ADVENTURES IN THE PETRIFIED FOREST
May 11, 2011


My adventures in the petrified forest continued with my debut as an Interpretive Ranger, giving 10 programs in four days at Puerco Pueblo (a partially excavated archeological site occupied about 700 years ago) and the Painted Desert Inn.

The history at the Painted Desert Inn includes the Civilian Conservation Corps, Fred Harvey Co. and the Harvey Girls, architect/designer Mary Colter and beautiful murals by Fred Kabotie, a well-known Hopi artist.

Many of the park visitors are eager to learn as much as they can about the park, so there were good questions and a lot of interest in what I had to say. Recently I did my first program on the Triassic period – all about what was going on here about 220 million years ago that resulted in the beautiful petrified wood and the wicked looking reptiles, amphibians, and little dinosaurs that roamed the area.

Arizona Wildflowers - Cliffrose

Cliffrose at Sunrise

When I first arrived at Petrified Forest at the end of March, I was presented with a backpack containing approximately 30 pounds of books (on loan only). I had worked my way through about 10 pounds so far. The reading, and listening to the other rangers do their programs, is what constitutes “training” in the off-season. Later this month, there will be official training for the new “interps” arriving – I would sit in on some of that as well.

Arizona Wildflowers - Banana Yucca

Spring adventures in the petrified forest include wind - it is ferocious at times – the late afternoon programs at Puerco had me gasping for air, and occasionally chewing dust.

In a weak moment I splurged and ordered a Kindle, which arrived last week. Kindles are a wonderful thing to have on your rv adventure! Of course, I no longer have the excuse of no room in the RV, so I’m tempted to buy more books than I really can afford. The Kindle is great though and very easy to read. Later on this year, I will be able to download books from the library as well. Now, if I could just figure out a way to load all of the books presently taking up space in my rv onto this wonderful Kindle.

Add yellow-headed blackbirds to my bird list for my adventures in the petrified forest. They arrived a couple of weeks ago and seem to hang out in one of the big trees near our RV sites - beautiful bright gold heads and breasts, the rest of the body and the beak black except one white bar on the underside of wings.

Standing on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona

On April 27 I was to be seen “standin' on the corner in Winslow, AZ.” I set out about 9:30 in the morning and was quite excited. It had been a month since I'd taken a break from my adventures in the petrified forest to go any further from than the Safeway in Holbrook.

Railroading is the number 1 industry of Winslow. First the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, then the Santa Fe Railroad and now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Co. are all located in Winslow. Approximately 1/3 of Winslow's population is made up of railroad employees and their families.

I visited the Chamber of Commerce, located in the old Hubbell Trading Post building on 2nd Ave., then had a most wonderful lunch and exploration of La Posada, the last great railroad hotel and the last one built by the Fred Harvey Co. The photo (below left) is of the ballroom. What a gorgeous place! Bounded on the South side by the Santa Fe/Burlington Northern RR, on the north by Historic Route 66, the Mother Road. Architect Mary Colter sure knew what she was doing.

Ballroom at La Posada Hotel, Winslow, AZ

The Old Trails Museum in Winslow is full of photos from the old railroad days, as well as Indian artifacts. After spending some time there, I drove up to Homolovi State Park and hiked around the very large excavated pueblo dwelling. Sadly, the ruins were dug over pretty thoroughly by pot hunters before it was protected by park status. There were holes everywhere.

More Adventures
in the Petrified Forest

Back at the park, I went for a hike to the Dying Grounds  one morning with Ranger Steve and a large group of geology students from Canada. This is an incredible place, about a mile off the road at the Teepees, where they have found a treasure trove of quite large fossils. There are beautiful shards of petrified wood and small fossils everywhere - I picked up pieces of breastplate from a metoposaur, as well as teeth from a phytosaur and other things. Of course I didn't keep anything, though for the first time I was sorely tempted.

We had a photographer, Yvonne O’Brien, as the artist-in-residence for a few weeks, having her own adventures in the petrified forest. She and I went out one evening at about 6:00 to catch the end of the day. We took photos at Kachina Point, then drove halfway down the park and arrived just in time to catch the sunset and the last light on the Teepees.

Stemless Primrose - Arizona Wildflowers

Stemless Primrose

The lizards were out in force during these adventures in the petrified forest – that likely meant snakes are out as well, but I hadn’t seen any and didn't really want to encounter a rattlesnake. I saw a couple of common side-blotched lizards, and a whiptail lizard who ran like hell every time I tried to get close enough to take a photo. He finally stopped for a bit, under a bush, with his sides heaving like little bellows. I had seen several of the beautiful collared lizards and they are very cooperative about having their picture taken.

Collared Lizard - Arizona Wildlife

One early morning I hiked the very steep trail at Kachina Point, down into the badlands, then walked until I was past the big dunes and could see out into the distance. Hiking back up had me gasping for breath. I've been told it takes at least three months to get adjusted to the altitude - something about your red blood cells getting larger. Anyway, this new adventure in the petrified forest was a good workout - 45 minutes - and it was a beautiful time of day to do it.

Part of my job at Petrified Forest was “roving” – that meant hiking some of the trails, answering questions, watching to see that the visitors stayed on the trails and didn’t pocket any of the petrified wood. I’d met some really nice people while roving.

There were wildflowers blooming throughout the park, and heavy seedheads developing on the various grasses. The wind seldom stopped except late at night. They told me it would  stop on June 1 at which point it would get hot and everyone would wish for the wind to come back. Well, what would we do if we didn't have something to complain about?

The Dying Grounds at Petrified Forest NP

At the Dying Grounds - Petrified Forest National Park

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