Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Northeastern AZ: Petrified Forest National Park and The Painted Desert

Petrified Forest National Park is one of three national parks in Arizona ... bonus points if you can name the other two!  It's known for its large deposits of petrified wood, i.e. trees that turned to stone since about a bazillion years have passed. Also in PFNP, the "Painted Desert" and its extraordinary colorful beauty!

It's a quirky little park, with very distinct areas for sightseeing and hiking dotted along a 26 mile road, so lots of driving in between, which suits us just fine!  It's also one of the very very very few national parks where dogs are allowed on the trails.  Score!

PFNP is also kinda mind-blowing because you're driving along through the park seeing lots and lots of THIS .....

... thinking to yourself, there can't possibly be anything beautiful out here and yelling at your partner that they must have made a wrong turn (sorry, honey, for what I said when I was hungry).  Then you turn a corner and WHAM!  Where in the world did THAT come from!?

It happened time and again, alternating between ho-hum-yawn stretches of flat, barren, well what can I say but "butt-ugly" nothingness, and then suddenly converting to great (and greatly varying!) desert beauty.  

At the top of the bluff in the north end of the park (can you spot it?), the Painted Desert Inn was an actual hotel until 1963, but is now a museum and no lodging is actually available anymore.

One of the most beautiful PFNP hiking trails is through Blue Mesa, with its otherworldly colors and formations.

The Agate House is a partially reconstructed pueblo built completely from petrified wood, thereby allowing the inhabitants to decline fire and flood insurance on their homeowners policy.

You gotta hike out to see it, but totally worth the trek!  

The folks who built this place in the year 900 A.D. eschewed traditional sandstone and laid the agatized wood in a clay mortar instead.  In time-honored tradition, the Indian mom and Indian dad undoubtedly had a real doozy of an argument over which rocks to use, with so many to pick from.

Along the way throughout the park, you can see scattered bits of petrified rock ...

... but they save the really good stuff for the Giant Logs Trail, not really a trail per se since it's only 0.3 mile long, but with easy access to the big daddies.  This one is more than ten feet in diameter!

You can google the science-y things that formed the area if you're interested, but everything is plus-or-minus 225 million years old.  The visitor center tells us it looked like this.  Hard to believe in today's world of global warming!

There are more than 600 archaeologic sites and petroglyphs through the area.  
This ancient symbol indicates "migration."

This ancient symbol indicates parents have been lying to children about "babies being brought by storks" since the beginning of time.

POP QUIZ!  Were you paying attention in the last blog post about El Morro NM and the guy who brought 20 camels through there?  Well guess what!  That guy really got around!  Because he brought them here too!

While certainly not our FAVORITE National Park ever, it was an interesting and fun full-day's-worth of exploration in our very own home state!

Our last stop was at Fools Hollow State Park in Show Low, AZ.  It's a popular, beautiful getaway in Eastern Arizona, but semi-deserted at this time of year.  We slid Lucky Charm into her forest hideaway ...

... and awoke the next morning to a winter wonderland!  

Because we usually travel in summer, this is the first time that snow has fallen on the Lucky Charm.  Yay!

It's pretty crazy that we traveled for all these weeks through all these states, and the most dramatic weather we encountered ended up being on the last day of the trip, a mere 167 miles from home!

Even more crazy, it's 29 degrees here, but will be 91 degrees in Phoenix four days from now.  Talk about shock!

We covered 3,639 miles over 7 delightful weeks, including three more National Parks to add to our memory gallery.

We had a few big speed bumps during the trip, including the death of Philip's sweet momma Georgia, as well as our beloved 12-year-old dog Bella, but in RV'ing, as in life, ya just gotta keep rolling.

Of course, we don't blog about the ordinary or unpleasant stuff in-between all the great stuff ... who would? 

When the dog gets into the beef jerky and has constant room-clearing farts for three days -- and there is nowhere to go to get away, in your 200 sq. ft. home.  

It wasn't me!  I swear!

When your husband is still working full-time and has to take conference calls during excursions and be glued to the computer all other times in between.

One of our many "satellite offices": Standing in line for Austin's world famous Franklin BBQ.

