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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 trailhead is at the end of a well-marked, one-mile-long viewpoint road about 15 miles from the park's north entrance. On the way in, you'll see long logs of classic petrified wood close to your vehicle. Under those logs, a geologic layer still hides fossilized vertebrates and plant life whose home territory was a tropical forest and swampy floodplain that existed 225 million years ago.

Blue Mesa Trail is only a one-mile loop, but it begins somewhat steep, so the park designates it moderate to strenuous. It's worth every step, and soon, the trail levels and starts to amble around an enclosed bowl of some of the most engaging badlands in the park.

Follow the loop counterclockwise, and on the right, you'll soon come to eroding ravines shedding chaotic tumbles of petrified logs. Take your time in this picturesque middle section of the canyon.

Clay hills of blue, gray and lavender layers fill the background any direction you shoot. A wide-angle lens can pull foreground elements up close and emphasize the dimensional reality of this unreal world. Late afternoon is the best time to photograph the inner canyon, just as it begins falling into shadow.

Petrified Forest National Park
Canyon de Chelly National Monument (99 miles northeast)
Walnut Canyon National Monument (110 miles west)
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (125 miles west)
Wupatki National Monument (151 miles west)
Monument Valley Tribal Park (184 miles north)
Crystal Forest
This sparsely vegetated grassland gives a sense of open space and scale to one of the most richly colored fields of petrified wood in the park. Scattered stone logs lay across a slope that gently leans west, an ideal place to finish the day.

Beginning the 0.75-mile trail, stay to the right and take the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. This way the rolling traverse promptly climbs the slope close to a picturesque array of petrified wood.

These stone trees look deceptively alive. The textured bark seems like it could easily be peeled away. But looking closer, the cracked-open logs reveal solid-quartz interiors. Embedded with colors from the effects of iron, manganese and carbon, they look like an anthology of ancient sunsets.

Clay hills in the badlands on the southeastern horizon punctuate compositions between earth and sky. The sun-drenched open plain to the west has the opposite effect, feeling like the grassland and logs continue to infinity in the last light of the day. As sunset approaches, remember you must be on your way exiting the park before dark.

See more of Larry Lindahl's work, buy his books and sign up for his workshops at www.larrylindahl.com.


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