Our next move was a short one, only about 30 miles from Winslow to Holbrook, AZ. But since we planned to make a couple of visits to Petrified Forest National Park before continuing east, it made more since to move closer to the park. Based on Jodee’s recommendation (On the Road Abode) we are staying in OK RV Park. It’s one of those parks where you park next to your neighbors, who pull through in the opposite direction. We don’t usually like this kind of situation but the sites are so long that your neighbor is a comfortable distance behind you.
After setting up we took a five minute tour of the town of Holbrook. It only took that long because the town is small and there is little to see. The next morning we headed east about 30 miles for our first visit to Petrified Forest NP.
The park is accessed and explored by a 28 mile long road that runs north/south, with entrances at either end. We drove southeast of Holbrook on US-180 and entered the park through the south gate. Just inside the gate is the Rainbow Forest Museum/Visitor Center where we watched a well-done 18 minute video that explained the process of petrification of wood and the evolution of the landscape of the park. Right behind the museum is a short series of trails through an area called Giant Logs. The area is filled with pieces of petrified wood of various sizes and lengths.
We left the Jeep in the museum parking lot and walked about a quarter mile up the road to the beginning of the Long Logs and Agate House Trail.
This 2.6 mile trail goes through an area of long petrified logs and a pueblo constructed of petrified wood.
The eight room pueblo, built entirely of petrified wood, has been dated to approximately the year 900 and occupied through 1200. The agatized wood (wood petrified with agate) was laid in a clay mortar, instead of the more usual sandstone-and-mortar masonry of the area. The ruins of Agate House were reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933-34.
We returned to the Jeep and continued driving north through the park. Our next stop was for a look at the Agate Bridge, located just a few feet from the park road. Centuries of scouring floodwaters washed out a gully beneath this 110-foot long petrified log and formed a natural bridge. The petrified log, harder than the sandstone around it, resisted erosion and remained suspended as the softer rock beneath it washed away.
Early visitors to the park felt the bridge needed architectural support and in 1911 erected masonry pillars beneath the log. In 1917 the present concrete span replaced the masonry work. Current National Park Service philosophy allows the natural forces that create unusual features to continue, so if discovered today Agate Bridge would be left in its natural state.
Our next stop was to an area called Blue Mesa. From a parking area on top of the mesa a one mile trail drops steeply down and makes a loop through badland hills of bluish bentonite clay and pieces of petrified wood.
Back on top of the mesa there is a viewing area where you can look down to the loop trail. A display board there has an interesting story that caught our attention. It describes a man who visited the spot as a boy, then returned to the same place 50 years later with his grandchildren.
He had a photo taken by his parents on his first visit. Using the photo, he was able to find the same exact spot and had a new photo taken, 50 years later!
Our final stop of the day was at the Puerco Pueblo. A paved walk takes you through the remains of a hundred room pueblo occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago.
The short, paved trail loops around the ruins and along the edge overlooking a dry wash. The rocks below are filled with Indian artwork. One display board shows a picture of a White Faced Ibis with a rock carving below it.
There are a number of different explanations as to what the bird is holding but the most logical is that it is a frog, since an Ibis eats frogs.
Contemporary indigenous people have identified the stairs-like symbol below as a migratory image.
The images below depict circular faces on a dark rock surface. Modern groups identify these as Kachinas, or spirit beings in Pueblo religion and cosmology.
Throughout the Southwest, some petroglyphs (images carved into a rock surface) and pictographs (images painted onto a rock surface) have been found to mark astronomical events during the year, such as the summer solstice, winter solstice, and both spring and fall equinoxes. One such petroglyph can be easily viewed at Puerco Pueblo. For about two weeks around June 21, an interaction of light and shadow passes across the rings of this small, circular design as the sun rises.
There are more interesting places to explore in this park, so we’ll return tomorrow entering from the north. More on that later . . .