And when there are endless miles and miles of nothing to see and nothing to do
(we're talking to YOU, west Texas).

Along the way, we stayed to the speed limit ...

...Ignored personal questions from strangers...(whatttt? whyyyy?)

...and indulged in lots and lots of the "good stuff"!

Through it all, I remain ever in awe of my amazing husband Philip. Since we met 13 years ago, he has had one knee replacement surgery, two hip replacement surgeries, three major back surgeries, one hand surgery, and one eye surgery. Yet he just keeps on working himself back again each time, not letting his 64 years of youth nor his health challenges keep him from enjoying this crazy outdoor lifestyle we both adore.  

We added a few more states to our road map this trip, but more importantly we added about a billion more memories! In June, we'll be heading back to two of our favorite places, Idaho and Wyoming, for six weeks. And, we're already scheming on a plan to go to the upper Northeast coast for FOUR MONTHS in 2019! Wahooooo! Until next time, thanks for following along!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

TX and NM: Man's Artwork vs. God's Artwork

Along Route 66 just outside Amarillo, TX is one of America's most interesting art installations:  Cadillac Ranch.  You can see it from the freeway:  what the heck is that?

Invented in 1974 by a group of San Francisco hippies (let the stereotypes abound!) called the Ant Farm, they wanted to create something that would "baffle the locals." Mission accomplished!

They found an Amarillo billionaire with a big piece of empty land to spare, and half-buried ten Cadillacs nose down in the ground, supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The cars went in order of the changing evolution of the tail fin on the Cadillac, from 1949 Club Sedan to 1963 Sedan de Ville. 

Of course, as soon as it was installed, people started to deface it with spray paint and rip off pieces of the cars as souvenirs.

The artists were delighted!  People were INTERACTING with their art! 

Forty-four years have now passed and they are still there.  Tourists, pets, yuppies, everyone is still welcome and there is no ticket taker, no entrance fee, no gift shop. 

Visitors are encouraged (heck, practically required) to bring their own spray paint and leave their mark.  But you'd best take a picture of your handiwork, because within hours or days, it will be painted over by someone else!

Even the ground, the fence, the dumpsters are not immune from artistic expression.

The State of Texas is not amused but can't do anything about the cars, which are on private property.

Cadillac Ranch is a testament to the free spirit of Americans, who want to be naughty but don't want to be arrested for it.  Wahoooooo!

Leaving Man's Artwork behind us, we headed back through New Mexico on our way home. 
In search of (and likely to find):  God's Artwork! And boy, did NM deliver ... in spades!

Near the Native American hamlet of Cochiti Pueblo, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument was some of the most spectacular hiking we've ever done!

We've going to the TOP!

The cone-shaped tent rock formations came from volcanic eruptions 6-7 millions years ago.


The layering of volcanic material creates the bands of grey, pink and beige rocks.

Over time, wind and water created amazing slot canyons and arroyos, for lots of hiking fun!

The Canyon Trail is only 3-miles round trip, but a steep 630-foot climb to the top leaves you breathless ... for many reasons!  WOW what a view!

Kasha Katuwe ("white cliffs") is only 35 miles from Santa Fe, and 52 miles from Albuquerque, but in terms of a "bang for your buck" combo of beauty and accessibility, a fantastic find!

Another quick but interesting stop south is the "Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano," south of Grants, NM.  A hike amongst jagged, broken lava and sinkholes ...

...past twisted trees up to 700 years old (they are twisted and gnarled because trees growing in lava find it hard to establish deep roots) ...

... to a steep set of stairs ....

... to "THE ICE CAVE"!

The green tint is caused by an Arctic algae.

Formed 3,400 years ago, this floor of the ice is 20 feet thick!

The temperature in the cave never gets above 31 degrees F.  
Be sure to bring a cuddly friend to keep you warm! 

Leaving the Ice Cave, we trekked up a nearby mountain to view the Bandera Crater, one of 29 in the area.  And you thought you had to go to Hawaii for volcanoes!

