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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Petrified Forest

Exploring the area around Petrified Forest National Park, Larry Lindahl shows how this unique environment is a cornucopia for photographers

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The Blue Mesa Trail provides layers of depth in the late afternoon.
Whipple Point is named for the Army expedition leader who first published photographs of Petrified Forest. Although those images couldn't showcase the rich colors, the 1853 survey planned for the railroad that Route 66 then paralleled across Arizona.

The southernmost of these pullouts, Lacey Point, takes in the Lithodendron Wash (Greek for "stone tree"), where the barren ghost of a river continues southward. When summer storms engorge the normally dry wash, the muddy red waters flow into the Puerco River. The river bisects the park and then joins the Little Colorado River near Holbrook before spilling into the Colorado River deep in Grand Canyon.

Stories In Stone
One of the best-kept secrets in the park, a place of mystery, is hidden between the ruins and the river. To get there, start at the north end of the Puerco Pueblo parking area, cross the park road and angle to the right toward an obvious dirt road dropping down from the pavement. The service road is open to the public for foot travel only.

After a short descent the road levels, then begins ambling toward jumbled boulders and cliffs. The easy hike is well worth the time. Scanning the slopes you'll soon discover the hidden secret: large and precisely rendered rock art. Dozens and dozens of images are carved in the massive boulders, some near the road, some behind other boulders and still others haunting the tall cliffs.

Simple backgrounds can give size context to the ancient artwork, most pecked into desert varnish, mineral stains that are especially black in places. These glyphs with their stories in stone have been tucked away beneath these cliffs for centuries. Walk in just a little ways, or go a half-mile to the turnaround point.

The Teepees
After Puerco Pueblo on your way to Blue Mesa, take a quick stop at The Teepees. These tall, conical mounds are visual curiosities and great for roadside photography. The stranded remnants of mudstone reveal a complex past.

According to geologists, this landscape alternated between being a flood plain with meandering streams, a broad lake and slowly eroding hills. Each episode created the vivid colors from silt, mud and clay. Today, these layers of time show as red, brown and white stripes. Arriving on a day when sweeping clouds fill the sky certainly complements their stark appeal.

Blue Mesa
The masterpiece of erosion in the national park is Blue Mesa. Overlooking the striped buttes and hills barely suggests the exceptional scenes you'll find after you enter the inner world of Blue Mesa. The trail leads between variegated clay hills down to one of the most inspiring places to photograph.


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