Since we had planned only a relatively short 240 miles to our next stop (OK RV Park in Holbrook, Arizona), we got off to a leisurely start on Tuesday morning and departed Albuquerque at about 10:15. Our route required two turns – one to get on Interstate 40, and a second at the Holbrook exit. Traffic was reasonably light, but there was a 25-30 mph gusty quartering headwind, which required continual steering inputs to deal with. The landscape became less interesting as we headed west, and by the time we got into Arizona, it was pretty much just reddish brown dirt with scrubby little plants (sagebrush?). The highest elevation we encountered was about 7200’; Holbrook is just a bit over 5000’, and Albuquerque is at 5300’, so we climbed quite a bit (and the temperature was down to 45 degrees at one point) and then descended. At some parts, there were some mountains in the distance to make it a little less boring. We also hit a few minutes of rain, just enough to undo some of Sal’s good work getting the rig nice and clean (while we were in Las Cruces), but more than enough to coat the Jeep with a layer of crud over the off-road dust. At a steady 64 mph, we made the trip in just over 3 ½ hours, ending with the odometer reading 4397. Since we crossed over to Pacific time at the Arizona border, we arrived at about 12:45 (correction, Arizona is permanently on Mountain Standard Time, so when Daylight Savings Time is in effect in all the other states, it has the same time as the Pacific Time zone, but when Standard time is in effect, it’s the same as Mountain time zone. The west is full of weird stuff like that).
OK RV park is aptly named, it is Ok, but certainly nothing to write home about. There are some trees on the grounds, but none particularly close to our campsite. The park is right next to a mobile home park, and in fact we are at the campsite that borders that neighborhood. Since this is the first such park we have been at, I’m not sure whether that’s good, bad or indifferent; we might have an opinion on that by the time we leave Thursday morning. One positive comment is that they have the best WiFi of any campground we’ve stayed at (update Wednesday – when it works, it’s fast. Sometimes it just gives up).
It was about 60 degrees and very windy, so we changed to jeans and broke out the jackets.
Our main destination in the area is the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park, which we plan to visit tomorrow. So with time on Tuesday afternoon (and no reason to hang around the OK RV Park), Therese explored the area on her smart phone and discovered that the Meteor Impact Crater was only about 60 miles away, further down I-40. We had seen the crater from the air on a previous flight from Pennsylvania to California, so we decided to check it out from ground level. With the high speed limits in the west, it took less than an hour to get there. It is privately owned, and they clearly have the profit motive in mind, but it wasn’t a terrible gouge at $18 each (we could have gotten in for $16 each, except Therese pretended not to notice the senior discount that applies when the first letter in your age is an ‘s’).
We first went out to see the crater from the catwalks and platforms that they built coming out of the visitor’s center, and it is really quite spectacular.
It’s about 600 feet deep, and ¾ of a mile across. The 600 foot depth is probably 450 feet down, and a rim of 150 feet above the surrounding (flat) desert. It looks (from the air, as I recall, and from the ground) just about perfectly round. It is believed to have been formed about 50,000 years ago by a meteor approximately 150 ft. in diameter, weighing several hundred thousand tons, striking the ground from the east at about 40,000 mph.
The was an ongoing debate in the late 1800’s through about 1920 as to whether it was a meteor impact crater or volcanic in origin. The earlier researchers, when they could not find large meteor chunks in the crater, concluded that it was volcanic despite the lack of lava rock in the area. Later researchers came to realize that the meteor itself shattered and largely vaporized from the energy dissipated in the impact, explaining the lack of large fragments in the crater.
We watched a 10-minute movie about the meteor and the crater, and looked through the museum at the visitor’s center. We would have liked to take the guided walking tour around the rim, but they suspended those because the winds (now 30-40 mph) were too strong to safely walk on the rim. Since we had gotten a pretty good view of it from the platforms, I don’t think that was too much of a loss, so we headed back to the OK corral. The temperature is forecast to be about 40 degrees overnight, so we will be using the Dutch Star’s heat pump and floor heating to stay warm. Roughing it is tough, but somebody’s got to do it.
Wednesday morning, I decided I couldn’t stand a car as dirty as the Jeep, so I dry-washed it using Optimum No Rinse (few things in life work as well as that). Afterwards, Therese took it to the grocery store (with strict instructions not to hit any dust, rain or bugs on the way). By the time all that was done, it was about 10:00 before we started the 25-mile drive to Petrified Forest Painted Desert National Park.