Erupting 10,000 years ago, this crater is 1,400 feet wide and 800 feet deep.
Time, erosion and gravity are taking their toll on it (as they are on me, too)
and it is slowing filling up as cinders and rocks fall down into it.

Lastly, our final NM stop for viewing of God's Artwork was El Morro National Monument.

El Morro is a great sandstone promontory with similarly great hiking, and a spectacular storytelling history carved into its walls.

Ancestral Puebloans, Spanish and American travelers heading west would stop here for it's year-round pool of life-sustaining water. The dark lines on the rocks show the spillways where water flows down when it rains.

Here, on "Inscription Rock," over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages and petroglyphs have been carved and left for posterity. Call it "ancient graffiti"  ... though longer-lasting than spray paint on old Cadillacs!  They all have a story to tell! Here are just a few of my favorite examples!

The earliest marking are Puebloan petroglyphs. Can you make out some of the shapes?

Starting in 1583, Spanish travelers began to stop by, and later, a wave of visitors following this route west as part of America's westward expansion, each adding to this "rock autograph book" with fragments of their stories.

Custodians of the monument know many of their stories. For instance, very few women left their marks, but Miss A.E. Baley was one of the exceptions. She and her sister Amelia were part of a wagon party headed from Missouri to California in 1858. After leaving El Morro, the sixty Anglo travelers in her party were attacked by 800 Mojave Indians, killing 9 and injuring 17. The caravan retreated to Albuquerque to wait out the winter, but the Baley sisters eventually made it to Fresno County. Now that's a tough dame for ya!

In the "truth is stranger than fiction" category, P. (Peachy) Breckinridge was in charge of 25 camels being led past El Morro in 1857, as they were being tested by the U.S. Army for their usefulness (and superiority to horses or mules) in crossing the deserts of the Southwest. Predictably, they caused quite a stir as the exotic beasts made their eventual way to Los Angeles.  (Peachy also wins the "BEST FONT" award.)

Many of the inscriptions were in Spanish as their writers were participants in the Spanish settlement of New Mexico. Ramon Garcia Jurado wrote: "On the 25th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, Ramon Garcia Jurado passed through here on the way to Zuni."

Many inscriptions have religious connotations. R.H. Orton was sent to New Mexico in the early years of the Civil War to reinforce Federal troops expecting Confederate hostilities.

In 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad ran a survey through here, but the project was never carried out. Workers on the survey crew carved their names and messages, though the Santa Fe Railroad 25 miles north rerouted travelers and ended El Morro's place as a stopover on the route west.

And so it continued, over 2,000 inscriptions, all telling tales as passers-by sought to leave their mark!

Continuing past Inscription Rock, a strenuous hike on the Mesa Top Trail leads to the top of El Morro National Monument.


Made it!

What is difficult to convey in these photos is how ALONE we were. Gloriously, spectacularly, the only ones on the top of the mountain. Here is where we relaxed with a picnic lunch, high above the desert floor:

Now, for scale, see if you can find the brick wall on the right in the photo above, in the wide shot below! That's where we hung out, just me, Philip, Sprinkles, the sun and the breeze!

Besides our ham sandwiches, also to be found at the very top of El Morro is "Atsinna," the remains of a 700-year-old pueblo. Atsinna means "place of writings on the rock."

Occupied from around 1275 to 1400, the entire pueblo was at least 875 multi-storied, connected rooms that housed up to 1,500 people at its peak population.

We could get THAT CLOSE to the ruins! It was extraordinarily special, for humans AND dogs.

Only 18 of the 875+ rooms, plus a round and square kiva, plus numerous artifacts, were excavated in the 1950's.

Since then, the focus has shifted from excavation to preservation.

El Morro is a little-known, rarely-visited treasure not far over the Arizona/New Mexico border.

Even the Lucky Charm's accommodations have been naturally beautiful in this part of the country.
For example, the Cochiti Lake Campground ... can you spot Lucky Charm -- 3rd from left in the back row?

We have to "call" this contest ... God's Artwork wins

As we chugga-chugga-choo-choo our way back home ....

we've got one more National Park to visit: 
Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, in Northern Arizona!
This seven week adventure is rapidly drawing to a close.  Cue the tears!