On our way from Albuquerque to the house we were renting near Flagstaff, we planned to stop at the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. Frankly, it was along the way, and we figured we might as well stop and take a few pictures, and move on. Our expectations were not exceptionally high. We thought it would be interesting and good for an hour or so. We might have set our hopes a little low…
The scenery as you drive toward the area of the park that contains the petrified wood is nothing short of stunning. The landscape opens up to the wide vista of the Painted Desert, so named for the brilliant variation in colors among the unique and fascinating rock formations. Some of the colors range through what you would expect from rock – beiges, browns, reds, grays…but then you see pink, and you see lavender, you see pale blues. There’s sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, even volcanic flows that have solidified long ago. There are canyons, buttes, mesas, hoodoos. It’s beautiful. It’s surprising. It’s otherworldly.
Further into the park, you come across “Newspaper Rock” – which contains petroglyphs, carvings from the time of Christ – said to contain family / clan symbols, religious symbols, calendar / seasonal markings, and mysterious other symbols, whose meanings we can only imagine.
Further still and you arrive at a landscape littered with petrified rock: huge chunks of what was once wood, but has turned to stone through the process of petrification. This occurs underground, while mineral laden water seeps through the ground and organic matter of the wood absorbs the minerals. Over time, the organic matter of the wood cells decompose and the minerals that have filled them remain in place, thus creating stone.
We were able to study these fossils up close, to be awed by the history, the science, the beauty. We touched the huge chunks, walked around them, stared at them, discussed them. We were so much more impressed by them than we thought we would be. We are so thankful that we made this stop.
The next day, we were tooling down the highway and saw a sign for Meteor Crater. It was basically off the highway, and so…sure, why not? We didn’t quite know what to expect, except of course, a big hole in the ground. Indeed, it was a big hole! It was from a collision with a meteorite said to have slammed into the earth at a speed of 26,000 mph, somewhere around 50,000 years ago. It’s about a mile in diameter and 500 feet deep. We climbed the steep walkway in 40 mph winds, got an incredible view of the surrounding dessert and a direct look deep into this massive hole. As Jesse Pinkman would say, “Yeah, science!” The kids were mighty impressed, and without hesitation, so were the parents.