After driving six hours from Taos, New Mexico and settling in at our RV park I turned my attention to the Petrified Forest National Park. I have to admit I didn’t know anything about it beyond the fact that ancient trees had been turned into rocks, that’s all I knew. It turns out there is way more to this Park.
The Park is a real “Tapestry through time” with brightly painted hills that shows the passage of 250 million years. These bands of color represent different eras going back to when we were just one giant continent and the Arizona desert area where this Park is located was a tropical jungle with a climate and location close to were Costa Rica is today. All kinds of animals and dinosaurs roamed this area and their fossilized remains are still found here. This area is rich for continual discovery and it must be a dream destination for archeologists.
After viewing a video of the park at the welcome center, we started a 26 mile drive through the park. The drive has stopping points of interest easily marked and some lead to trails that take you up close to the rock formations and the petrified wood.
There are at least 20 stopping spots where you can take your time viewing the landscape or go for a hike into the painted valley. There is a hotel, which is now a museum, along the drive. This hotel catered to people driving though this area on the old Route 66. The building is a typical adobe structure and the interior walls are decorated with Native American motifs. This hotel being so remote, must have been such an exotic stop in the early 1900’s. Of course all of this was before it was designated a National Park. I can’t even imagine those early visitors being able to run free through the desert and all of the sensitive landscape.
You can easily spend most of the day driving and visiting interesting spots. Two of our favorites and must not miss stops were the Blue Mesa hike and Crystal Forest.
The Blue Mesa is a moderate (difficulty) one mile hike (very steep at some points) that takes you on a loop into the painted valley. Here you can get up close to see the colorful bands that mark the passage of time in these hills. There are interesting petrified wood formation, which from afar look like real wood but when seen up close are rocks with beautiful crystal formations running through them. These petrified rocks were seen in masses at the Crystal Forest, where you walk through a variety of sizes and formations. They are amazing.
The next day (which today is May 22) we turned our wheels towards Sedona, Arizona for a four day stay. I’ll go more into Sedona at a later date but the beauty of having an RV is the ability to stop along the way for lunch at unusual places. That’s exactly what we found in Meteor Crater National Park. It’s located in Winslow half way between Petrified Forest and Sedona. We didn’t know what to expect but we read that it was big rig friendly and we decided to pull in for a lunch break and to check out the welcome center.
This was the perfect stop for Leo, i.e., lots of room and turn radius friendly…. it was made to order. At the welcome center you can browse the gift shop and take in a movie about how this crater was formed by the impact of the meteor more than 50 thousand years ago. The hike around the crater rim is about a mile long. We decided to join a tour around part of the rim that lasted about an hour with a running commentary from the park guide. I found it very informative and the weather up there was cool due to the high winds they experience at the top.
The elevation here is about 6000 feet. As we were leaving the visitor center we noticed a courtyard with a brick wall in which a strategically placed cut out framed the distance San Francisco Peaks towards which we were headed. It was the perfect send off.