Updated: Jun 15, 2022
Sunday, 22 May 2022, Flagstaff AZ
NOTE. When I mentioned to my cousin in Phoenix that I spent two days in Petrified Forest (PeFo), he commented, "I didn't know there was that much to do in the park!" I guess that's true if you only scratch the surface. But if you dig a little deeper...
I had such a big kick yesterday, I looked forward to an encore. As I prepared to leave the hotel room and head out, I checked email one last time... and got a kick in the teeth. Delta sent me a message, saying, "That flight from Bangor ME to Cleveland on your next parks tour, leaving at 4:50 p.m.? That doesn't work for us anymore. But don't worry! We booked you on a flight out at 6 a.m. that same day. Hope you didn't have any big plans."
No time now to spend hours on the phone and the computer, revamping my schedule. That can wait for tonight. Instead, I must focus on today, give the park its due. Try to keep from dwelling on this new mess.
The day started in the high 70s, with clouds in the sky. Rather than dollops of white, I saw a straight line of white, with tendrils trailing off behind it. It put me in mind of a Navajo blanket run through a cheese grater.
First stop: Niponi Point. I took the coordinates in my journal - N 35° 04.383 W 109° 46.567 - and carefully typed them into the Google Maps app on my phone. It directed me to the park's dirt service road - on the bed of the old Route 66 - and had me walk a distance east. Forget about crossing scrubland to the juniper tree, though it stayed close to my position.
Soon the phone said, "Destination is to your left." I saw nothing untoward yet, so I walked a few steps further... There - a well-worn footpath through the scrub. I followed that to the rim, my anticipation growing. Just below the rim I noticed a pile of man-made rocks that could have been old asphalt or road debris. I looked closely, but nothing looking cache-like came into view.
Disappointed, I turned back to the footpath and ... Wait, what's that?
I now saw a strategically placed pile of four 'bricks', a base of three and a top piece. Removing the top brick, I noticed the official geocache inside. Once again, I felt the rush of success. As I headed back to the road and to my car, I looked back at the hiding place.
No wonder I missed it the first time - it really blends into the scrub. That certainly adds to the thrill of the search, when it takes a bit of an effort. No wonder people get hooked on the hobby.
Now to Palm Desert Inn for my taste of wilderness. PeFo has no lodging in the park, and it closes every night. The only (legal) way to stay in the park overnight is to get a free wilderness permit, then hike at least a mile beyond the road. While there are no official trails once you get off the rim, in reality a well-worn (but unmarked) trail will lead you off the rim into the bottomlands.
After that, you're on your own.
The trail down reminded me of a MUCH-shorter version of the Kaibab or Bright Angel trails in the Grand Canyon - steep, with a constantly changing view of the landscape around you. I regularly looked back to lock in landmarks for my return, though a hiker would have only one choice here.
In under a mile I reached the canyon floor. The path now petered out, leaving limitless options to walk. I checked the directions Halle had given me. "Head toward the squared-off butte," it read, with a picture to amplify the direction. It still took me a minute or two to identify that landform and get my bearings. Before leaving the last vestiges of the exit trail, I looked back to firmly orient myself. Okay, I'm just left of this average brown hill; further to the right are two buttes with white rocks falling off their front side. Call them the whitefall cliffs.
Now I set off on a direct line to the squared off butte. I could almost say people had hiked through here before; it looked like a faint trace of a trail. it led me to the lyrical Lithodendron Wash, typically dry for this time of year. The 'trail' dropped off the steep bank, and I crossed to the far side. I spent another minute or two leading to the squared-off butte before having second thoughts. It's got to be close to a mile to that butte. Will I still recognize the way back? And why bother, since Ranger Halle said it has collapsed?
Hey - if I'm worried about losing the trail, why not quit following it? No more worries! Confront your fears! (Isn't that what wilderness is all about anyway?) I returned to the Wash and took a right turn, heading up (or down?) the wash.
In little time I slipped into forest bathing (or PeFo-bathing, I guess) mode, opening my senses to the land around me. Let a fistful of sand from the wash slip through my fingers - quite grittier than the White Sands. Check out the yellow cactus flowers - amazing how plants adapt.
Notice how branches in the wash are swept in a single direction - that must be the way the water flows. Feel the leaves of the plants scrabbling for a purchase on the land - quite soft.
Catch that rock - looks like a frog wearing a sombrero.
I followed the winding streambed, soaking in the desert stillness. The wash meandered toward the left-side cliffs, with the Painted Desert Inn disappearing from view. Finally, an hour after I'd left the rim, I decided to tie up the threads of this exploration.
I climbed out of the wash and looked for landmarks. No Inn, but the whitefall cliffs lay off to my left. I struck out across the desert scrub, drinking in the unfolding scene. When I neared the nondescript hill, the Inn again hove into view. Another couple of minutes brought me to the wash (and trail) I'd taken down.
The climb up was a grind, not surprisingly. I got within fifty yards of the end when I passed a couple older than I heading down. "Are we getting close? Are we halfway there?" he asked.
I chuckled and answered, "Not even close." I saw them again a few minutes later, heading to Kachina Point. Ahh, so they had taken the wrong trail earlier. I hope they hadn't descended too far...
The Rim Trail called to me next, one-half mile and back from Kachina to Tawa Point. More canyonesque views unfolded around every bend.
The temperature stayed in the low 80s, making for a comfortable hike.
Next up: the Studebaker! I'd checked geocaching.com, and the page for this cache did not list any DNFs (Did Not Finds) from previous searchers, so I wanted to try again. Two or three cars of people hung around at the pullout, waiting to frame their perfect selfie with the car, so I waited for them to move on before stepping up.
That approach only works if gaps of visitors occur. Instead, new cars would pull up before others left. After several minutes, I quit waiting, walked to the far (passenger, or 'right') side, sat on the ground and pivoted around to look under the front fender. Still nothing visible (though I had to crane my neck for a view, shielding my eyes from the overhead sun). Check rear fender. Nothing.
Pretending not to see the quizzical looks from the other tourists, I moved again to the front fender. Nothing to see. Despite the hint that said, "Be careful in case spiders or lizards have nested there," I gingerly felt around the lip of the fender - wait, what's this? Something magnetic - Bingo!
After examining the cache, I replaced it in its hiding place. Finishing my final geocache brought on another smile. I brushed myself off and headed back to my car, still ignoring the glances thrown my way.
On my deferred list, Blue Mesa came next. I stopped at two or three pullouts on the loop road for views into the eroded badlands landscape. The last pullout came with the trailhead for a paved trail dropping into the badlands.
I joined dozens of people stretching their legs on the trail. A steep path took us off the rim into the eroded buttes, where it eventually flattened out into a loop path.
The temps had climbed to the mid-80s, but an oft-stiff breeze provided heat relier.
My tour ended with the Long Logs Trail. Parks signs stated that the primeval forest featured trees (now petrified) soaring 200' tall. The deteriarating trail - if indeed I had not lost it and wandered with little direction - led through more collections of logs. I paced off logs that stretched to 100' of visible log, with more still buried at one end. The info stated that many of these came from logjams, when streams got backed up with tree debris.
(Sandy - will Congaree look like this in a couple hundred million years? Ask Scott if he'll shuttle us over to check it out in 218002022 AD to check it out.)
That brings me to the end of this PeFo adventure - another winning excursion.
And after a two-hour drive to Flagstaff, I had the adventure of staying on hold with Delta for two hours, since they haven't bothered investing in the automated system that says, "We'll call you back." When I finally got an agent on the line, I did get them to switch me to a 1:07 p.m. flight. When I get home, I'll have to figure out which other plans must still change.