Monday, May 10, 2010

The petrified forest

On Friday Morning we visited the Petrified Forest National Park, off of highway 40 in Arizona. April or early May is the perfect time to go to Arizona (I say, like an expert, having gone to the state once in my entire life) because it's not too hot.

Although it seems hard to believe looking at it now, millions of years ago the area that is now Arizona was a thick forest with all kinds of dinosaurs and 30 foot long crocodile-like creatures. Then a storm and flood hit, and the trees were swept down a river and trapped under the silty mud, which was then layered with mineral rich volcanic ash.

Over time the minerals seeped into the wood, and cell by cell the organic matter in the wood was replaced by rock, and the rocks were dyed the color of the wood.

Whatever you think of George W. Bush, he did increase the size of the Petrified Forest (and the protection that comes with it) by about 20%.

We started at the east entrance, where they have a video that explains the formation and history of the forest.  While at the visitor's center we picked up a 5' x 3' map of the forest that you can color, which was the perfect activity for Calvin to do while we ate our Navajo tacos after we finished checking out the park. The visitor's center also has a restaurant.

You drive in and stop at view points along the way.  At the first view point Calvin jumped over the divider and ran toward the cliff, which made me rethink my views against putting leashes on children.

We hiked the Blue Mesa Trail, and I would recommend it for families. It's only a one mile loop and you get to see a lot of the petrified wood laying on the side, so you can get a good look. It's closer to the western part of the park, by the crystal forest and the rainbow forest.

The Rainbow Forest is a highlight, because there are a lot of big rusty logs. Calvin climbed onto one of them and said "It's a dragon! I'm flying!"

At the rainbow forest there is a museum, which has fossilized skeletons of some of the prehistoric creatures that lived in the area.  Kids can get a junior ranger activity pack. When they complete the activities (according to age) they get sworn in as a junior ranger.

We didn't realize how much ground the park covered. We drove from the entrance all the way to rainbow forest and realized that we would have to go back 57 miles to get to the entrance.  So we continued onto west 40 towards Flagstaff where we spent the night.

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