Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Canyon de Chelly: September 2, 2004

  1. Inside the Visitor Center for the Petrified Forest, a pretty big dinosaur skeleton rears its head alarmingly.

  2. Some prize pieces of petrified wood make the cut to the museum's display.

  3. More dinosaurs! At least they are farther away! But what's in back? A mural!

  4. One of them is known by his nickname, Desmatosuchus. I personally would like to know just how many years there are between Middle Jurassic, or no, Middle Triassic, and late Triassic. Are we talking a few thousand years? A few million? What? Hello? Could the National Park Service please fix the display?

  5. This guy is in the Postosuchus gang. The Visitor Center never explained what this display of dinosaurs had to do with the Petrified Forest. The hidden, but never expressed, implication was that the dinosaurs indeed lived in the Petrified Forest, in the Middle Triassic (which was when???) and the late Triassic (again, we need a date here???). Perhaps all those fossils were found here - well, Park Service, could you drop a hint? There is just something surrealistic about looking at a bunch of dinosaurs and having no idea what context they belonged to.

  6. If you see a Placerias gigas (often goes by "Placerias", simply), Do Not Touch.

  7. This guy is not a dinosaur, but just a stand-in for some dinosaurs that were taken off premises for a make-over.

  8. Now begins the long string of over-exposed photos. The desert sun was bright, and half the time I was shooting into the sun.

    Anyway, this shows some petrified logs off in the distance, and simultaneously captures the feeling of the Petrified Forest park - it's a long and lonely desert, hot and baked, covered by scrabbly bushes that won't give up, still holding the large pieces of petrified rock that haven't yet been carried away. Notably, you don't see small pieces of petrified rock in the park. Only enormous logs.

    The woman in the Visitor Center said that the park only controls, or owns, 10% of the petrified rock deposits. The neighbors who sell small chunks for hundreds of dollars per chunk may only have mineral rights. Feels like an illicit, tawdry trade to me. I don't want to pay to take the rock away from its home, away from where it belongs. For what purpose? You put it on a ledge, and dust it?

  9. Again, I think this picture is most useful in just showing you the context, the surroundings, the bare empty desert. You can't really tell by looking here that these logs are stone.

  10. When is an object a petrified log, and when is an object a stone, a rock?

  11. A red rock, very unlike all the rest of the red rocks all over Arizona - maybe this has to be named a red stonewood.

  12. A lighter shade of red, shot through with yellow.

  13. This is a weird park. A lot of gorgeous desert, hosting these odd petrified lumps.

  14. This one's for you, Mike. Well, maybe I can improve on this.

  15. A rounded cellar-barrel sort of specimen.

  16. We're getting onto the Painted Desert, now. The Painted Desert cuts a huge swathe through the center of Arizona, and you get good views onto it from the Petrified Forest park.

  17. Formations in the Painted Desert. Another in a series of washed-out light; I'm shooting into the sun, so the glorious but subtle colors are completely lost. This would not be an entry in a photography contest.

  18. Are these called mesas? Or buttes?

  19. Talls peaks with varying layers of color, that reflect different deposits over the last two billion years. I bought the Painted Desert book that has all the geology in it, if anyone has particular questions.

  20. More and separate peaks.

  21. Newspaper Rock. It is huge.

  22. But not as huge as the Painted Desert, which stretches across northern Arizona and up into Utah.

  23. Buttes of the Painted Desert.

  24. Another view.

  25. The light is washed out. The colors are vibrant in real life.

  26. On the edge, some hardy grasses grow.

  27. The Painted Desert gives you a feeling of expansive immensity.

  28. The Painted Desert Inn is somewhat old, perhaps dating from the 1930s, or from the 1900s; in any case, they are restoring it. I don't think it will serve as an inn again, though. It bugs me that they feel they have to fly the U.S. flag. "This is federal property."

  29. The Painted Desert from the Painted Desert Inn.

  30. Another view of the Painted Desert Inn.

  31. Finally! A picture in which the light cooperates! I believe this is the first of many, many shots along the south rim of the Canyon de Chelly. This land is jointly operated by the Navajos and the US government. Navajo people farm at the base of the canyon, as people have for millenia. You can drive along the south rim (20 miles?) and the north rim (20 miles?); there are spectacular lookouts dotted along the way. You park the car and wander down the red rock, leaning far over the edge. A little boy asked me, Is it dangerous? I said, Only if you fall.

  32. Canyon de Chelly is very high, and varied. Each lookout seems different (even if that might not come across in the pictures.)

  33. Each outcropping is named, or course; I bought the Canyon de Chelly guide, but I don't think I can begin to match my pictures with their pictures.

  34. The anvil topped by other red rocks teeters on the edge of the canyon.

  35. Another anvil. After a few hours driving along the rim of the Canyon and looking at different rock monuments, you do begin to feel like red rock yourself.

  36. A free-standing monument.

  37. A large central monument looms up, as if facing the other way.

  38. Although the desert seems to be as dry and parched as can be, there is an abundance of green healthy trees and shrubs.

  39. Some caves in the canyon.

  40. In case you couldn't tell which way the canyon was, the sign helpfully points it out. Incidentally, and seriously, I got a kick out of how different the park administration is under the Navajos as compared to that under the feds. It sounds like a cliche, but the Navajos are more connected to the land. They wield a much lighter hand.

  41. Something of a panoramic shot.

  42. I wonder if anyone tries to rock-climb up these bowing walls.

  43. You can hardly see it, but there are fields planted, next to the trees, and in the shelter of the huge canyon walls.

  44. A single "thin" monument stands in the middle of the canyon. It's probably yards across.

  45. I'm not sure why and how a large pile of dirt has built up near the base of the canyon.

  46. A closeup of the beautiful red striped rock.

  47. The last lookout on the south rim: Spider Rock, where dwells Spider Woman, cf. Navajo myths and tales.

  48. A closer look at Spider Rock.

  49. Spider Rock with a bit of context. I am beginning to wonder if my camera is kaput, since the lighting is so awful in so many of the pictures from this summer. It could be me, but there again, maybe the camera is being subversive.

  50. The tops of Spider Rock. It should be noted that these pictures were taken at dusk.

  51. Another view of Spider Rock ...

  52. ... and another.

  53. Navajo thoughts written on the display:

    "...with beauty all around me, I walk ..." -- Navajo Night Chant


    Smell the pungent juniper.

    Feel the gentle power of beauty.

    Ancient Black Rock hunches on the distant horizon.

    A dark cloud above means rain will soon be upon us.

    The awesome monolith at your feet is Tse Na-ashjeeii -- Spider Rock. Holy Spider Woman is an important deity in Navajo mythology. It was she who taught the People how to weave.

    There is purity and strength here.
    And places sacred to the People.

    Places strong in the oneness of earth and sky and of all things.

    "I am indeed its child.
    Absolutely I am earth's child."
    Navajo Song of the Earth

Marianne Mueller
Last modified: September 17, 2004