Tag Archive | Southwest

SW National Parks Trip: Petrified Forest History

Petrified Forest National Park is located right along Interstate 40, so we were going to drive straight through it on our way from Albuquerque to the Grand Canyon.  So, of course, it was next on our list!

Petrified Forest National Park contains 221,552 acres (146 square miles) of land, which is divided into two main areas, the Petrified Forest which gives the park its name, and the Painted Desert.  Each area is very different.  The petrified logs were created in the late Triassic period, about 225 million years ago.  At this point in history the area was sub-tropical, warm and humid.  Trees fell into streams and sometimes were quickly covered with sediment.  This allowed the organic material to remain intact, and over time minerals leached into the wood and replaced the organic material.  The wood becomes stone.

Petrified Wood on a Beautiful Spring Day

Petrified Wood on a Beautiful Spring Day

The area within the park is known as the Chinle Formation, which is present throughout much of the Southwest, and contains many different types of sedimentary rock in different colors.  The Colorado Plateau on which the area sits began to be pushed upward about 60 million years ago, exposing the Chinle Formation to erosion.  The different layers erode at different rates and form a gorgeous landscape of different colors and types of sediments, with raised hills dotting the valley.  The Painted Desert section of the park shows the layers very well, which create the amazing colors.

Gorgeous Layers of Color

Gorgeous Layers of Color

The park contains a number of fossils, in addition to the fossilized wood.  Fossils found in the park have included Late Triassic ferns, cycads (which are a type of tropical tree), ginkgo trees, giant reptiles called phytosaurs (a large reptile that had many similarities to modern crocodiles), large amphibians, and early dinosaurs. The park has had researchers unearthing fossils since the early 20th century.

The area’s earliest human inhabitants arrived about 8,000 years ago, around the same time humans arrived in most of the other areas of the Southwest.  Eventually, like other Puebloan people, they began building pit houses and above ground pueblos.  The park contains over 600 archaeological sites, including the remnants of pit houses, pueblos and petroglyphs.  They abandoned the area around 1400 C.E., like other settlements in the Southwest, probably because of a prolonged drought.

Spanish explorers visited in the 16th century, and American survey teams went through the area in the 19th century looking for a route to the West.  Additional travel through the area and the railroad increased visitation, and sadly, more visitors resulted in the theft of a significant amount of petrified wood.

To protect the area, Petrified Forest was named a National Monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and the designation was changed to a National Park in 1962.  Annual visitation is now approximately 600,000 annually.  In my next post, I will tell you about my visit!


SW National Parks Trip: The Beginning

When: April 22, 2014 – April 23, 2014 (morning)
Where: Seattle, WA to Long Beach, CA to Barstow, CA to Zion National Park, Springdale, UT

Our first day on vacation was largely one of travel and logistics. Jon had to work and we weren’t flying out of Seattle until 5:15 that afternoon, so I considered working a half day, but in the end, I decided I was burned out and didn’t want to work. I spent the morning clearing my camera memory cards because I decided not to bring the laptop.

We drove down to Seattle in the early afternoon and met Jon’s friend Tyler, who had graciously agreed to take us to the airport. Once there we bought an airport dinner of Wolfgang Puck’s deli sandwiches to take on the plane with us. I had the Turkey Club with avocado – it was decent but the avocado spread was a bit too spicy for me. Jon didn’t like his veggie sandwich at all. It had eggplant, which would have been good but he hated the pesto spread on it. He did eat some of my sandwich instead. I guess that leaves us still looking for the perfect SeaTac airport “to-go” food. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

On the plane, Alaska Airlines was serving complimentary local beer and wine, so we had a Pyramid India Pale Lager. It was very good, tasting more like a Pale Ale than your typical lager. After an uneventful, smooth flight, we landed in Long Beach, picked up our wonder car for the trip – a teal blue Nissan Versa – got some coffee and tea, and began the last leg of the day’s travel.  It was about 8:30 pm when we headed away from the airport.

Just an FYI – if you have the opportunity to fly into Long Beach (LGB), I would choose it over Los Angeles (LAX) in a heartbeat.  It is way smaller, with only about 10 gates in the main terminal, and has a beautiful outdoorsy layout.  To pick up your rental car, you just walk across the street to the car rental building.

Two hours of boring, freeway driving later, we found our palace for the night – the Super 8 in Barstow, California. No frills, but a clean, warm place to sleep and shower. And best of all, cheap. We would only be there for 8 hours – the luxury would come later in the trip. It was very cold and windy that night, but the skies were clear.

