Day 23 - Sunday 7 August 2016

Some left of field disturbances and the magnificent Blue Mesa

I was up at 5.25 this morning, got myself ready and was in the car by 6.10, headed north towards Flagstaff. Put some petrol in on route 66 then back in the car headed east on Interstate 40 a further 100 miles or so towards the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park. The interstate was basically filled with a line of slow moving trucks in the right lane and cars overtaking them in the faster left. Occasionally a 2-mile long train would pass on the tracks laid next to the highway, and even more occasionally a highway patrol car was spotted hiding in a sneaky location, otherwise it was 75 miles per hour along a straight dull road pretty much the whole time.

Crystal Forest Trail

Like other road trips I changed my mind on the planning that I had done the night before. I had aimed to enter into the park off the Interstate at exit 311 and make my way south (12 miles from one end of the park to the other I think) to the other end of the park before driving the 18 miles west into Holbrook and back on the interstate. Instead I turned off at Holbrook (a sad slow old town, with a long, sad and old looking section of route 66) and took the road to the south entrance of the park and started that way (I donít why I just felt like it.)

Petrified log Another petrified log Petrified log (close up) And another

My first stop in the national park was the short Giant Logs trail. Along the trail was what looked like numerous trees trunks that had fallen over but upon closer inspection was rock. Basically what happened was that these trees grew here about 350 millions ago, at some stage they fell over into the mud or a stream and were buried, crystalizing/petrifying into stone underground over time, and only relatively recently showed themselves again because of erosion occurring on the surface, but they still look exactly like trees, some even look like they have bark on them, but donít kick them and expect soft wood, they are as hard as stone (thats because they are stone). And they were lying around everywhere. There were big whole trunks and smaller cracked off bits, the rock (petrified tree) up close was in all sorts of wild and wonderful colours. It was a very strange sight. Now as I may have mentioned my purpose for looking at rocks at the moment in life, and during this trip, revolves around searching for disturbances and tensions. These were certainly left of field in that category.

My next stop was the Crystal Forest trail, a short 1-mile loop trail through the same petrified logs/forest but over a more interesting slightly hilly terrain but there were many many more logs lying around. It was a beautiful day, barely a cloud in the sky and starting to get hot. This part of the world is pretty flat and there is no shade. Just desert. So after only a mile I was hot and sweaty but pretty energized, in a weird way, over what I was looking at.

Looking down onto the Blue Mesa Trail

My next stop down the road was the Jasper Forest lookout, an even more hilly expanse of countryside with an even greater concentration of logs. My vantage point was from above perched atop a lookout so I didnít stay too long as there didnít seem to be a path leading down into it, which didnít really matter because it would only have been the thousandth petrified log seen up close after the first two sites. Back on the road and I was soon at the next stop the Blue Mesa trail.

Looking south off Blue Mesa Looking south east from Blue Mesa Blue Mesa trail Petrified log on the Blue Mesa trail

Before arriving at the trailhead I stopped at a number of lookouts, fantastic to say the least (for those of you new to reading this blog, a mesa is the flat top of a mountain.) The trail lead down off the mesa and into the strangest and weirdest but probably the most prettiest landscape of soft rock that I have ever seen (yeah I know I keep writing that here about landscape and rock but like the others this one was different and spectacular in its own unique and stunning way). From whites, through to soft greyís pinks and purples these hills were gorgeous. The 1-mile easy trail stretched its way through and in and out of it all. At each bend on the path my jaw dropped a little further. I spent a fair amount of time in there looking around in awe. Many cars were stopping at the trailhead, punters getting out of their cars, taking a quick look over the edge before driving off. Why would anyone do such a thing? This park is in the middle of nowhere so its takes a while to get to then you take a quick look at something magical looking and just drive on. I just donít get it. At least there was a family in there with me who were gasping loudly as I could hear their excitement from the other side of the trail.

Blue Mesa trail

Soon I too was back in the car, I didnít really want to be but I kept thinking how so far each new destination I arrive at is more of a surprise than the last. Anyway, I pulled into Newspaper Rock, the next stop. There was a short walk to a lookout and if looking carefully below at the fallen rocks there could be seen petroglyphs, aged between 900 and 2,000 years old my guide/map thing told me. And really if I didnít know they were there it would just look like another awesome pile of rocks.

