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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is bisected by I-40 and is the passageway to the great Painted Desert. Our first stop is the visitor center where we see the introductory movie about the park. Petrified Forest has one of the best geologic and fossil records of the Late Triassic in the world, and paleontologists find new fossils, including new species of plants and animals, each year.

Eager to see in the morning light the Painted Desert, which beckoned late yesterday as we drove east on I-40, we hike the easy 1.2 miles trail along its rim. The desert could be one of the natural wonders of the world, it’s so beautiful with its striations of oranges, pinks, reds and beiges.
We hike five of the seven maintained trails in the park, the longest of which is two miles, past petrified trees and wood, blooming cacti and Indian ruins and petroglyphs.
My favorite trail leads among badland hills of bluish bentonite clay. When I was little, my family took a trip to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, and for 25 years I have held on to the memory of how the colorful hills looked so beautiful and fragile with their layers of greens, pinks, reds, blues and browns. The whole landscape looked as a sand sculpture, like any touch or jostling would destroy the perfectly layered colors. Now, here I am, walking among hills just like those in the Badlands! I feel giddy, like I just locked eyes across a crowded room with George Clooney. Cautiously, I reach my hand out to touch the blue-gray surface, and it isn’t fragile; it’s a rock, after all. I smile and look over my shoulder at Mark, who isn’t nearly as awe-struck as I.

We stop in a visitor center at the far south of the park to read about the early explorations there, then eat a late picnic lunch at a table under a tree before aiming northward.

Roads are few and far between in this section of the country, and I look up from the map in time to see a road to the left to Nazlini, Arizona, a town on 27 before Chinle, our destination. So with a squeal of the tires, Mark manages to cut over, and we head north, hoping it’s the right road.
About 10 miles in, a shepherd herds a flock of sheep across the road while we wait. Just beyond that Mark slows because three cows are grazing just along the side. Past the halfway point, the road becomes unpaved, and we have to stop for four horses and two new colts crossing. We enjoy the unique experience, wondering if pigs or chickens or goats will delay us another short time. We’re trying to get to Hubble Trading Post before it closes for the day.

Hubble Trading Post in Northeast Arizona is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation and is a national historic landmark. Mark and I arrive just 15 minutes before closing and expect something grand, but it’s just a little, old, stone-and-mortar building. Inside isn’t especially nice either; behind the counter upon which the cash register sits are boxes of Bubble Yum and Tootsie Rolls as well as other standard gums and candies. It reminds me of a Sunoco or any service station, like we just filled up and stepped into the station to pay.

We pass into a side room with hand-woven blankets on display for sale. One is $8,995! The others are way overpriced as well. Back in the main room, one entire wall has slots filled with different size moccasins. We look for a pair for my cousin’s one year old, but they are out of that size. We leave Hubble Trading Post thinking that it really wasn’t worth the hurry driving there, but we agree that visiting Petrified Forest National Park makes today the best of the trip so far.