We had perfectly clear skies (with the low humidity here, visibility must be 100 miles or so), but the temperature was a little chilly at about 58 degrees (it later warmed to about 68), and the winds were still pretty stiff – at times up to 40 mph or more.
We stopped at the visitor center, got the map for the park, and then went through the entrance gate – free with our America the Beautiful pass! There is a 28-mile drive (one way) through the park, with some scenic overlooks and side drives out to points of interest. The north part of the park, which is where the entrance is located, is the Painted Desert part. The scenery from the very first overlook was pretty spectacular, you’re on the basalt volcanic high ground that didn’t erode, looking out over 200+ million years of sediment that has eroded in various patterns. The sign said that the variations in colors were mostly due to the varying concentration and oxidation levels of the iron in the different sediment layers.
After snapping some pictures at the first three scenic overlooks, Therese decided to scan through the pictures to make sure they were coming out. Uh-oh, it seems she (or someone who was uploading pictures to the computer for the web site) left the SD memory card in my computer. So those pictures weren’t saving, and we had to go to Plan B, so all the pictures from Petrified Wood Painted Desert are from my iPhone. BTW, that’s a big pain, because when you upload iPhone pictures, they all come out upside down, so you have to edit each one. They may still come out upside down on your browser. Try Microsoft Edge if you have it, they look right there. Chrome and Safari seem like a crapshoot whether they’re right side up or updside down. How hard can it be to get that right, Apple? Maybe its WordPress’s fault, who knows, but I can tell you that it is beyond irritating.
Pretty soon, we came to where historic Route 66 at one time bisected the park. It’s all gone now, but there’s a nice little memorial where it once stood.
As you head further south you get to the “Blue Mesa” formations, which have a much different color (you guessed it, more bluish). The rock and sediment formations are amazing, but nearly as striking is the total desolation beyond the park. As far as you can see, the only evidence of humans is the other visitors on the park road, and occasionally Interstate 40. The other thing you notice is that it isn’t really possible to capture the grand desolation of these vistas with a camera – you can only get the true feel of it in person. Nobody lives out here. No vegetation larger than a bush can survive in the wild here. I think we saw maybe two trees all day, and even the large bushes that were common in New Mexico are absent in this area.
Further down the road is the Puerc0 Pueblo site, which has the ruins of an old Pueblo Indian community. For those of you who haven’t had enough, there were also some fascinating petroglyphs. The next stop was called “Newspaper rock” where the park’s largest collection of petroglyphs is found. Fortunately for me (and for you, lest you be subject to another diatribe concerning same), even Therese had seen enough rock scrawls to skip it.
Which brings us to the Petrified Forest part of the park. When I heard “Petrified Forest” before we left home, I was thinking of a nice thick green forest with trees growing and some that had fallen getting petrified somehow. Obviously that isn’t happening in Arizona, so how, you may ask, is it possible that they have huge petrified trees when the climate apparently can’t support even tiny live ones? The answer is that the ground upon which we were standing wasn’t always at its current ~35 north, 110 west coordinates. 220 million years ago, it was a tropical forest at 2 degrees north latitude, part of the large “Pangea” land mass that eventually broke apart and moved slowly to its current position through continental drift. The trees that fell into the streams and swamps and became submerged gradually swapped the organic matter for quartz and other minerals until they became the petrified remnants you see today.
The Crystal Forest area has the largest concentration of petrified wood, and there’s a mile-long trail through it, so we walked that (at some risk of being blown back to Texas, because that was about the time that the winds were the strongest). Petrified wood is cool, but to tell the truth, you can look at about five pieces of it and you’ve seen all the variety you’re going to see.
One thing I noticed was that there were lots of petrified logs that looked like someone had cut them up to firewood length with a chainsaw. The cuts in them were nice and straight and reasonably evenly spaced.
However, that is definitely a natural phenomena – inside the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south end of the park they had an 18-inch diameter petrified log, and the exhibit said that it had taken two days with a diamond saw to make the cut, and then two weeks to polish the surface.
After the museum, it was about 4:30 (Mountain Standard Time), so we called it a day and headed back to the beautiful OK RV Park in Holbrook.
It’s a good thing there isn’t a scale in the rig. While driving down the road, I snack pretty much continuously – trail mix, apples, grapes, cookies, cashews, whatever is handy – driving is hungry work, I keep telling Therese. Then she keeps overfeeding me. Tonight was no exception, we had a delicious shish kabob she bought at Whole Foods in Albuquerque.
Stay tuned for our next stop in Moab Utah to see Arches National Park.