When’s the last time you visited a National Park?
Did you know there’s 60 of National Parks; at least one in every state? That’s ‘just’ the National Parks since 1916! There’s also countless National Monuments, Historic Landmarks, Battlefields, Military Parks, Seashores, Lakes and Rivers. They’ve grown to epic numbers of visitors. It’s fairly inexpensive, fun and a great way to get in touch with nature and the wild. At the same time, it’s a great way to learn about our Country’s history, geography and geology. Are you ready for your amazing experience?
This is one of those ‘less visited’ National Parks that deserves a lot more attention and praise. As with any of the others, Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert displays the most intriguing beauty where there is no other like it.
I remember as a young teenager, my mother, brother and I boarded a Greyhound bus from Erie, PA to trek across America destined for San Diego, California (Coronado really). This was my first experience with petrified wood as I picked up a small 4″ x 3″ piece in a souvenir store as a momento of our trip. However, we came no where close to the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert.
As always like the others, the night before visiting this National Park, we did a little Googling prior to plan our day. We researched what to expect and how to prepare ourselves for the elements (ie. weather, terrain, food/water availability, etc.).
The next morning, we took our showers, had breakfast, packed a cooler lunch, grabbed our hiking gear and patted our fuzzyheads on the heads telling them we’d be back later.
Entrance to the Park…
We posted our first stop at the Visitor’s Center to obtain more info, see where the best trails are, points of interest, etc. We also like pick up a few post cards that I usually send out…a year later. Most importantly, we get our National Park Passport stamped.
Our adventure began…
The first exhibit wasn’t very far up the road; this is the beginning of the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert is a desert of badlands in the Four Corners area from close to the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. Before we knew it, we were looking down into a massive bowl of colorfully layered sandstone and it seemed there were miles and miles of it. We felt so tiny in comparison to the vastness of the landscape.
The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors, that not only include the more common red rock, but even shades of pale purple.
Off topic, isn’t it scary when you hand your camera over to someone, praying they get a good photo? Well, this one did well, didn’t they? I’m always leary of that. I really should master using my selfie stick.
Our next stop, we happened upon the Painted Desert Inn; originally constructed of petrified wood; dated back to the early 1920’s and renovated a decade later with adobe facade. The inn is now a museum with displays of Route 66, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the history of the building. There were also a few local featured artists showcasing their handcrafts and art.
We hopped back in Captain America to drive to our next stop…
Unfortunately, it was difficult to see them. We didn’t have our binoculars with us so, I used my DSLR Camera zoom lens instead to find them. If you click on each photo and then enlarge, you can see them. Or, you can trust me in telling you that they really are there.
Visitors are prohibited to go down to see them up close as its part of the preservation of the Petroglyphs.
Along the trail, there were placards telling us about habitants, dangers and what lurks on the grounds at night…or even while we were there.
How they are formed…
The desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible shale, mudstone, and siltstone of the Triassic Chinle Formation. These sandy rock layers contain abundant compounds of iron and manganese which give the mounds layered colors. The mesas are formed by volcanic lava and debris remnants and thin resistant lacustrine limestone layers. Numerous layers of silicic volcanic ash occur in the Chinle and provide the silica for the petrified logs of the area. The erosion of these layers has resulted in the formation of the badlands topography of the region.
So, in layman’s terms, the silica along with the arid climate is what dries the wood causing it to petrify.
There really wasn’t very much vegetation. Afterall, the Painted Desert is a very barren and unforgiving place for growing green things. But we did find these little pricklies; some species of the Cholla family.
When our RV friends weren’t working their remote jobs, we’d get together for an outing and vittles. One morning, we all rose early to drive out to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for some hiking, sightseeing and to get our National Park Passports stamped.
About the Great Sand Dunes…
Welcome to the Dunes…
After getting parked, we got our passports stamped at the Visitor Center and viewed a video and hands-on informational exhibits.
All four of us headed to the picnic area where we sat down to enjoy some fellowship while chowing down on our cooler full of vittles. We were blessed with beautiful weather too.
Our exciting adventure…
It was already a very warm day so it seemed like it was a little more work but that didn’t stop Dan and Brittany from doing the inevitable; climbing to the top of the dunes. Being that Eric has bad knees and I have back issues, we hung out at the top of the smallest dune to watch Brittany and Dan challenge themselves. We were already 6000′ above sea level, so this was a bit more challenging than just taking a stroll up a 750′ hill, not to mention, it was loose sand.
While Eric and I stood there chatting for what seemed forever (because we stood there in the heat for all of it), Brittany and Dan disappeared over the crest of the first dune. They looked like little ants the further they hiked. We’d see them again and then loose them doing down another…and another…and another.
Brittany’s words upon their return, ‘it was quite exerting; one step forward, three steps back and doing it at higher altitude, we just couldn’t catch our breaths’.
Dan said they had to stop often to empty their shoes which weighted them down. Adding to that, it was a very warm day; about 85 degrees.
A few times, we’d see one of them, bend over in the distance during their climb and stop for awhile. They said they were offered water by some passerby’s (hikers that were faster and more in shape as them?!). Then we’d see them start up again.
The finish line…
An hour and a half later, they successfully made it to the top and another hour and a half after that, they came back tired, weary but celebrated. They were red-faced and a bit dehydrated so Eric and I sacrificed our own water bottles to get them back to looking a normal color. But LOOK at them looking all celebratory!
On the drive back, our tummies were growling so Eric took to googling places to eat in Pueblo. We agreed on the Bingo Burger which turned out to be a very deserved and pleasant meal. Fantastic burgers!Best friends! Good times! Fantastic memories!
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