When we first started dreaming of this trip over a year ago we posted a US map on our kitchen wall and started marking it up with places each of us would like to visit. The Petrified Forest National Park was one of Miranda’s requests - she had read about the Petrified Forest in Ripley’s Believe or Not so wanted to see it. It became our last stop in Arizona after an unexpected 7.5 weeks visit.
Since we were east-bound from Winslow we entered the park’s south entrance. We’re not usually big National Park movie-watchers but chose to sit for this one. We’ve had some frustrations with the National Park’s marketing and education materials in the past and this movie was no exception. For one, they take histories that are based on scientific theories and present them as fact. This movie never said “here is our best guess at what happened” - it spoke authoritatively as if someone was there to witness it. In fairness, this was in contrast to the ranger talks we attended at the Grand Canyon where they were careful to state up front that the following discussion was all a theory. But so far that’s rarely been the case.
Our second frustration is the National Parks seem to just want to beat you up for visiting. From Carlsbad Caverns to the Saguaro Desert to the Grand Canyon, we are constantly barraged with dire warnings and stories about the impact humans can have on these attractions. It was really bad here at the Petrified Forest, with signs along the roadways to rangers at check-in booths to a large portion of the movie communicating the fact that it was illegal to remove petrified wood from the park. It was tolerable until the movie showed a dramatization of a park visitor (noticeably white male) getting pulled over (by TWO ranger cars), frisked and found to have a chunk of petrified wood in his pocket large enough to pull his pants down. Yea, we get it - you had us at the signs already. The movie stated that 1 ton of petrified wood is removed from the park every month. We wondered how they are measuring that? The movie also got a bit “voo-doo” hinting that some people believe their lives were cursed by removing petrified wood from the park (and indeed displayed letters from such people in the lobby).
Come to find out our friends the Ticknors also found issue with this movie - so it wasn’t just us.
Anyway, beliefs and political agendas aside, we walked through part of the Forest, marveling at the colors and beauty to be found in the petrified wood. We bought a “legal” piece of petrified wood at the gift shop, and headed north to tour more of the park. The landscape is quite unusual and other-worldly. You can imagine science fiction movies getting filmed here (provided they had budgets big enough to buy their way into actually stepping on the ground…).
We viewed the Agate Bridge, The Tepees, and stopped at Newspaper Rock, with its many petroglyphs. At that stop was a large raven keeping court over the parking lot while we cooked lunch. We chuckled because according to the park’s movie the raven is “ill-suited to the desert” with its black feathers. We wondered why it hadn’t mutated/adapted/evolved to better blend in with it’s surroundings?
We continued driving north, where we crested a hill and were treated to a gorgeous view of the Painted Desert. We stopped at the northern entrance, where Miranda turned in her Junior Ranger program, took the pledge & got her badge. With a fresh cup of coffee we hit the road bound for Albuquerque.
Except, we didn’t make it.
We had dallied longer at the Petrified Forest than expected and by now it was getting late and I was tired of driving. We would have liked to just boondock somewhere but with overnight temps predicted in the mid-20’s we wanted to be plugged in so we could run our electric heater and heated mattress pads. Around dinner time we started seeing signs for some New Mexico casinos offering $10 stays with full hookups - so investigated and found that only signing up for a free Players Card was needed - and then they also gave a voucher for $10 in gas so the stay was essentially free. We took them up on it - settling in just an hour or so outside of Albuquerque for the night.
It was a longer day in the seat than we’ve had for awhile but overall enjoyed our tour through the Petrified Forest and the scenery on I-40 to the east of it (including lava fields!).
My good camera was trapped in the trailer by the slide-in - so a round of iPhone pictures will have to suffice: