We left Williams AZ early on Saturday morning for the ~125 mile journey east to Holbrook. We checked in, grabbed a quick lunch and were off to explore The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park.
Millions of years ago, this land was actually located around 10 degrees north of the equator – where Costa Rica lies today. Archeologists have identified animal artifacts that eerily resemble current day animals of that region. As the lands separated, the North American continent floated north to where this land is now approximately 33 degrees north. The land was under water for literally hundreds of thousands of years and the forests that subsequently formed are the result of changes in our earth that are hard to fathom.
The word “forest” conjures up large stands of shady tress and moss covered paths. Nothing could be further from the truth in this barren desert and the remains of the “forest” are now in barren desert land.
The Painted Desert covers over 7,500 sq miles of northeastern Arizona with the Petrified Forest lying in the heart of the Painted Desert so colors and majestic views are prolific throughout the 28 mile journey. These mudstone and sandstone formations are called the Chinle Formation and were deposited some 227 to 205 million years ago. All the colors are the result of iron in the sediment. Drier climates allowed the minerals to be exposed to oxygen, rusting the iron and creating the red, brown and orange colors. Wetter climates “drown” the sediments, allowing little or no contact to oxygen, causing the layers to be blue, gray and purple.
In this area, as well, was the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. Originally built in the late 1910’s, it was acquired by the Petrified Forest National Monument along with 4 sqaure miles of land for $59,600. The facilities was rebuilt by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), beginning with the first camp being established in the spring of 1938, a second established in 1936 and the third camp in 1938. They used ponderosa pine and aspen poles cut from nearby forests for roofing beams and crossbeams. They hand-made light fixtures, tables and chairs, following the designs of Native Americans in the area. It opened for business on July 4, 1940, but enjoyed a short life (October 1942) due to the US involvement in WWII, when the CCC was disbanded. Most of the young men went to war, and travel was curtailed by wartime rationing.
The Painted Desert Inn reopened in the 1940’s under the management of renowned Fred Harvey Company, which had many businesses aligned with the Sante Fe Railway and offered a luxurious plan for travelers to dine and lodge until its closure in 1963. It has since become a museum and example of design and workmanship of the southwest.
One amazing section of the Painted Desert is called “Newspaper Rock”, where as many as 650 petroglyphs are visible, some as old as 2000 years. The National Park Service provides permanently installed binoculars so that we could see the artwork “up close” and it is truly amazing. That being said, we have no pictures to capture this amazing depiction of life of centuries ago.
The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park holds the distinction being the only National Park with the Historic Route 66 running through it. In the area of the park available to visitors, there is no sign of the road but they do have a monument to the Historic Roadway and the remains of a Studebacker that was half-buried in the sand.
As we traveled south, we entered the “Blue Mesa” area, where colors were clearly the result of wetter climates centuries ago, with the shades of blue, gray and purple.
The Agate Bridge is an amazing example of petrified wood — spanning 110′ across a cavern. You can see the concrete support that was installed in the 1950’s, but eventually Mother Nature will win out and the bridge will collapse. Throughout of journey, we saw evidence of changes that occur in the forest, both major and minor.
The Petrified Forest is littered with the remains of those trees of thousands of years ago. Many of them, ironically, have broken into pieces that eerily appear to have been cut with a chain saw!
Our last stop was the Crystal Forest, where a 3/4 mile path takes you through an amazing collection of petrified wood where the interior of the trees have become totally crystalized. The colors resemble the painted desert – in the rust, orange, blue and purple of the desert we had traversed over the past 4 hours.
After leaving the Park, we returned to Holbrook to trace more of Route 66. We HAD to find the Wigwam Motel, which is such an iconic symbol of what this historic byway was in its heyday.
It is hard to read, but sign says “Have you slept in a wigwam lately?”
It was an amazing afternoon!