An Ancient Landscape ~ Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

Recently, while on a trajectory back to Sedona, AZ, which was home to us for several years, I realized that Petrified Forest National Park was within striking distance.  It had been many years since we had last visited so an overnight stay was added to our itinerary.

Petrified Forest National Park, in northeast Arizona, encompasses roughly 150 miles of brightly hued, abraded badlands, an ancient landscape that was birthed over 225-million years ago. Wind and water transformed this once humid, sub-tropical land, along with tectonic forces that pushed the landscape upward, exposing the Colorado Plateau to immense erosion.  Today, these desolate but beautifully striated formations tell the story of a land that has been scattered on the winds and the remains of trees now dot the landscape, turned to stone, as if Medusa had been at work here.

The Tepees
The Tepees

Petrified Forest is the only national park to protect a section of historic Route 66.  The roads are well-maintained so larger vehicles/RV’s can easily maneuver the 28-mile scenic drive through the park.  If your visit is short as ours was, the Crystal Forest Gift Shop Campground at the southern entrance is the place to stay.  Although you will be dry-camping, you will also be staying there free of charge. 🙂

The Painted Desert lies far off in the distance.
The Painted Desert lies far in the distance.
Newspaper Rock, where ancient words are etched onto desert varnish.
Newspaper Rock, where ancient words are etched onto desert varnish.
The sun peering through clouds over the Petrified Forest
The sun peering through clouds over the Petrified Forest
Final rays cast a golden glow over the desert, with petrified wood strewn across the landscape.
Final rays cast a golden glow over the desert, with petrified wood strewn across the landscape.
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A Bird’s-Eye View

Advise from a Hawk:  Soar to new heights/Be a keen observer/Swoop down on opportunities/Rise above it all/Spread your wings/Find a field that suits you/ The sky’s the limit!  ~ (c) Ilan Shamir http://www.yourtruenature.com


We spent the bulk of the day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, founded in 1952, and part of the pristine Sonoran desert in Tucson.  It encompasses 21 acres and is primarily a walking experience, with two miles of paths winding through its boundaries.  It is very unique in that it is part zoo, museum, and botanical garden and is one of the most visited attractions in Tucson.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has garnered a worldwide reputation in the scientific community as a foundation dedicated to research and conservation efforts directed at the land, plants, and the animals of the Sonoran Desert Region.  Their mission is to inspire others to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering an understanding and appreciation of the Sonoran desert. This facility was also the pioneer for the creation of naturalistic enclosures for its animals.

Although the desert this time of year does not have the brilliant color that springtime brings, there has always been something very appealing about the desert for me, and the cooler temperatures are a welcome respite from what is soon to come.  With more than 300 species of animals and 1200 types of plants at the desert museum, you could certainly spend an entire day here and this is the perfect time of year to do so.

This facility is a wonderful haven for birds and there is a fabulous hummingbird exhibit on the grounds, giving visitors the opportunity to walk freely amongst these inquisitive, brilliantly colored little creatures.  Granted, it is difficult to capture these smallest of birds in a photo as they are buzzing you in midflight, but Terry was able to snap a couple of good shots.

We had the opportunity to view a couple of wonderful programs at the desert museum, the most remarkable being the Raptor Free Flight program.  We got an up close bird’s-eye view of a family of Harris’ hawks on a hunt.  The narration was terrific and it was so thrilling to watch this family of four soaring overhead and alighting on saguaro cactus.  How do they do that?  Very carefully, of course! Many times their flight paths took them literally within inches of our heads.  This program showcased how these magnificent hunters  cooperatively work in their native environment and they were successful in the hunt!

Running Wild is another program that has been presented for four years running at the desert museum and one that we were lucky to see.  A screen presentation regarding the history of the park, now in its 60th year, was recounted by curator George Carpenter.  At various times throughout this screening, background music was the cue for live animals to scamper or waddle onto the stage, while the curator described the habits of these animals and the conservation efforts that came into play to develop this Desert Museum.  It was amazing to see a hooded skunk, ringtail, Gambel’s quail, brown pelican, and porcupine sashay on stage and exit on cue.  We learned that it takes several months to train these animals to walk across the stage.

Last, but certainly not least, was the cute and cuddly prairie dog exhibit, always entertaining to watch.

Wait! Don’t take the picture yet! This is my chubby side.

Time for us to move on as it is now siesta time at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  What a great day!

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