"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Four Geological POIs in Arizona

We've been gradually traveling east through Arizona on I-40, stopping for a few days to a week at a time to see what there is to see along the way.  Unlike the richly vegetated desert around Tucson and Phoenix, the territory in eastern AZ is a monochromatic beige, sparsely covered with what I would call scrub brush and tumble weed. But, hidden in the nooks and crannies off the highway is some pretty surprising scenery.  Four unusual geological features drew our attention.

We made a rest stop between Williams and Holbrook, near Winslow, to see the Meteor Crater, aka Barringer's Crater, a privately owned attraction about 5 miles off the highway, with plenty of parking for RVs.  (No dogs allowed in the attraction. Fortunately it was a cool, breezy day, so Honey waited in the car for awhile.)

There is a nice visitor's center with an admission fee, which houses a museum,  restrooms, a gift shop, a courtyard, a Subway (!),  access to the crater via various walkways, balconies and overlooks...

...and a very neat view of Mount Humphreys in Flagstaff.

The crater is described as "the best preserved meteorite impact site on Earth" by the Meteor Crater company, and is 2.4 miles in circumference, obviously too big to fit in my camera frame. Here we have side A...

 ...and side B.

Two of the overlook structures provide viewing scopes directed at points of interest in the crater.  Bring your binoculars if you really are interested in seeing anything. Glad we saw what we did, but I wouldn't make it a destination. If you wanted to though, there was a very nice looking RV park right off Rt. 40 at the exit to Meteor Crater. 

Once settled in Holbrook at the KOA there (another place I wouldn't make a destination), we explored the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert, which is a subdivision of the National Park.  Holbrook is one of those towns that had a booming history when Rt. 66 brought tourists through for overnights and meals. Now it's almost a ghost town. Many old motels and restaurants, half of which seem to be closed down. 

The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park is a great day trip from Holbrook though.  There is a 20 mile scenic drive through both parts of the park, with a Visitor's Center at each end, AND dogs are allowed everywhere in the park except in the buildings. That's really unusual for national parks. So we all took the scenic drive, stopping at overlooks and trails. 

Heading north from I-40 you come first to the Painted Desert Visitors Center and then a series of overlooks giving you these kinds of views of a relatively small portion of the Painted Desert. 

The Painted Desert is actually a large colorful badlands desert that arcs about 120 by 60 miles across northeastern Arizona and the Navajo Nation.  On the far left of the above picture you can see the Painted Desert Inn (also below). It's an historic building, serving as an inn in some form for over 100 years. It's a beautiful building, inside and out, and worth a stop.

The scenic drive proceeds south, crosses under I-40 and enters the Petrified Forest area. First you pass the TeePees (below).

Then you enter the large Blue Mesa area, where many of the petrified logs can be seen. Some are precariously perched atop the hills while others have washed down into the eroded valleys.

The Blue Mesa is named for the eroded and dramatically exposed blue, purple and white mudstone layers of the larger Chinle Formation.

The Blue Mesa Trail is a nice dog-friendly walk through the area. 

Standing on the edge of the mesa you can see the eroded run-off of many colors. 

At one of the pull-offs you can walk to the Agate Bridge - a very large petrified log that spans a small canyon.  The National Park was created to protect these large deposits of petrified wood from commercial, professional and hobbyist rock hounds. The surrounding communities are just chock-a-block full of purveyors of petrified wood, hopefully collected from private lands.  You can still find some historic buildings built from petrified wood, and city buildings with fence posts and walls made of the colorful stuff.  Everyone seems to have at least one big hunk in their yard.

The Agate Bridge

Near the southern end of the park there are many more opportunities to see lots of petrified wood, and to purchase pieces, large and small as well. We succumbed and got a little polished chunk glued to a magnet for our fridge.

The fourth geological feature we visited was Window Rock (below) which besides being an interesting sight, is a town and the government center of the Navajo Nation.  Think of it as roughly equivalent to a state capitol where the tribal council, courts, attorneys, law enforcement, education, and other social services have their headquarters. 

The government buildings are nestled among the cliffs and prominences. 

Next to Window Rock itself there is a Tribal Veterans Memorial Park, including a statue honoring the Navajo Code Talkers.

Now we're in Gallup, NM, Native American arts and crafts capital of the world, coping with high winds and blowing dust. We hope to make an excursion to Canyon de Chelly one of these days, when the wind dies down. 

Rick and Honey say "Hi from the Great Southwest!"

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