Now that it is well and truly Fall – I’m writing while wearing sweatpants, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, and the year’s first loaf of pumpkin bread is in the oven this very second – it seemed like time to wrap up my reflections on our summer vacation! After our day at the Grand Canyon we camped overnight and headed off for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in the morning. Until this trip I didn’t realize that those are actually two parts of the same National Park – if you enter from the South like we did you head up through the Petrified Forest, into Blue Mesa and the Painted Desert. The Grand Canyon was the most overwhelming of our stops, but we both agreed that we enjoyed the Painted Desert even more – especially the Blue Mesa area. The hills there were disorienting and very deceptive – what looked like enormous mountains in the distance would turn out to be mounds less than 20 feet high, nearby!I’ll admit that before we got there I had the rather naive belief that the “Petrified Forest” was, you know, a forest – with trees standing up. Why in the world I thought that I don’t know – instead, the logs and chunks of petrified wood lie sometimes right in a line, so you can see where the tree fell thousands of years ago, and sometimes scattered around where I imagine a receding tide or flood may have left them.
We walked as many of the short trails in the park as we had time for, including to the “Agate House,” a pueblo dwelling made of the petrified wood. According to the park information the local inhabitants did indeed build homes from the wood, but this may not be an entirely accurate representation – but I didn’t think that made it any less interesting, personally. Imagine living somewhere so deserted, before remote communication! (Some days that sounds fantastic to me…)
On our way down from the Agate House, we walked toward what we thought were some bluish gray mountains in the distance. They turned out to be very short hills all of 50 feet away – disorienting! They reminded me of model train mountains.
Look at me, I’m a giant!
Some of the logs in this area had petrified in lighter, more reddish colors and looked so realistic it was difficult to tell that they weren’t actually wood.
Others, in the next area we visited (“Crystal Forest”) were much more clearly mineralized, with a lot of purple crystal in them.
I’m pretty sure this raven was bigger than our cat… enormous bird! He was chilling out by the car when we returned from the Crystal Forest trail.
The landscape entirely changes as you move through the park, in the span of only a few miles. The Blue Mesa area was composed of those deceptively short hills, but there was still some petrified wood lying where it looked to have washed down the draws.
At the end of the park (or the beginning, if you come in the Painted Desert side), we went from blue to red, and the views opened up dramatically. The ridge in the distance of these photos was said to be 7 miles away.
At the end of our day in the park, we drove towards New Mexico to see the “Ice Cave” on the side of an old volcano. The GPS had some trouble finding it but we ultimately made it just before they closed down in the afternoon. It was a hot day (not surprising!) but as we headed towards the cave it was like walking into a refrigerator. The volcanic rock acts as such efficient insulation that the ice remains all year, though it is less impressive in the summer. And neon green.
Of course, Casey being Casey travelled to an ice cave on the side of a volcano… and made friends with a housecat. For a spooky green cave it did have some friendly furry “residents.”
Former volcano crater!
The ice cave was the final main “attraction” planned for our trip. We spent the night in New Mexico (saw some fantastic lightning that night in the desert – and therefore did NOT camp!) and headed through the Texas panhandle for Oklahoma the next day.
We saw a couple quirky local parking methods on the way through Texas…
Southern Oklahoma was still the red dirt of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. After Oklahoma city, however, it suddenly became green and tree covered, and could have fit in nearly anywhere in the U.S. And then, the hay bales started. Between Easter Oklahoma and apparently all of Missouri, I think we passed the source of every hay bale in the country 😉
Since we were passing nearby anyway, we decided to make a stop in St. Louis and check out the riverfront and the Gateway Arch.
And then, just across the Illinois border we stopped at the Cahokia Mounds – a site where a mound-building people lived, their civilization rising and falling long before any westerners arrived on the U.S.. There was a great museum and more to the site, but we had a full day of driving to make it to Pittsburgh so we checked out the main mound and then had to be on our way.
After a very late stop for the night in Pittsburgh, it was time to wrap the trip up back on the East Coast, in Ocean City, and also to get our workout on again after three days straight in the car! We fit in Nancy on our first workout day for the final, Ocean City leg of the trip, and then the next day did a fun couplet that my mom joined us for of double unders and dumbbell thrusters. For a trip covering so much ground, when we got to see so many things, it was amazing how at times I felt like it would never end (in a good way!) and then suddenly I found myself lifting in the garage the next Monday morning, not sure if I’d ever left except for the red dirt ground into my shoes.