Extraordinary colours on the rock Beautiful Blue Mesa The Tepees A first look at the Painted Desert

My final stop, and at the northern end of the park, was a stop at each of 7-8 lookouts directed out over what was called the painted desert, and guess what it looked like? A desert painted in reds, pinks, purples, greens, and whites set against fluffy white clouds in the far distance and a cool blue sky. It looked like an artist had dropped his palette of reds and pinks all over the landscape but over a few hundred-mile radius. The second last lookout stop included a 1-mile walk from the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark to Tawa Point otherwise known as the Painted Desert Rim Trail. I made the easy walk in no time and guess what no one else, and you guessed it too, they all pulled up, got out, took a photo and got back in the car again. (I should stop whining as people can do what they want of course and well at least I only saw one selfie stick so that makes for a good day.) After my short walk I drove onto the visitors centre. The black and white picture of it in my guide/map thing looked awesome, with beautiful sleek and long 70s lines. I pulled in and sure enough it was quite elegant, but strange just sitting there (or maybe not as once again this was a section of the old route 66). I had a quick look in it and it looked placeless and felt soulless, like every other visitors centre Iíve ever been in, except the diner out back that had a distinct 70s feel to it also.

Meteor Crater

I was soon back on interstate 40 headed about 70 miles to the 233 turn off and onto Meteor Crater Road. 6 miles later I was paying my overpriced $18 entry fee and walking out onto the manicured pathways to yet another left of field landscape disturbance. 50,000 years ago a 150-feet piece of iron-nickel meteor smashed into the desert and left this gigantic hole over 4,000 feet across, 2.4 miles in circumference and over 700 feet deep, and in the process lifting rock out of its position, throwing it up to 150 feet in the air before dumping it down again and in some places inverting it (very bizarre). Did I hear the guide correctly when she said that it picked up layers of old rock and dumped them upside down onto younger rocks? Now that is cool, and that certainly is a big disturbance. And sure enough once she said it I started noticing rocks in strange positions, including what should have been the normal horizontal layering of the rock but now pushed up by the force of the blast at beyond 45 degree angles (very cool, if that makes sense?)

The guide told me that the blast would have been 2,000 times the size of the atom bomb (or 20 million tons of TNT) dropped during WW2. Just think of a 150-feet piece of big and heavy space rock causing a 4,000 feet crater. If that doesnít get the imagination oozing then Iím not sure what would.

A vast expanse of the Painted Desert Nice lines that make up the Painted Desert visitors centre Rocks pushed up from the meteor impact Look south from Meteor Crater visitors centre, beautifully framed landscape

Inside the visitors centre, whilst waiting for the 30-minute guided tour to a separate part of the carter rim, there was the biggest chunk of the meteorite found thus far. The guide told us that this small piece (about 1 metre by 50cm) of meteorite weighted about the same as a small car. (Just as she said that a 7-year old boy tried to pick it upÖ boys!)

After wandering the rim with the guide I was back in the car, and on the interstate. Another petrol stop on route 66 in Flagstaff followed by the slow old windy road down Oak Creek Canyon and into Sedona (passing Slide Rock State Park and seeing masses of people in bikiniís, board shorts and tattooís walking down the road, must be a good swimming hole there?) It was a long day of driving, probably 2 and half hours each way (5 hours altogether). Thereís only so much American rock on the car radio one can handle.

I was back in Sedona at about 3.30-4, had a late lunch at Wildflower Bread Company, and was back in the casita doing some writing shortly afterwards. There was a note left on the door inviting me over for dinner so before commencing the writing I knocked on the door, said Ďhi Iím backí and accepted their invitation. A few hours passed and I went over for dinner. As usual much delicious food was eaten and the conversation was free flowing. I have such lovely and generous hosts. I gave them a little present of some Tasmanian gifts, a bottle of Australian wine and some chocolate and they gave me a beautifully lacquered box with an intricate Iranian design on it. Too amazing to be true. Anyway, I was back in the casita just before 9 and tired so I hit the sack for some shut-eye and was asleep and dreaming pretty fast.