On the plus side – I fell asleep right away and slept really well… until 3:30 am… Jon got really restless then because he was still hungry from dinner the night before, because he didn’t really like his sandwich, and we didn’t get any snacks for the road on our way to Barstow. So, we were both tossing and turning until we finally got up at 5. Which is fortunate, because at 5:15 am, as I was in the shower, I heard a noise. It was the smoke detector chirping! Good thing we hadn’t wanted to sleep in!

We had a Super 8 breakfast of cereal, oatmeal and yogurt, and took some coffee and tea and apples for the road. We were back on the road at 5:50 am, to continue the long drive to Zion National Park. We drove through Las Vegas right about 8 am, and felt very thankful that we were driving in the opposite direction as the morning rush hour.

We stopped for gas and snacks in Primm, Nevada, and discovered that they carried scorpion suckers – lollipops with an actual scorpion inside. You could have apple or banana flavor. I’m sure you’ll be surprised that we didn’t buy them. They also carried gusanos (the same worm they put in the mezcal bottles) and crickets as treats. We didn’t buy those either.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen treats like that in Washington!

Don't you want to suck on this and reveal the delicious treat inside?  To be honest, I feel bad for the scorpion.

Don’t you want to suck on this and reveal the delicious treat inside? To be honest, I feel bad for the scorpion.

The route also took us through a small corner of Arizona, before we drove through the Virgin River Gorge, and this was when we first began to appreciate that we were getting into some beautiful country. The Gorge had some wonderful scenery and amazing rock formations. We were getting excited to see the Park!

Not bad for Car Photography – the Virgin River Gorge in Utah

Not bad for Car Photography – the Virgin River Gorge in Utah

We got there a little before noon – the drive was almost 5 hours from Barstow, and there was an hour time change as we moved to the Mountain Time Zone from the Pacific Standard Time Zone.  Plus, by the time we reached Zion that morning, we had already been in four states!

I’ll be posting about Zion next!

Planning for the Southwest National Parks Trip

Last fall, we got the word that there would be a wedding in the family.  Jon’s cousin was getting married in Marina del Rey, just outside of Los Angeles.  Now, if you have been following this blog, you probably know that after several trips to California, I wasn’t very excited about going to California again.  So, as generally happens with our trips, a plan was hatched.

We originally looked at doing a multi-stop itinerary – flying into a city in the Southwest, renting a car one way, and then flying back out of Los Angeles. However, we had to modify that plan when we learned that the one way car rental was going to be almost $1200!  What?  We considered driving from Washington – but who has the time for that?  So, instead, we decided to fly in a couple of weeks early, rent a car and make a loop of the Southwest, then return to Los Angeles for the wedding at the end of the trip.  It didn’t take too long to figure out that we wanted to visit some of the amazing National Parks in the area.

So the planning began.  Jon told me that his must-do’s were Zion National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Santa Fe.  So, that is four states for the trip already…  Of course, he decides all this without ever having looked at distances or driving directions.  So I set to work planning a loop that would head to all these places – already it is a pretty big loop!

Once I was finished planning the loop, we would be spending 12 days visiting Zion National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, the Four Corners, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Petrified Forest National Park and Grand Canyon National Park, before having us back in Marina del Rey for the wedding.  Six National Parks, 1 National Historical Park, and a couple of wonderful historic cities.  Wow!

Almost as memorable as the places we would be seeing were the ones we would have to skip.  I would have loved to visit the two other National Parks in Utah – Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef.  I would have loved to stay longer in Zion and Arches and done more of the hikes – or maybe rented bikes and tried ziplining.  I would have loved to see Hovenweep, Yucca House, Aztec Ruins, Bandelier, Fort Union, and Canyon de Chelly National Monuments.  I would have liked to be able to stay a few days in several places and take in more of the restaurants and the towns.  The list could go on and on…

These states are big country, and there is no way to do it all when you have less than two weeks.  But we were going to try to make a dent!  We could rest when we got home – priorities!


Back from our Adventure in the Southwest!

So, did you miss me?

Jon and I arrived home early this week from our action packed road trip through the Southwest!  We took two planes, set foot in 6 states, stayed in 9 hotels, and put just over 2,300 miles on the rental car.  We visited six National Parks – Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon.  We visited one National Monument – Petroglyph, and one National Historical Park – Chaco Culture.

We saw lots of rocks – in all different shapes and sizes and textures, and hiked through all kinds of spectacular country.  We saw amazing stars and the heavens through a telescope.  We saw lots of wildlife, and lots of people, and enjoyed every second of it.  We visited several new cities, sampled lots of beer, a little wine and had some great food.  And we wrapped it all up with a family wedding – where we got to spend lots of time and celebrate new beginnings with family.

Stay tuned for my posts about the trip – I can’t wait to share it all with you!

I would have put a few more places on here, but Google Maps limits you to 10...

I would have put a few more places on here, but Google Maps limits you to 10…