It was raining Friday morning as we left Santa Fe. On the way out, we passed a Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and my illusion that the city was just a charming collection of local businesses housed in small adobe structures was effectively shattered. Good to know that people can still choose to wait in a drive-through line 45 minutes for their latte, no matter where they decide to call home. Because that’s America.
The drive through the remainder of New Mexico was one of surprising beauty, despite the heavy clouds hanging in the sky. The sun would frequently peak out, and we saw vivid rainbows filling the sky for nearly 2 straight hours. These were some of the most clear, bright rainbows I had ever seen – it literally seemed as if we could reach out and touch them.
There was even a point where we could see a double rainbow, and we all know how special those are.
Our main destination and activity for Friday was the Petrified Forest National Park. The park can be found in Arizona, directly off of 40, just a bit past the halfway point between Albuquerque and Flagstaff. It takes its namesake from the abundance of Petrified Wood found in the park, which is an ancient tree that has essentially been converted to stone over millions of years, leaving behind what is essentially a three dimensional fossil of the original tree.
The park is also known for the abundance of beautiful views and scenic vistas. As Megan and I are both science nerds and lovers of exploration, we absolutely loved the park.
You can enter the park from either the north or south (off of a small highway 180 in the South), though I highly recommend entering the park from the northern end off of 40 – it is the most thematically appropriate way to enjoy it, as the petrified wood seems to increase exponentially the further south you travel within.
As you enter you’ll be firmly told that removing any materials from the park will result in federal prosecution – apparently they have had problems with visitors stealing chunks of Petrified Wood in the past. When you see how lovely it can be in person, you could be tempted to pocket a piece for yourself. DON’T DO IT, IT’S AGAINST THE LAW!
Don’t even think about it.
The first stop after entering and crossing 40 is an absolutely breathtaking vista called the “Painted Desert”. This is an appropriate first stop as it sets the stage for the scale and beauty of everything that follows.
Our next stop was Newspaper Rock, an overlook with some particularly dramatic boulders and lovely geometric structures shorn from the mountain over time. The particular highlight here was the petroglyphs etched into the stones far below – some as old as 2000 years.
A standout highlight of the Park is the Blue Mesa, which was a steep hike down from a stunning overlook to a dramatic, almost otherworldly series of badlands, colored grey, blue and purple. At this point in the park, pieces of Petrified Wood started to appear more noticeably, dotting this alien landscape with glittering chunks of copper and white treasure. It was a wholly unique environment.
The final standout of the tour was the Crystal Forest, a trail near the southern end of the park. This trail held the largest concentration of the beautiful pieces of Petrified Wood. Having the frequency of the lovely minerals increase the more south you travel was a nice effect – as it ensured you didn’t get bored seeing too much of it early on.
By the end of our tour, Megan admitted that she was possibly overstimulated between the park and the rainbows, after literally saying “Wow” every 2 minutes for about 5 hours straight. Truthfully we were both worn out after a long day of hiking trails, so we were happy to pop into a simple chain sit-down (Outback, an old favorite) in Flagstaff on our way to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately while we sat resting and enjoying our steaks, a powerful storm was brewing outside.
The climb up to the Canyon that night was not an easy one, as 26 mph winds tossed the poor 4Runner to and fro through the deluge of rain. Fortunately the roads were sparsely populated, and with the judicious use of some 4 wheel drive and a whole lot of caution, we made it unscathed. We settled into our warm room in Tusayan, ready for a nights rest and exploration of the Canyon the next day.
Have you ever been as overstimulated as Megan was on Friday? Have you ever had a day where your experiences just kept stacking on each other, over and over to the point of exhaustion? Tell us about it in the comments below!