Petrified Forest National Park
Well, the storm I wrote about waiting out in my last post left northern New Mexico slick with seriousl layers of ice and snow. I had planned to continue north to visit archaeological sites but the farther I traveled the worse the road condition became until I just decided to more or less do it a different time. Knowing I needed to go south towards areas of lower elevation I decided to drive into Arizona and visit the Petrified Forest National Park.
The Petrified Forest National Park protects one of the largest and most colorful collections of petrified wood in the country as well as Ancestral Puebloan sites and Triassic-age fossils. Formed by fallen trees and stumps soaking up groundwater that contained a wide variety of minerals, the petrified wood in the park crystallized into rainbow-colored quartz after being buried by millenia of sediment. The only other place I have seen such quantities of petrified wood in such a staggering kaleidoscope of colors was at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah, but they have nowhere near the quantity present here.
Common to areas with concentrations of petrified matter are colorful badlands and mudstone, evidence of mineral concentrations that leached into the groundwater and, ultimately, the petrified logs. The park is famous in particular for an area called The Painted Desert, but badlands and colorful mudstone are found throughout the park. At the time of my visit many of the colorful hills were covered in snow but I certainly saw more than a few – including the uniquely-cobalt stripes of the Blue Mesa – and certainly plenty of petrified logs littered across the grasslands of the park. I also stopped and explored the Puebloan village of Rio Puerco, a settlement containing over 100 rooms that was in use between ca. 1250 and 1380 AD. Though some of the site has been backfilled, I was able to view multiple rooms and nearby petroglyphs of the ancient trading village.