Sunday, August 5, 2012

Petrified Forest, Painted Desert & Carrizozo Malpais

Driving home from Las Vegas, we visited several sites of which these are the last three. If you are ever traveling through Arizona on Historic Route 66, make an opportunity to stop at the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.

The area of the Petrified Forest was a vast floodplain many eons ago. Tall conifer trees grew along the banks. Crocodile-like reptiles, giant amphibians, and small dinosaurs lived among a variety of ferns, cycads and other plants and animals that we know today as fossils. As time wore on and climate change occurred, trees fell and swollen streams washed them into adjacent floodplains. A mix of silt, mud and volcanic ash buried the logs and replaced the original wood tissues with silica deposits. Eventually the silica crystallized into quartz and the logs were preserved as petrified wood.

Carla is standing near a huge petrified tree
These stumps are huge and guessing their weight would be difficult
The park has a walkway which they suggest you stay on
Since petrified logs are composed of quartz, they are hard and brittle, breaking easily when subjected to stress. The logs are surrounded by softer sedimentary layers. As the sediments shifted and settled, as well as tectonic movement, stress on the rigid logs caused fractures. Some believe these were caused by earthquakes or the gradual lifting of the Colorado Plateau. Crushing and decay sometimes left cracks in the logs. Here the growth of quartz crystals was not limited and larger crystals of clear quartz, purple amethyst, yellow citrine and smoky quartz formed. Once discovered, humans literally raped the area of a huge amount of these crystals to sell to makers of jewelry and such.

This is Stephen Tyng Mather who laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations. 
This put an end to all the digging and taking of crystals and petrified wood from this area. It is said that tons of petrified wood was removed over the years only to be sold as souvenirs or kept as personal keepsakes.

"This is my petrified log!"
This is a sample of one of the critters who roamed the area eons ago
This creature is a Placerius hesternus (pla-sair-ee-us hes-tern-us) and was a dicynodont therapsid. Therapsids were large "reptiles" that possessed any mammalian characters including a "cheek" bone, enlarged canine teeth, and a specialized attachment of the skull to the spine. This massive plant-eater was up to 9 feet long and might have weighed as much as two tons. It is captioned as "Not Quite a Mammal."

Our first view of the Painted Desert - a continuation of the Petrified Forest
Nature has painted with a wide brush of many hues
It is indeed breath-taking scenery
A natural bridge across an arroyo made by a petrified log
A portion of that arroyo just too beautiful to pass up
Opportunities for photography abound
Notice the colors in layers like a cake
A shot of the river bed that probably helped create all this
This is known as the "Tepee" area of the park
A sample of the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock near Puerco Pueblo
It is known that Puerco Pueblo was occupied twice, from 1100-1200 and 1300-1400, but Spanish explorers found no one here in 1540. Note: You can always click on the photo to enlarge it, as you might want to do with the petroglyphs for sure.

Are you beginning to understand why they call this "Newspaper Rock"?
"All the news that fits we print"
Looks like a party's going on!
They keep one well informed of different areas of the park
Just had to include this beautifully painted area
It is an ever changing scene around every curve
As we entered Otero County, New Mexico, we noticed what looked like a lava field such as we'd seen in Hawaii. Sure enough it is what is called the Carrizozo Malpais area of New Mexico and it is fascinating.

Carla gingerly inspecting a huge crevasse in the lava
"I don't see any critters, but it's deep!"
You can see by the photo that it goes on for miles
It looks like pudding frozen in time
Not much lives here but rabbits, snakes, scorpions and such
The National Park Department has built a raised trail above the lava flow which loops around and they have a brochure that points out areas of interest. Taking this trail is on my bucket list. We were just too tired from driving to do it this day. It is only about 60 miles from Alamogordo. This finishes our road trip!

Thanks to Doug for all the great photography!

This is all I have to say for now.

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