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“The Great Stone Forest”

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Hitting the TrailsAs you explore America’s unique National Parks and Monuments you often find natural wonders that seem unexplainable.  Living in Montgomery County we are all familiar with a wide variety of rocks so on a recent trip to the great southwest we took time to revisit one of our favorite western parks that is literally a stone forest.
Petrified Forest National Park is a rock hounds nirvana.  The principle attractions are the logs of trees that fell 60 million years ago near what is now Central America.  The Park’s Ranger program explains that the trees were most likely sweep down by floods then lay buried in mineral rich soil for millions of years.
These buried trees absorbedminerals, silica andvolcanic ash that over time turned to stone or as the park calls them petrified logs. A cross section of these logs are a kaleidoscope of yellow, magenta, greens and grays thatwhen polished they are a natural wonder.
As we hiked several of the short trails we found logs over four feet in diameter and a hundred long.  These natural wonders were pushed to the surface by the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates that eventually created the great Colorado plateau.  Water, wind and time eventually exposed these stone logs in a long valley that is now the National Park.
Relics of early Native Americans indicate that they first entered the area almost 10,000 years ago.  Evidence of their being in the area is best shown in the petroglyph drawings we found on large slabs of stone along one of the interpretive trails.
One of the fun and informative activities you can experience in the National Parks today is the Junior Ranger Program.  This unique program was originally designed as an activity for children to learn more about the park’s natural wonders during their visit.
At the visitor center a ranger will issue a pamphlet that has several exercises that the Junior Ranger candidate must complete and turn in to a ranger to be certified when they complete the requirements. The various exercises include finding and identifying the various plants and animals that live in the park as well as finding and identifying key natural features located throughout the park.
Our ten-year grandson is addicted to this program so every park we visit with him is an adventure in Junior Rangering.  But to the Park Service’s amazement the program has become very popular with adults who want have a better understanding of the parks.
On one hike we came upon two New Mexico schoolteachers whowere  diligently completing their Jr. Ranger booklets.  They explained that it was fun and provided a venue to learn as much about the park as possible.They indicated that they intended to share it with their students upon their return to class.  We also encountered a young couple from Hunan Province in China on their first trip to the U.S. who were also diligently trying to complete the program.
Once your application is certified complete the Ranger performs a swearing in ceremony and presents a shiny badge and a certificate declaring the successful candidate a Junior Park Service Ranger.
The lands of this uniqueNational Park are adjacent to the larger Painted Desert National Monument a vast area of high desert lands whose rose, white, green and black soils create a rainbow of colorful hills and ravines to a backdrop of stunningly blue skies.  This was also the first time we have seen this landscape green and in bloom thanks to the very long and wet spring.
The thirty-mile drive through the park offers grand views and great short hikes for all skill levels.  At the northern end of this drive is the historic Desert Inn, an adobe structure,  built in the style of the famous Hopi villages found in the southwest.
Built in the late 1920’s by the CCC the main lodge and its cabins were a famous scenic stop on the Route 66 where early road travelers could stop for the night and take in panoramic views of the Painted Desert.  Today it is museum and visitor center.
As you walk through the completely restored building the famous bar area with its stunning murals by the famous Hopi artist Fred Kabotie take you back to a simpler time.  The building includes the use of some of the petrified stone in its unique design and is eye candy to lovers of early nineteenth century architecture.
No visit to this area of Arizona just east of Holbrook would be complete with a stop at one of the touristy gift shops to buy your own piece of polished petrified stone or a slice of sand tone with the compressed figure of an ancient fish imbedded in the stone.  It is a unique part of our country’s great southwest wherewide-open spaces seem endless.