Trip Advisor is great at laser targeting potential wallet-flushing theme parks, hotels, and dining experiences. But if you’re looking for public lands, rock formations, abandoned mines, ghost towns, and the such I advise asking a local. Generally, the older the better, who else knows all the locations, history, and has time to deal with a few meddling kids and their dog. If only the campervan more resembled the Mystery Machine, and Ruth looked a little less (judgmental Schnauzer) and more Scooby Doo.
As per my own advice, I asked the nice old lady at The Petrified Forest KOA check in. “Is there anything to do around here”. Without looking up she quickly responded, “The Petrified National Park”, gazing at the KOA’s name, huh you don’t say! “Is there something off the beaten path”? Well dear, there’s a few places. Just down the road is the Wigwam Hotel, where they filmed the movie “Cars” and the cars are still there. At the end of the painted desert is an old hotel where John Wayne and Elvis hung out together after shooting movies. And no matter what you do ignore the so called “Visitors Centers” they’re a scam to rip of tourist.
Entering the Petrified Forest National Park there were “visitor’s centers”. The National Parks Visitor Centers in which you pay to enter the National Park. And there was a historical hotel, but never once did Elvis and John Wayne sit on those bar stools talking shop over a root-beer float.
The movie “Cars” is animated, the Wigwam Hotel was no more than a point of inspiration. I died inside when I couldn’t find (Lighting McQueen) or (Mater).
Joking aside the little old lady at the KOA wasn’t wrong about the Painted Desert. It really was as she said, breathtaking. The scope and scale of an infinite color filled expanse left us in awe. A pastel rainbow of sand stacked in colored layers reminiscent of sand art, yet on a mountainous scale.
In stark contrast, the Petrified forests beauty is found in detail. Petrified trees although large aren’t like mountains. Their story is written within layers of organic wood fiber replaced by minerals over millennia. Each crack offered a kaleidoscope of color. It’s hard to believe these trees were once growing in a marsh like environment. Today turned to stone and resting in a desert valley.
Within the visitor center, AKA “tourist rip off”, amongst the maps and educational displays was a picture of the Route 66 car. I was amazed at how well preserved it was. This long-abandoned car’s patina of rust, buffed smooth by strong winds is a reminder of how long the beauty of this terrain has intrigued and mesmerized visitors.
Entire mountains reduced to monumental sand piles, ornately decorated by colored rock strata released grain by grain. A grove of trees turned to stone within a desert valley once a swamp. Time as the ticking of a clock is a construct of man. Yet, does it matter how many seconds of a clock mark the life of a mountain? The tree petrifies, the marsh turns to desert, the mountains unto sand without us? Nature as it were doesn’t need us.
Pretty humbling realization for a guy with a camera trying to raise awareness. For all our advancements we seem incapable of fixing what we keep breaking. Unable to reduce waste, unwilling to rethink, rework, or restructure. Continuing to be poor stewards of the only planet we have. Nature doesn’t need us, we need nature!