Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Arizona Visit Part Two

As we mentioned in an earlier posting, on our October trip to Sun City West, Arizona to visit our friend K we spent two nights (Thursday 10/17 and Wednesday 10/23) in Winslow, AZ. This gave us three half days to explore some of the attractions in that part of the Grand Canyon State – the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and Meteor Crater.

The first two are located at different ends of the 230 acre Petrified Forest National Park, connected by a twenty-eight mile drive off of which are a number of walks, hikes, observation points and photo ops. To give ourselves more time in each section we chose to see them on two separate visits – the first afternoon of our westward leg, and six days later in the morning before heading back to NM.
The easternmost entry point to the park leads into the Painted Desert. After a picnic lunch outside the visitor center we watched the Park Service’s introductory video, armed ourselves with maps and tourist info and drove a short way to the parking lot of the no longer in business Painted Desert Inn. From there we took a short hike above the “badlands” along the Painted Desert Rim Trail. (Badlands are an area of rock strata that has been naturally cut and eroded over millions of years into gullies and other irregular shapes, with virtually no vegetation.) As we walked we looked down onto what could have been a layered sand terrarium of geologic formations in shades of grey, red, white, black and other muted colors of rocks – and a little greenery.
 After our trek we visited the former hostelry – now a museum. It was built in the 1920s out of petrified wood and local stones by Herbert David Lore who operated it as the “Stone Tree House.” According to the National Park Service website, “Visitors could eat meals in the lunchroom, purchase American Indian arts and crafts, and enjoy a cool drink in the downstairs taproom. Six small rooms—cubicles really—were available for two to four dollars per night. Lore also gave two-hour motor car tours through the Black Forest in the Painted Desert below the inn.” (While most of the petrified wood in the park is located twenty-eight miles to the southwest, some can also be seen at this end also – accessible today via a five mile loop trail beginning at the inn/museum.. The logs here are darker in color – thus the name.)
In 1936 Petrified Forest National Monument (not yet a “Park”) bought the building , reconstructed it in the Pueblo Revival style as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project, and reopened it as a hotel in 1940 only to close it two years later. It was then purchased by the Fred Harvey Company which brought in the firm’s lead architect and interior designer, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter who created a new color scheme; placed new plated glass windows in strategic walls of the Inn to take advantage of the magnificent view; and hired renowned Hopi artist Fred Kabotie to paint murals on the dining room and lunchroom walls showing aspects of native Hopi culture such as the Buffalo Dance, a trek to a sacred salt lake, planting time, and Tawa – the Hopi sun god.
 Structural damage to the inn forced the Harvey Company to move to the park’s newly completed visitor center complex in 1963. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
After a self-guided tour of the property we drove further on to into the park to visit Newspaper Rock – home to over 650 petroglyphs created by ancestral Puebloan people living, farming, and hunting along the Puerco River between 650 and 2,000 years ago – and the ruins of Puerco Pueblo, where some of these ancient artists may have resided. The village was constructed in the 1200s AD when a series of droughts led the native people to move out of small, scattered hamlets and instead build larger communities – this one near Rio Puerco. The one-story high complex of hand-shaped sandstone blocks, built around a rectangular plaza. would have had about 100 rooms and twice that number of residents. Much of the permeable sandstone has deteriorated, as seen in this photo.

Unable to adapt to the changing climate of the late 1300s, the inhabitants of Puerco Pueblo abandoned the site in search of a more suitable area. By 1380 it was all but empty.
And we likewise moved on to our accommodations in Winslow AZ for the night – a two-story building of mostly wood, built around a central hallway – no part of which will be around in 700 years. 

The morning of 10/18, on on way to Sun City West, we stopped at Great Meteor Crater – “the world's best preserved meteorite impact site on Earth” – a hole in the ground large enough to be a stadium holding 1,000,000 spectators watching football games being concurrently played on 200 fields. This enormous depression is the result of a collision 50,000 years ago with a nickel-iron meteorite about 160 feet in width traveling at 29,000 mph, whose impact generated the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT. Tremors from the crash would have been felt as far as our new home town, 250 miles away.

In August 1964 a Cessna 182 airplane piloted by off-duty American Airlines pilot Capt. John L. Kidd, with fellow pilot Gary Chapin as a passenger, crashed into the bowl of the crater when the hot thin air caused a loss of lift. Both men were seriously injured but survived, and Captain Kidd returned to his career at American. 

