Blondie in the Crystal Forest - A dry and hot adventure in the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
In June, we spent three weeks exploring California and hitting several national and state parks. This is the first blog in that journey. I’ve not written new material since last summer about my travels and I’ve missed it. I hope to get into more regular travel blog pattern and even offer an eBook of my travel adventures. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’d like to stay in touch with what I have going on please sign up for my newsletter. As a bonus, I’m offering the first six chapters of my second book if you sign up. Click here to join the fun.
I shut the trunk that was packed to the gills with our gear for the three-week vacation and sat on the bumper looking up at the sky. It was a cool Dirtville evening and stars were sparkling as far as the eye could see. I loved this little space just before a journey begins. The half year of planning and anticipating is over. The packing is done and all that stands between me and the adventure is a mere restless sleep. In the morning, we would leave on a trip that we’d be talking about for decades. I savored the moment of peace and joy. This would be a busy few weeks free of quiet moments like this. We’d be meeting my mother and sister-in law in Yosemite for several days and then to a beach mansion for a week. Quiet moments were about to be filled with laughter, nature, and family fun.
The next morning I woke early and readied myself before I woke my three kids, all sleepy and slightly less eager to face the morning as I had been. A month into summer break and they were used to sleeping until they woke naturally. We ate and jumped in the car, settling into our journey.
I watched the sun creep across the sky heating up the flat landscape and marking the passage of time and distance away from our flat, dry homeland. A half a day later the carefully chosen path brought us along the Petrified Forest National Park. In contrast, Dirtville, my fond name for our hometown, appeared teeming with lush greenery and huge trees, which I assure you is only a matter of perspective. Our previous summer’s eastward journey’s left us feeling wholly differently about our arid hometown.
“Hey kids, look up from your devices. We’re here!” I announced.
My son feigns deafness but my daughter is quick to respond. “Where’s here?”
“The Painted Dessert.” I respond heartily. Truth be told it was unimpressive. Mountains of gravel and lame brown dirt piles all the way to the horizon was not enough to pull the boy from his laptop.
“Painted with what, a brown crayon?” My fourteen-year-old daughter exclaimed. We all laughed but the brochure we had showed glorious images of an entire palate of colorful dirt so I began reading aloud some of the promised sights as we made our way to one of the more interesting stops along the drive.
We stopped at a gorgeous vista of the painted dessert in it’s full glory. Every possible shade from brown to red was displayed in the ancient rocks and sand. It made me want to start painting again. The blazing sun scared us back into the car for another piece of road full of the brown landscape we’d already seen.
Finally, we stopped at likely the best choice in a day where we really needed to eat the miles up towards our ultimate destination. The Crystal Forest. in the Petrified Forest, sounded to my writerly mind like a magical place full of wonder and adventure. We meandered through the dirt, found the sign, and parked the car.
“We’re here!” I exclaimed excitedly again. I knew this was going to be a hard sell to the boy who preferred controlled environments and man-made luxuries like chairs, and dirt free footing, and most especially a cool bug free 72 degrees. The car thermometer blinked in disbelief an alarming 105.
Shorty responded. “Mom, if this is a forest how come all I see is flat dirt.”
“It’s a petrified forest.” I responded grabbing an ice-cold water out of the cooler, and debated shoving it down my pants for good measure. I chose normalcy mainly for my teenagers who were mortified by my mere existence.
“Son, tell them how the trees got this way.” My reverse psychology worked this time. Not only did he unfold out of the backseat and not clutch the cup holder and seat belt in revolt of leaving the comfortable car, he sorted through the miles of neurons relating to the science of petrification and educated us all what happened here millions of years ago. He explained gently to Shorty, my 8-year-old daughter and his favorite student, that the forest was covered by the sea and replaced with minerals leaving behind completely intact trees now made of rock. Milena passed and the ocean receded leaving the petrified trees. As the land moved out from under sections the weight of the trees, now made of stone and inflexible, cracked and broke away leaving large round chunks of petrified wood laying in the dirt.
We walked the ¾ mile petrified forest with hundreds of logs broken in strange crystal hunks shining in the blaring sun. Gorgeous colors and different layers made for beautiful landmarks of days gone past. The stark bleak surroundings of high dessert added to the contrast of the huge trees captured in time now lying flat on the desert floor.
Little shorty almost didn’t make it, or it would seem based on her melting in the hot sun. My son survived fueled by the spark of real live science to explore and he came to life explaining to all of us more about what made each color and other things I marveled that he had absorbed from the Internet.
We jumped back in the car and continued westward towards our destination of sunny California, passing through the Mojave Desert on I-40 putting our fond nickname for Dirtville to shame once again. It wasn’t as hot as we’d expected only reaching 109.
The drought was wicked hard on the land with more than just dead grass but barren patches where there once was life. We passed lush fields of corn, apple orchards, and endless orange groves in every stage of life from tiny saplings to mature trees, and even entire groves left to die in the hot sun.
Despite the horrible drought, the farmers seem to kick out massive crops of lush green produce. I can only imagine how much that water costs during these hard times. We passed thousands of cattle all with heads stuck through feed troughs surrounded by nothing but dirt, readying for the slaughter. Poor saps had a rather boring last few months with nary a blade of grass to crunch between their teeth.
I’d been to California years ago, but had started in San Francisco and worked down the coast. This view of California gave me a great new appreciation for the delightful bounty contained within. I knew of all that Cali produced but to see it live and in person was a life changing scene.
Stay tuned for part two of our California Adventure, coming soon.