The wind was still howling on Day Fourteen. The plan for today was to visit the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest, and then figure out the best way to get to the southern part of the state.
There are several areas around this part of Arizona which are called Painted Desert. All it means is that there are exposed mineral deposits which are (mainly) bright red and in some cases green. This particular Painted Desert is a part of The Petrified Forest National Park. It’s got nothing in particular to do with the Petrified Forest, its just in the same general vicinity so they added it to the Park.
The north entrance to the park, and the Painted Desert section, are north of I-40. This Painted Desert is a U-shaped valley running south-to-north-to-south and right-to-left. The beginning (right) of the valley is predominately red, and as you move to the north and left, the red fades off into the distance and the end (left) of the valley is predominately green and gray. All this is in contrast to the normal tan or brown color of the rocks and hills. Its also different from the red rocks of Monument Valley and Arches. These are small, rounded hills which instead of being brown, are red instead.
About midway around the valley, up on a bluff, is an old Inn, which is now a museum/gift shop. The view from there is pretty good. Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with this area. Its very similar to the Painted Hills in central Oregon. Its another one of those places which look bigger and more impressive on film than it does in person. When you’re standing there looking at it, you realize that the hills are only 20, 30, maybe 50 feet high, but they look hundreds of feet high in photos. Its because there are no points of reference, so your eye assumes that things are bigger than they really are.
The road through the park crosses over I-40 and heads south into the Petrified Forest section of the park. There are about 5 or 6 attractions scattered over about 20 or 30 miles of park. I didn’t visit all of them, but the first one that I did check out was Newspaper Rock. This consists of several large, flat rocks at the bottom of a ravine which are completely covered with petroglyphs. Scientists think that this was a centrally located place for local paleo-indian tribes to post news. Or many be it was just a bunch of paleo-vandals tagging these particular rocks. Who knows.
The next spot was the Agate Bridge, which is a fallen petrified log which has had the rock underneath it eroded away. The result is a bridge that you can walk under…if they Park Service were to allow it, that is. As usual, everything is off-limits. Stay behind the railing, please. Don’t touch.
Most of the other attractions are “Forests,” which are just areas which have a whole bunch of petrified logs laying around. These forests were heavily plundered in the years after they were discovered before the Park was formed. A lot of the best, most interesting logs are gone. What’s left is still pretty cool, though.
Petrified wood is formed when trees are covered by sediment which eventually hardens into rock. Minerals seep into the wood, and as the wood rots, the minerals displace the wood but retain its shape and texture. After millions of years, these logs are exposed due to erosion, resulting in these large fields of rocks laying around which look at first glance like there are wood. But upon closer inspection, you can see that they are in fact, rocks. Pretty rocks, too. Pictures to follow sometime.
I left the park via the south entrance. All this time the winds continued to blow. I was a little undecided as to which route to take to get south. I decided to head first for Show Low, about 50 miles away. My ex-mother-in-law owned property there, and I was a little curious to see what the area looked like.
Leaving the National Park, the surrounding area is basically rangeland, which eventually gives way to juniper bushes and pine trees as you move south. The area also turns hilly as you approach the White Mountains. I was never quite sure where the property was located, but I did notice that there was a LOT of land for sale in that area. Some of it was in “developments,” and some of it was just open rangeland, but there were lots of For Sale signs. And none of it, in my opinion, was particularly attractive. It was a nice area, but there is NOTHING there.
Show Low is a typical mid-size town. It had a nice little coffee shop where I stopped to look at the map and have a bagel and a cappuccino. I decided to head down the Coronado Trail on the far eastern side of the state. But, the locals were all talking about a storm heading in this direction. The wind out of the south was already making it very hard for me to ride. So, as a first step, I decided to head east towards the start of the Coronado Trail which is at a town called Springerville.
Springerville is a pretty small town. Its got a twin called Eager right next door, where you can’t tell when you leave one and enter the other. I stayed at a cool, old restored motel called Reed’s Lodge. There were a bunch of other bikers staying there as well. All of the talk was about the weather. Just down the street was a coffee shop/cafe/bar called Java Blues. Which I’m definitely going to visit in the morning.
The forecast for the White Mountains to the south–right were I’m heading–is for continued high wind with the addition of thundershowers. A storm front out of the Pacific coast of Mexico is coming up from the south. The bulk of it will past to the east into New Mexico and Colorado, but the trailing edge of it still could cause problems in eastern Arizona. I’ll decide in the morning whether or not to proceed.