Southwestern Marvels

Trip Start Aug 04, 2012
Trip End Mar 06, 2013

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Friday, September 14, 2012

Today was a very long day! My mom and I woke up early and headed 20 miles east of Holbrook, where we were staying, and entered into the Petrified Forest National Park. Yesterday, we drove over to the park, but due to the fact that we arrived in the late afternoon, we did not actually get to enter the park. So this morning we decided to go back to the park and see what it was all about. 

After the first mile of driving in the park, we came to a beautiful lookout over the painted desert! The painted desert reminded my mom of the Badlands in South Dakota. I found it striking that the rock formations in the desert, seemed to come out of nowhere, and both my mom and I learned that the "Badland" like landscape is created through years of rainfall and snowmelt. Being a hydrology major, and Earth science junky, I love learning obscure little facts like that! The second stop we took to look over the desert was next to a beautiful adobe style lodge that showed me a close up view of the unique southwest style. After a few more lookout stops through the painted desert, we crossed over the interstate and headed southward to the petrified forest section of the park. 

The entire park is along one main 28 mile stretch of road with most of the attractions right on the road. As we continued to drive through the park we were accompanied by fabulous rock formations and wide open spaces. It took us a bit of time to see our first piece of petrified wood, but slowly the red stones were seen marooned out in the arid scrubland. Soon we made a quick turnoff at the "Agate Bridge", which was an entire petrified tree that had fallen across an arch in the rocks, creating a bridge. This was a very neat sight and we met a friendly pair of Polish travelers who were doing a big road trip across the western United States via motorcycle. From here we continued south a little ways until we stopped at a beautiful little trail that seemed to be garnished with the lithified tree trunks. It was absolutely incredible! The colors elicited by these rocks were beyond description. As we puttered along the trail, we came to a plaque that told us all about the formation of petrified wood, which pleased me very much! According to the sign, the trees were covered under a thick blanket of silt, back when the area acted as a floodplain, and with the force from being buried, along with the replacement of oxygen with silica rich minerals (such as quartz), the trees turned from biomass to stone. Silica crystals formed in the pieces of wood, thus giving them their stunning color. From here we drove until we exited the land and parked at a gift shop right on the outside of the park for some good old souvenir shopping. However, the gift shop we stopped at was closed, which gave my mother and I a good laugh, as we walked across the street to a seemingly identical gift store. Here I bought some petrified wood for my rock collection (can you say "nerd"?) and a few post cards to send to the loved ones who were not on the trip with us.

After our fantastic detour, that we couldn't stop raving about, we trekked west towards the town of Williams, which acts as the gateway for the Grand Canyon! The journey was 200 miles, but we made surprisingly good time, pulling into Williams at lunch time. After we fulfilled our hunger, we decided that we should go to the canyon! The trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon seemed to take forever, possibly because we had been driving all morning, and adding an extra 50 miles was a bit daunting, or because I was super excited about the destination! The drive took us through the Kaibab National Forest, past a group of wind turbines, and across a seemingly endless scrubland. Eventually we made it to the park, where we immediately had trouble finding parking. After a few minutes of circling the parking lot we parked our car in some non-existant parking spot next to some RVs. I was a complete basketcase and wanted my first view of the canyon! I hardly gave my mom any time to get organized because I was far to antsy for any shenanigans. I (more or less) ran to try to find an overlook to view one of (if not the most) iconic landmarks in the United States, which proved to be quite the task as the park trails leading to the lookout points were more like a maze to me than a direct route. But eventually, I found my way to the canyon, and grand it was! I cannot truly do it justice on here, and if you have yet to see this spectacle, you must do so. We walked along the lovely rim trail needing to stop every so often so we could soak in the view. After walking and gazing for a bit, we arrived at the Yavapai Geology Museum, which I loved immensely! It answered a lot of my burning, nerdy, Earth science questions I had about the canyon. It was truly wonderful. 

After we purchased a water bottle, and some more post cards from the museum, we walked back to the visitor's center and tried to formulate a plan for tomorrow, when we will have all day to explore the park. After chatting over some possible ideas we decided that we should just take the shuttle down about 10 miles from the visitor's center and spend all day walking back. And although we had our game plan for tomorrow, we both weren't to thrilled with the idea of leaving the park just yet, as it was only 3 o'clock. So we decided to walk east toward Yaki point. This was a great idea because the trail was not fraught with tourists, as it was when we walked toward the Geology Museum. We had the chance to see some incredible views with very little obstruction. My mom and I also gawked at the bizarre looking trees that adorned the trail. I believe most were juniper trees, and my mom identified one kind of tree as a species of oak. We also saw a California condor, which was very exciting! After walking for 45 minutes, we turned back and returned to our car. 

The drive back to Williams seemed to go quicker, and once back in town we stopped at the Safeway and bought some strawberries, chips, cookies, and wine for a relaxing evening at the hotel. I'm so excited for tomorrow, knowing I will get an even better look at the fantastic and jaw dropping Grand Canyon!
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