As we drove towards Santa Fe, we saw one simple sign advertising the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Needing a break from driving, we followed the arrows to the Southern tip of the park and paid $10 a car to enter.
What a treat. This was our one detour on our Southwest road trip which really proves that you need to toss aside the map and just explore sometimes.
The first section of the joined park was the Petrified Forest, where chunk after chunk of wood-turned-to-stone littered the hillsides. The park ranger explained that the park contained just 10% of the area's fossilized wood.
How does wood turn to stone? In a nutshell, all of the organic material is replaced by minerals, and usually in less than 100 years. All of this occurs underground. The wood is buried, where oxygen is removed and mineral-rich water runs through the wood, taking its shape and pattern. Eventually the minerals harden, and, voila (!) you have stone.
Turn into one of the several turn-outs to walk along the wood stones (stay on the paths, please) or venture into the small museum. It's free.
The park offers a few areas in which to see petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are carvings made by scratching off the surface layer of the rock. The petroglyphs found within the park were made 600-800 years ago by the people of the Puerco Pueblo.
The end of the park boasts the 'Painted Desert'. Layers of sea foam, rusty reds, pale yellows and misty blues whip together to make hills. (These are most colorful at sun rise or sun set). Cameras will never be able to capture the subtle differences in the colors and the magnitude of the vast area. Put away the Canon, and just enjoy.
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