The plane was partially removed by helicopter, with the remaining parts pushed into an abandoned mine shaft left over from a twenty-seven year, unsuccessful attempt to locate a large deposit of meteoric iron. Then owner Daniel M. Barringer – the first to suggest that the basin was produced by meteorite impact – drilled to a depth of 1,375 feet. But no significant deposit was ever found. During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA astronauts trained in the crater to prepare for the Apollo missions to the Moon.  
Fortunately they were not deterred from their mission by the sight of crash debris, some of which still would still have been on the ground.
Meteor Crater sits within the 326,000 acre Bar T Ranch, but is privately owned by the Barringer family.  There is no access into the 550 foot deep depression, so we took the guided rim tour. Our docent took pictures – but this is as near to the edge as we got.

As former residents of a town with an area of 8,400 acres, which had two meteorite crashes of its own (1971 and 1982 – each baseball size – each penetrating the roof of an occupied house) we didn’t know whether to be more impressed by the vastness of the ranch or largeness of the fallen space object – just two more things out here that really mess with our deeply engrained CT sense of distance and size. BTW the odds of your house being hit by a meteor are 182,138,880,000,000 to 1. Unless that is you happen to live in Wethersfield, Connecticut – or in the middle of nowhere on a really, really, big cattle farm.

This is the edge that we did not get close to.

On the morning of October 24 (day two on our trip back to Santa Fe, and six days after our first stop at Petroglyph National Forest) we again visited it to see the natural phenomenon for which the park is named. This time we we entered from the westernmost end.
First some science.
Approximately 216 million years ago the land where the park now stands was filled by forests similar to those found nowadays in countries such as Costa Rica. When the trees died, they fell into a river, and were buried under layers of silt, mud, sand and volcanic ash, which protected them from decay. Mineral-laden ground water percolated through these layers of earth and saturated the trees with these minerals. The silica, or quartz, crystals bonded with the cells of the tree replicating the original organic material in perfect detail. The result is a recumbent forest made of stone, not wood.
Some other locations where the fossilized wood can be found are: Petrified Palm Deposits in the Catahoula Formation of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi; Ginkgo Petrified Forest near Wanapum Reservoir, Washington; The Gilboa Fossils near Gilboa, New York; and Peanut Wood in Western Australia.
Since the Petrified Forest became a National Monument, it has been illegal to remove any specimens of wood from the park. Exiting vehicles must stop at a checkpoint – although we were not actually “checked” for anything. A more effective deterrent is the dreaded Curse of the Petrified Forest.
“In the 1930’s visitors began to report that after taking a piece of petrified wood from the park they were seemingly cursed with bad luck... From divorce, to being jailed, medical conditions to car problems, unemployment to generally terrible lives, and even death, the Petrified Forest National Park has received bucket loads of confessions, tales of tragedy, and returned petrified wood from those who lived to regret it,” according to
We walked two paths that took us through different collections of these petrified fossils. Giant Logs Trail features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park – including "Old Faithful,” almost ten feet wide at its base. 

And Crystal Forest Trail, so named because of the beautiful crystals that can be found in the fossilized lumber along its route.

We also observed a somewhat more contemporary object that arrived in the park in 2006.
About midway on the twenty-eight mile inner park road sits a 1932 Studebaker, with a series of telephone poles placed so as to indicate the path of the much romanticized Mother of Transcontinental Highways, Route 66 – at its time the shortest route connecting the industrial Midwest to the rural Southwest.

“Ironically, it was the popularity of automobile travel that ultimately led to the highway’s demise through the construction of limited-access interstates in the 1970s. With the slow, incremental opening of the interstates, travel gradually shifted away from the towns and main streets of Route 66, until the highway was officially decommissioned in 1985.” ( 

As seen through the windows of the ‘32 Studie, Interstate 40, on which we, along with seemingly every semi trailer in North America traveled, was one of one of those roads that took its place.

Recumbent timberlands whose once vibrant inner-being has been turned to stone. A canvas of deep lavenders, rich grays, reds, oranges, and pinks – soft and inviting-looking, but incapable of supporting life. An unimaginably ginormous hole in the middle of nowhere (albeit privately owned nowhere) created in an explosion ignited by an object from outer space.
To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy – particularly in the desert southwest.”

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