Matt and Brad Kirouac packed up all their stuff, bought an RV, and left their city life in Chicago to travel to all of America’s national parks with their dachshund, Finn, documenting their adventures on their Parklandia podcast. On this episode, they tell us about their time at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, a “landscape really rich with natural beauty,” Matt says, “and of course plenty of Instagram opportunities.” Despite its name, the Petrified Forest has no trees or really anything green; it’s a desert, “eerily quiet...with not many animals, aside from the occasional crow,” Matt describes, “which kind of fits this arid, barren landscape.” But 220 million years ago, it was a tropical terrain full of gigantic trees. Over time, these trees were toppled and buried in volcanic ash, and the organic matter of the wood was slowly replaced with sediment, turning the logs into rock over hundreds of millions of years. “And along the way the silica turns into quartz, and it gets its colors based on various mineral content from things like chromium and iron and carbon,” Matt tells us. “And so fast forward a couple hundred million years...and these logs are now exposed as glistening, essentially giant gems, with colors like purple, green, blue. Basically it's a desert filled with these gigantic Easter egg looking logs.”
While the Petrified Forest National Park is considered a “drive-through park,” as Matt calls it - mainly because it’s the only national park to contain a section of the historic Route 66 highway - it’s worth a stop to explore one or all of the trails available. They aren’t too strenuous for newbies, and in fact Matt’s favorite trail, the Blue Mesa Trail, is fully paved. And if your peace gets disturbed by a phone call from work, as Matt’s was, “It's a great trail for passive aggressively storming away,” he quips. “It's nice and flat. Great for that.” But the real draw is, of course, the view: “You get to weave down into some colorful badlands. It's lit with tints of purples and blues...the trail loops through a forest of petrified logs, many of them the size of boulders,” Brad says. “This trail is as colorful as the Las Vegas strip.”
That’s not the only notable trail, however; the Giant Logs trail stunned Brad with the size of the, well, giant logs - one, called Old Faithful, is “as wide as a bus,” he marvels. Fans of the prehistoric world would like the Puerco Pueblo Trail, which highlights how people from millions of years ago lived in this area, complete with ruins of their homes and central square, as well as plenty of petroglyphs - or as Matt dubs them, “the original emojis.” He tells us that Newspaper Rock is the best site for petroglyphs because there’s as many as 600 there. “The amazing thing about petroglyphs...they provide a mysterious and fascinating little peek into the past,” he says. The ones on view at this park are especially mystifying, since the National Parks Service asked descendants of Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi people to help translate the glyphs, with no luck. “We can only guess, really: were they making symbols of spirituality, were they stories, were they warnings…? The world may never know.”
Another perk is that this is one of the most dog-friendly national parks, so the couple particularly enjoyed being able to explore the trails with Finn. Since it’s a relatively small park, the trails aren’t too long, and there’s plenty to see (and sniff) along the way. “You could tell he was equally as obsessed with the petrified wood as we were,” Matt says. Brad agrees, adding, “Luckily he didn't pee on them.”
If you’re ready to be obsessed with stunning vistas, prehistoric petroglyphs, and petrified wood, join Matt, Brad, and Finn to hear more about their trip through the Petrified Wood National Park on this episode of Parklandia.
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