Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest

The Blue Mesa Trail is a 1 mile paved interpretive loop into a Painted Desert Badlands environment at Petrified Forest National Park in north Arizona.

The badlands are areas of mudstones and siltstones that are easily eroded and sculpted by wind and water. The first part of the trail descends steeply through the sandstone caprock layer that is described as a conglomerate, containing gravels that were deposited by a moving stream.

Small cracks form in the steep slopes that catch water and eventually form pipes that lead below the surface of the ground. The water caught flows out at the base of the hills. At the base of the eroded hills, pieces of petrified wood start to appear. Bentonite clay in the formation swells with water then shrinks and cracks as it dries, creating an elephant skin looking surface.

The badlands areas are rich with fossils and clues to the past. Teeth and bones of long extinct reptiles have been found. The fossils aren’t very apparent from the trail but there are many pieces of petrified wood visible. In some spots the hard petrified wood sits on a pedestal.

The Blue Mesa Trail takes about 0:45 minutes to walk. The climb back up to the parking area at the end of the hike will get your heart pumping. I walked on a pleasant 55 F early March day. This area can get very hot in the summers. The Tawa Point and Rim Trail also gives good views of the Painted Desert and Badlands areas.

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