with a person in his long beek (picture on left). There are even solar calendar petroglyphs marking the solstices and equinox.

Uniquely the the Petrified Forest joins the Painted Desert National Monument at a place called "Route 66" on the north side of present I-40. This is part of the famous road connecting Chicago with Los Angeles from 1926 to the mid 1980s when the Interstates took over. Bobby Troup immortalized it in song: "It winds from Chicago to L.A., More than two thousand miles away, Get your kicks on Route 66!" There is a memorial plaque and this old shell of a car to commemorate the Highway.

As we drove around the Painted Desert rim loop we marveled at all the colorings of the cliffs and desert badlands in the panoramas below. There is one historic building called the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark (left) from the 1920s which once served as a rest stop for Route 66 travelers. It is made of petrified wood, but the CCC restored it and plastered over most of the petrified wood...I don't know why... I think because of structural problems of the "Stone Tree House." Anyway it was hot and we were wishing that it still served sodas at the gone-but-not-forgotten lunch counter.

We left the Painted Desert via I-40 and traveled South west 28 miles to Holbrook, Arizona on old Rt 66. If only I had known to look for the Wigwam Motel built there in 1950. But I think that I've seen it before when traveling the Route in the 1950s. I think it would be fun to stay there one night. Getting slightly lost in Holbrook, we finally found Hwy 77 and continued south to Show Low, passing through Mormon settled towns of Snowflake (named for pioneers Snow and Flake) and Taylor.

Back at Pinetop the kids rounded out the day at the Recreation Center and swimming pool at the Roundhouse Resort.

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