Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Stuck in the Mud

Ancient mudpile, Petrified Forest NP

If you ever get to visit the Petrified Forest / Painted Desert NP (near Holbrook, AZ), take my advice and allow yourself more than a couple of hours.  For us, the stop was something of an afterthought, something to do before we started the long trip back to New York.  It’s a small park just off of I-40 and we figured that 2 or 3 hours would be more than enough.  We were wrong.

While trying to hustle through the place, we stopped at one of the few parking areas to see what was there.  Basically, it was a short walking trail that allowed you to see some fairly large “specimens” of petrified wood.  And there were lots of little signs that tried to explain the history of the place.  That it all began over 200 million years ago when the area was a lush, tropical forest (complete with dinosaurs) that was then laid waste by volcanic activity.  That thousands of trees became buried in the mud for millions of years, eventually covered by a shallow ocean, and then revealed again when the ocean dried up and eons of erosion started removing the mud.  At which point the trees were no longer in any way organic.  They had become fossilized – turned into quartz and other types of rock.

Interesting stuff.  Then I looked in the opposite direction, away from the parking lot.  What I saw was the image above.  Big mounds of what looked like dried up mud, with dark spots of something or other sticking out of them and some strange, blue lines running across them.  So off I went.

Yep.  Dried up mud.  It actually felt fragile while walking on it – at times it felt like it might give way and you’d fall into a big hole.  I don’t know that I’d want to walk on that stuff when it was wet.  I’m not sure you wouldn’t sink up to your knees.

More interesting, though, was all the small pieces of petrified wood at the base of these mounds.  It was like walking on broken glass.  When the sun hit the area, it sparkled.  And oh the temptation to pick up some of the better pieces and stuff them in my pocket.  I was alone, after all.  Everybody else was across the street wandering that little trail.  But I didn’t.  You’re warned when you drive in that picking up anything at all is illegal.  They can also search you and your car when you leave.  Hefty fines for those who get caught!  So I was a good boy.

And those things “sticking out” of the dried up mud mounds?  Now that was really interesting.  Just look at the picture below:

Stuck in the Mud

They’re petrified logs, recently uncovered by the erosion of the mud mound.  There are lots more of these petrified logs buried under this stuff, apparently, all just waiting for the dried up goop to get washed away.  Fascinating.

Also, worth a lot more time than 2 or 3 hours.  But it got dark and we had to leave.  The place actually closes at 6:00 PM.  Millions of years in the making and I spend just a couple of hours gawking at it.  Dumb.  Maybe next time………..

The blue lines?  Haven’t a clue.  At some point in time something was deposited with a blue tint to it or something that a chemical reaction turned bluish.  I don’t know.  Guess I need to do a little research.


8 Responses to “Stuck in the Mud”

  1. oneowner

    I have a piece of petrified wood, supposedly from the Petrified Forest (but who knows) that I bought in a gift shop years ago. I consider it to be one of my treasures. I probably would have been tempted to take home a piece if I saw it laying there on the ground, the fine can’t be more than the gift shop charges. Fascinating place and beautiful photos, too.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Ken. Yes, an interesting place full of amazing geology. I don’t know how much you paid for your piece of petrified wood, but I think the fine was something like $300. More than I thought the risk was worth, anyway. As it turned out, they just waved us through when we left. Could have driven off with something really good!

  2. jstrong52

    One day I’ll have the time to get out and travel a bit. In the meantime, I’ll just keep checking your site! Thanks for the information, if I ever get down that way again I’ll certainly spend some quality time there.

    • Paul Maxim

      As I’ve said before, we’re going to keep going until we can’t anymore. We’ll either be too old or broke (or maybe both). I ain’t saving up for no freakin’ nursing home!

      Seriously, you already live in a pretty good place. You’ve got all kinds of good stuff not too far away.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Earl. No question – not nearly enough time to see it all. Life would be a lot easier if I weren’t so damned curious. For me it’s always been about what’s up around the next bend or beyond that next hill. For some reason, I’ve never cared much about those things that can be found in my own backyard.

  3. Paul

    That is seriously cool. You are having quite an adventure, Paul. I think that my skin is turning slightly green, envy and all that. 🙂 I understand why you didn’t pick it up. Those rules are there for a reason. One person picking up something, no big deal. A million visitors, well they could decimate the place. Better to levy stiff fines. Some folks are going to still do it, but others will just leave it alone, like you did and like I would have. 🙂

    • Paul Maxim

      From what I’ve learned, Paul, the place really was decimated before it became a national park. Most of the really good stuff – filled with quartz – was removed. But you’re right – it could literally be emptied if everybody who visited left with a souvenir. And who wants to look at just “mud piles”?


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