Arizona Part Two

Our trip started with a bang: mid-flight temporary insanity, the single best morning of photography we’ll ever know, and a last-minute detour to none other than The Grand Canyon. And we’d barely been in Arizona for 24 hours.

That night, Linds woke up at 3am with severe nausea. We prepared ourselves for the worst but an hour later she’d only thrown up once and was already starting to feel better. I told her, only half-joking, that maybe it was her body’s reaction to having one of the best days of her life. Who knows? Lucky for both of us, nothing ever came of it, so our exploration of Arizona continued, if somewhat cautiously.

The next day we hung out around Sedona after a nice leisurely morning of water, Netflix, and monitoring our bodies for signs of gastrointestinal distress. By mid-morning, we were confident enough to grab a couple of coffees and drive just north of town to the Dry Creek Trailhead. From there we hiked the red rocky paths to Devil’s Bridge, a natural stone arch high up in those crazy hoodoo mountains.

Back into town after the hike, we lucked out by finding “Judi’s Place” – a restaurant that caters to locals rather than tourists where I had the best Rueben sandwich of my life. Given our epic first day and our plans for the following one, we opted for a lazy afternoon of hanging out in our hotel room.

The next morning we were up at 5:30am and checked out by 6:30am. We were on our way to Tucson for the remainder of our trip, but there was another destination that we really wanted to see first: the famous Petrified Forest. OK, I say “famous”, but the truth is that I had no idea that such a thing existed before Owen brought it up prior to our departure.

“Hey, I was doing some research on your trip . . .” (potentially better research than my own), “. . . and I was wondering if you guys are going to the Petrified Forest National Park.”

“Uh . . . maybe?”

“It looks pretty awesome. You might want to look into it.”

Once we followed our 17 year-old’s sage advice and did our own research, the Petrified Forest National Park got added to the agenda, even if it did add about four hours of driving to our day. Heading east from Sedona, we drove about two and a half hours, almost to New Mexico. Like so many others in Arizona, the park consists of a well-maintained road that snakes its way through the landscape. Branching off of that road are numerous spots of interest, photo ops, picnic areas, and trails to hike. After talking to one of the park rangers at the visitor centre, we figured we had time for two hikes: the Blue Mesa and the Crystal Forest, both of which are totally different and totally worth doing if you’re ever in the region.

The Blue Mesa hike is closer to the north end of the park and consists of giant multi-coloured “dunes” that are actually made of bentonite clay. I noticed to my surprise that I could easily break off a chunk as we walked the paths which means that it’s also soft enough to slowly “melt” away with the rain. Not only does this result in a cool sculptural effect, but as the clay is washed away, all kinds of fossils have emerged. My guess is that those have been collected, but the fossilized/petrified wood has been left behind. You can see how huge pieces of those 200 million-year-old trees-turned-to-quartz have tumbled into the valleys.

The Blue Mesa trail reminded us a little of Iceland in that it felt like a few paces from the parking lot, we were strolling through an alien landscape. Super cool . . . and about to get even cooler.

Another ten or so miles down the road, we pulled into the parking lot of The Crystal Forest – which is kind of funny because surrounding us in all directions was nothing but dry, desolate desert. But rewind 217 million years ago and we would have been standing in a lush jungle. That was when dinosaurs were eating or stepping on our rodent-like ancestors and could walk to Europe because all the continents were smushed together into one giant landmass called Pangea.

What is unique about this area is that there was a river that ran through the pre-historic jungle and when those giant Triassic trees fell into it, some of them got covered in sediment so fast that they didn’t rot. Over time – a lot of time – silica from volcanic ash in the sediment reacted with the wood in the anoxic, pressurized environment, and slowly turned the wood into quartz from the inside out. Different impurities like iron and manganese, result in different colours. Some of them look remarkably like real wood, but these trees were already quartz 100 million years ago when Tyrannosaurus Rex was stomping around here, terrorizing our great great great great (etc.) grandrodents.

As tempting as it is to grab a piece of 200 million year old history as a souvenir, don’t do it. There is a $350 fine if you’re caught, and there are signs that your car can be inspected on your way out of the park. Not worth it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a chunk of Tyrranowood at the visitor centre or, more cheaply, at a store outside the park – which is exactly what we did.

Leaving Petrified Forest National Park, we headed south. It was a beautiful sunny day of cruising through desert plains that shifted to hills, and finally into reddish mountains once again. We’ve been enjoying the well-maintained highways here and one of the things that makes them great is that there are passing lanes at regular intervals. This means us tourists can take our time on the right as locals whiz by us on the left.

About halfway to Tucson, I was just merging back because the passing lane was going to end when I noticed a black truck coming up quickly behind me. I was mentally computing if I had enough time to let him pass, but decided against it as the road was narrowing. And that’s when the red and blue lights came on.

Apparently, thinking about how I could be a considerate tourist stole precious resources from the part of my brain responsible for signalling lane changes.

Officer Victor turned out to be a pretty nice guy and about as sharp as a marble. He let us off with a written warning, but it took him about 40 minutes to work his way through the process of understanding that we were from Canada even though our licences said “Ontario” on them. No, Ontario is not a state, it’s a province. Yes, it’s kind of like our version of Arizona. To make things even more confusing, our rental car has California plates, so that took an extra ten minutes of CSI-like roadside investigation. Through it all, Officer Victor seemed to enjoy himself, peppering us with personal questions (repeated separately to make sure our stories matched – we’re pretty suspicious-looking, I guess) and frequent smiles full of teeth so rotted it was hard not to stare.

In the end, we got a free souvenir of an official Apache Tribe traffic warning and yet another memory of Arizona that will make us smile – well, when Linds recovers from the trauma of the experience.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *