Monday, November 19, 2007

Long Logs and Agate House Trail-Petrified Forest

At the south end of the Petrified Forest National Park in northeast Arizona is the Long Logs Trail with the Agate House spur trail. These trails are about two miles round trip.

The story is that 230 million years ago, in a lush tropical conifer forest, some of the trees fell into a river and sunk to the bottom where they were eventually covered with layers of silt and volcanic ash. Gradually, the silica in the covering layers replaced the wood.

The whole region drifted from the tropics to its present location and was uplifted, and erosion is exposing the logs. Now they are highly sought by collectors. The park estimates that they lose a ton per month, carried out in small fragments.

There are commercial places that sell petrified wood outside the park. The parking lots of these places are all nicely lined with stumps of the wood, in contrast to the chaos of nature.

Some of these logs are more than 200 feet long. None of them stand upright as in a forest. They all lay over as in a log jam.

The logs often seem to have been sawed into convenient sized pieces, as if you would want to turn them over and use them for seats. At the end of the side trail to Agate House, there is a ruins site built out of petrified wood more than 700 years ago. Petrified Forest is rich in archaeology. There is also the Puerco Ruins Trail and the Newspaper Rock petroglyph site.

Tawa Point Trail in the Painted Desert-Petrified Forest National Park

The Tawa Point and Rim Trail is at the north end of the Petrified Forest National Park. It is a 1.2 mile round trip along the rim and is also a botany trail, the local plants identified with signs.

Widespread through north Arizona is the Painted Desert, the colorful eroded clays and shales of the Chinle layer. Besides the color and the lack of anything growing on it, the Chinle layer gives up some dinosaur fossils and petrified wood.

There are some whitish layers visible that are volcanic ash and silt. Steps are visible along some of the clay slopes. These are caused when the surface gets wet enough for the material to slump down the slope. Along the surface of the trail there is a stable layer of volcanic agglomerate that provides a richer surface for growing plants.

At the west end of the trail is the historic Painted Desert Inn, built in the 1930s and now a visitor center.

One of the highlights inside the Inn is the large mountain lion petroglyph that is something of a mascot for the park. On the west side of the Painted Desert Inn there is a trail head for visiting the Painted Desert Wilderness area.

Betatakin Ruin Overlook Trail-Navajo National Monument

Deep in the vast Navajo Reservation in northeast Arizona, a little west of Kayenta is Tsegi Canyon, a deep slash in red sandstone that is the site of one of the best preserved ruins in the southwest. 

Betatakin Ruin is thought to be the ancestral home of one of the clans of Hopi Indians, who abandoned the site 700 years ago and walked 50 miles to the Hopi Mesas where they live today.

From the visitor center, there is a one mile round trip along the Sandal Trail to an overlook, the ruin tucked back into a large alcove. The hike down to the ruin is only available as a 4-6 hour ranger led outing.

From the overlook point, hikers start in the mesa top area above the large alcove and hike to the right to along a rough road to a switchback trail. After descending, they approach the alcove along the canyon bottom from the right.

Navajos arrived in the area about 500 years ago, migrating from Alaska, and found these ruins, and eventually extended their territory to surround the Hopis, so that today the Hopi Reservation is an island inside the Navajo Reservation. Many of the names of places of the ruins builders are Navajo words. Betatakin means "ledge house." The Sandal Trail is also a botany trail with the typical plants of the area pointed out with small interpretive signs.

An 0.8 mile side trail off the Sandal trail goes to an overlook at the upper end of the same canyon where a remnant aspen and Douglas fir forest grows. Aspen and Douglas fir are normally found near the tops of mountains, but the cool and shady canyon bottom have allowed them to live in an area where dry country Pinon Pine and Cedar grow.

Near the visitor center at the beginning of the Sandal Trail there is a display of a Navajo Hogan and a sweat lodge. This appears to be the older style not seen much anymore. Many of the Navajo residence areas will have a multi sided log style. There are also some dinosaur tracks on display near the Hogan display.

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