We left Albuquerque and drove east on I-40 to Holbrook, AZ, where we stayed at OK RV Park. All the sites at OK RV are extra-long pull-throughs. Unfortunately, the sites are very narrow; and, although the utility pedestals are not shared, you are back to back with your neighbor. The good thing is, because the sites are so long, the RVs are parked in a staggered fashion, and you are not directly opposite another RV on either side. The photo below shows our site at OK RV.
The entire campground is sand and gravel and is a little dusty, but that is to be expected when you're in the desert. There are full hook-ups and Wi-fi. We opted to pay the $5 a night extra charge for 50 amp because it was 90 degrees. We didn't want to have to turn off the air to run the microwave.
The reason we stopped in Holbrook was to visit Petrified Forest National Park, which is located along both sides of I-40 about 15 miles east of Holbrook. The national park is located at the southern end of the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert stretches from eastern end of the Grand Canyon in an arc down to the Petrified Forest - a distance of over 150 miles. The southern end of the Painted Desert is incorporated into the Petrified Forest National Park.
You can access Petrified Forest National Park from I-40 to at the northern end, or you can access the park from the south by taking U. S. 180 east from Holbrook. A 28-mile long road connects the north and south entrances of the park. We decided to start at the southern end because that's where the highest concentration of petrified wood is located.
The park has visitor centers at both ends. The southern visitor center is located just inside the entrance near an area called Rainbow Forest. In the visitor center, we watched the video about the history of the park and about how petrified wood is formed. Then we walked the Big Log Trail, which starts behind the visitor center.
Petrified Forest National Park contains one of the largest, most colorful collections of petrified wood in the world. Unfortunately, tons of petrified wood have been taken by souvenir hunters and even more has been destroyed by those seeking the crystals and semi-precious gems sometimes found within the petrified wood. They used to dynamite the logs just to see if there might be crystals inside.
The Petrified Forest was named a national monument in 1906, but it didn't become a national park until 1962. Making the Petrified Forest a national park provided more protection, but it is estimated about one ton of petrified wood is carried out of the park by visitors every month in spite of stiff penalties and in spite of the fact petrified wood that has been legally harvested from private property is readily available for sale all around the area.
Petrified wood is formed when trees are submerged in water then buried in layers of sediment rich in volcanic ash. The volcanic ash is high in silica, which is key to transforming the wood to stone. The silica and other minerals infused themselves into the wood and began to form crystals within the cell structure, much like the way fossils were formed. The silica displaced the cellulose that originally made up the wood. The colors in the petrified wood come mainly from various iron compounds. The photo below shows the rich colors in some of the petrified wood.
Here is another example.
Most of the petrified wood is from an extinct variety of conifer that grew up to 200 feet tall. The southern end of the park has some of the most colorful petrified wood. It also has some of the biggest logs.
The next photo shows a log called Old Faithful. At over 9 feet in diameter, it is the largest log in the park.
The detail of the wood grain and bark of some of the logs is amazing. You can also see knots where there used to be branches.
Also in the vicinity of the southern visitor center is a trail Agate House, which is an Indian pueblo. Along the trail, which is about two miles round trip, we came across a colorful collared lizard.
Agate House was built from chunks of petrified wood sealed in place with mud mortar. Archeologists believe Agate House was originally an eight-room pueblo built about 1000 years ago. The pueblo was partially reconstructed in the 1930s.
From Agate House, we drove north through the park. The landscape, which is part of the Chinle Formation, is comprised mostly of compressed, sandy gravel. We began to see more of the multi-colored terrain of the painted desert. Petrified wood continued to dot the landscape, but it isn't as prevalent as it is in the southern part of the park.
Notice the petrified log balanced on the top of the dune to the left in the photo below.
In spite of the inhospitable-looking terrain, there were a few wildflowers blooming.
As we proceeded north on the park road, the amount of petrified wood continued to be less and less obvious, and the colors of the Painted Desert became more dominant. We'll tell you more about the northern part of Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert in out next post.