You get two parks here for the price of one. The desert is the northern half of the park; the stone forest is the southern. Neither is exactly a national treasure, but both are interesting as well as auto accessible. Right on the border between north and south stands a ’32 Studebaker marking the site of the original Route 66. Kat and I made a day trip here from Homolavi SP and on balance, it was a day well spent.
The Painted Desert is most famous for its photographs taken at sunrise or sunset. We were camped 40 miles away and inasmuch as I am no longer required to rise early, that ain’t gonna happen. As for sunsets, we don’t like to drive at night. Besides we wanted Arizona Mexican food at Joe & Aggies Diner on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ. The food was good, but not quite up to The Stern’s Road Food review accolade of “Worth a Detour”. They do have a lot of old photos on the walls but none of George Maharis or Martin Milner, stars of the TV series Route 66 (if you have heard of it, you might be older than me.) Tod and Marty drove a blue and white ’61 Corvette up and down the Mother Road which runs from Chicago to LA, but most episodes were in California. It was a G-rated show for a G-rated time in the USA. If they came across a damsel in distress, for sure eyelashes were batted and flirtations exchanged, but the lads changed her tire or wrapped a busted radiator hose with duct tape and went on their way, leaving the gal with their dazzling smiles. Route 66 might still be available on Netflix, but it was early TV and as a travel show about going nowhere, probably best remembered as an ancestor to Seinfeld, a show about nothing.
The Painted Desert features scenic desert views and at a couple of overlooks, clearly visible pictographs scratched or pecked into sandstone boulders by early, non-European Americans. The Park Service did little to translate them aside from describing successful hunts, and I am so picto-illiterate that none struck me as being along the lines of “for a good time call …” but a few have to be there.
No trees stand in the Petrified Forest but they appear from a distance to have been cut up by chainsaws. Science says these trees grew perhaps 200 million years ago around the equator, possibly near what is now Costa Rica. The fossil trees arrived here along with the rest of our continent courtesy of something known as continental drift, driven by underground movements of various layers of the earth’s crust. That is as good an explanation as any as to why so many huge dinosaur fossils are found in Montana … how could a huge cold-blooded reptile survive those winters? The trees fell into lakes that soon became so deep wood decay stopped for lack of oxygen. Then the minerals in the water and mud gradually replaced the wood. In time the trees turned to quartz, or petrified wood. Quartz has a crystalline structure which leads to clean breaks in the petrified log as its support erodes away. The colors in these petrified logs are amazing, as is their size, and to me, what looks like bark and knots on trees that last lived 200 million years ago.
Petrified wood is found in most parts of the world, but nowhere are the trees so large and colorfully preserved as here in Arizona. We actually had a large fallen petrified tree a few miles south of Mooringsport. I picked up a few pieces of it as a kid. It is now completely gone, taken away by souvenir hunters. Let us thank Teddy Roosevelt for National Parks.