This is the second of three posts that I will share from my visit to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. While this isn’t a travel blog, but rather a photo blog, these recent images did come from a road trip. There is no overstating the fact that a visit to an exotic location can provide new scenery and exciting subject matter.
In Part Two, we are at the midpoint of the journey south in the park, along the route leading to the significant clusters of petrified trees from the late Triassic period. Before getting to those fossils, the next area along the park route is a visually stunning geological encounter. The hills are called Tepees. You can see why.
One drives through Chinle Formation: a very soft layer of earth consisting mainly of clays, mud, sandstone, and volcanic ash. The softness allows for fantastic erosion effects and colorful earth staining by mineralized water flows and mineral deposits over the eons. One sees color banding in layers of earth on cliffsides, bluffs, buttes and mesas. The blues, purples, and grays are created by iron, carbon, manganese, and other minerals in the cone-shaped formations that are rather inhospitable to most plants.
Up to this time, it was raining lightly. As you can see, the skies were overcast. Despite my oohs and aahhs at these Tepees, the group in the car was dozing and completely missing the startling scenery. Before embarking on the drive in the park, I hadn’t given this area a second thought. I was drawn into the aesthetic of these buttes. After taking these shots, I arrived at a turnoff for “The Blue Mesa,” and spontaneously decided to pull onto the road loop, which allowed for our first group hike of the morning. Three more miles later, we touched down, I opened the minivan doors, my passengers hopped out, and the park’s magic started its work on the kids.
The Badlands inside the Blue Mesa need a bit of explaining.
Around 225 million years ago, Northern Arizona was a tropical floodplain and heavily forested. There were periods of volcanic activity, followed by flooding and erosion. Repeat. These dynamics caused trees that had fallen by the hand of wind, age, disease or insects to be swept away into riverbeds and buried. Some trees were encased in mud or ash. Deprived of oxygen, the decomposition process also was delayed. Heavily mineralized water seeped Into the cracks and pores of the logs, and eventually these minerals petrified the wood. Minerals in the water settled as high waters receded from the mud, shale, and clays. This caused the color banding. Erosion of the softer lighter soils and sand helped to form buttes, hills, and mesas. These formations make up what is called the Badlands.
The mile or so trail into the Badlands transports one’s imagination to a period of geological history when life forms were simpler, sans humans. Were it not for the paved trail, and occasional drainage pipe placed by the park service to direct rain waters, the landscape would look like one was walking on another planet. But Earth this surely is. And So Much of It.