Arizona: Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert Overlook

Teepees Rock Formation at Blue Mesa

Blue Mesa Badlands Trail

Photography from Crystal Forest Trail

Petrified Wood Bark and Knot Hole

Sectioned Petrified Logs in Landscape

Sign Describing Who Cut the Wood (no one)

Colorful Petrified Wood

Postcard: Origin of Colors in Petrified Wood

Sign Describing Time to Petrify Wood

Painted Desert Inn

Inn’s Glass Skylight Ceiling with Pottery Designs

Famous Mountain Lion Petroglyph

Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs

Petrified Forest Visitor Center by Architect Neutra

Rock Shop Outside Park

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona has one of the best concentrations of petrified wood in the world!  One of the largest logs (Old Faithful) is 35 feet long, 10 feet wide, and weighs 44 tons! 

The trees (mostly conifers) were buried in mud during the late Triassic Period 225 million years ago.  The mud contained volcanic ash.  Silica in the ash was absorbed by the wood and crystallized into quartz over time.  This happened through a process called permineralization – the minerals do not actually replace all the organic material, but instead take on the shape of the cells.  Some petrified wood is so perfectly preserved that you can see individual tree rings, bark, and even knot holes!  Color results from minerals in the ash. In general, iron oxides produce red, yellow, orange, and purple; manganese oxide produces black; and pure quartz produces white.  Since petrified wood is so brittle and splits easily, it looks like someone took a chainsaw and cut up logs across the landscape.

A portion of the Painted Desert is contained within the park – scenic badlands with rocks of every color and hue (blue, lavender, red, and pink).  Vivid layered deposits of clay and sandstone make the scenery particularly dramatic.  You can hike through this landscape at Blue Mesa Badlands Trail.

The Painted Desert Visitor Center (at the entrance to the park off I-40) opened in 1963 and was designed by architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander.  Large windows let the sun in and high walls keep the wind out.  Neutra is famous for his midcentury modern buildings in Palm Springs and Los Angeles.  Nearby, the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark showcases a variety of historic artifacts.  The Rainbow Forest Complex at the south entrance contains the Rainbow Forest Museum, Visitor Center, Bookstore, Gift Shop, and access to the Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House Trails. 

In June 2018 Petrified Forest National Park was designated an official International Dark Sky Park, which means it is one of the top places in the world for star gazing!  If you would like to enjoy the park’s night sky programming or other park activities, more info is at:  https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/index.htm

A kid’s guide to Petrified Forest National Park is at: https://www.nps.gov/pefo/upload/YoungerStudent2006.pdf

Remember, if you want your own piece of petrified wood, please don’t take it from the park.  There are plenty of rock shops outside the park with an amazing selection for your collection.

Arizona: Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater Overview

Visitor Lookout Platform

Meteor Crater Panorama

Shaded Seating

Blasted Rock

Moon Mountain Telescope to View Crater

Apollo Test Capsule

Meteor Crater T-Shirt

Meteor Crater is the “World’s Best Preserved and First Proven” meteor crater on Earth.  It is nearly 1 mile across and 550 feet deep.  About 50,000 years ago an asteroid raced through the atmosphere at 26,000 miles per hour and slammed into the Earth with the force of 20 million tons of TNT.  The iron-nickel meteor is estimated to have weighed several hundred thousand tons and measured 150 feet in diameter.  Since no large core has ever been found at the base of the crater, scientists think the meteor was blasted to bits by the impact.  Since the landscape is so moon-like, NASA trained Apollo astronauts at the site in the 1960s and 1970s, and it continues to be a field trip for astronauts today.

If you would like to visit and see the crater from an overlook, it is an easy stop on your way off I-40 between Petrified Forest National Park and Winslow/Flagstaff, Arizona.  More info is at:  http://meteorcrater.com/

Arizona: Monument Valley

Spectacular Sunrise over the Left and Right Mitten Buttes

Classic Monument Valley View

Rider on Horse at John Ford’s Lookout Point

Director John Ford’s Movies Filmed Here

Three Sisters Spires

Big Hogan Rock Formation

The Thumb Stands Out

Tree Silhouette at Moccasin Arch

Antelope Petroglyphs

Milky Way and Meteor

Sunrise on Another Beautiful Day at Monument Valley

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a very scenic location in Utah.  It was a place we visited years ago on our first vacation together with our very first camera, and we’ve never forgotten it.  We returned to see it again last April and it was even better the second time around.  Many classic westerns were filmed in the area including John Wayne in The Searchers, plus also Stagecoach, Back to the Future III, Forrest Gump, The Wind Talkers, and Winged Migration among others.  We took a Navajo guided tour by Phillips Photography to see the park and also to photograph the Milky Way and sunrise.  Can’t wait to go back!

We filmed the short timelapse movie below at sunset from our room at “The View” Hotel.

Arizona: Spectacular Slot Canyon! Wow!

Approach to Antelope Slot Canyon X

Entrance to Canyon X

Doorway to More

Slot Canyon Curves

Kissing Rocks

Narrowed Walkway

Triangle Window Crawlway

Sculpted Walls

Crack to Sky

Sky Glow

Author in Awe

Glowing Chamber Beyond

Antelope Slot Canyon X is a photographer’s dream!  It exceeded expectations!  The colors and lighting are an ever-changing panorama.  The canyon is named after the pronghorn antelope that roamed the area years ago.  It was sculpted by rainwater that eroded the sandstone over time.  At times thunderstorms and flash flooding close the canyon.  This beautiful and spiritual place must be seen to be believed!  Info about this Taadidiin Navajo photography tour near Page, Arizona is at:  https://www.antelopecanyon-x.com/?fh-u=b9e5dd6e-70a2-456d-b8be-4fb3f0d00ba7

Arizona: Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano

Bonito Lava Flow

Yellow-Orange Juniper Mistletoe

Beautiful Weathered Juniper Wood

Tiny White Spider on Lava Flow

Yellow Newberry Twinpod Growing on Cinders

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a beautiful place to visit just north of Flagstaff, Arizona.  The sunset colors reflect the volcano’s composition of silica, iron oxide, and gypsum.  The volcano erupted about 1040-1100 AD .  It is amazing how life returns and survives on the tough conditions of the lava flow!  Information about visiting is at:  https://www.nps.gov/sucr/index.htm  and https://www.livescience.com/50237-sunset-crater-photos.html

Arizona: Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam

Horseshoe Bend Overlook

Horseshoe Bend Photography Viewpoint (click to enlarge)

Prickly Pear Cactus with Flower Buds

Hedgehog Cactus Flowers

Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

Glen Canyon Bridge (at completion in 1959 it was highest arch bridge in world)

Squares are Support Rod Tips Piled Deep into Sandstone Canyon Walls

Dilophosaurus Dinosaur Tracks Found Nearby

Chuckwalla

Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, are spectacular sights!  Both are located just past the eastern edge of Grand Canyon National Park.  Horseshoe Bend was formed by erosion from the Colorado River over millions of years.  The meander formed when water flowed around harder stone.  Since water flows fastest on the outside of a curve, the meander gets more pronounced over time.

Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1964 and provides daily hydroelectric power to 5 million customers over 7 Western states.  After the dam was built, the newly backed up water of the Colorado River formed popular Lake Powell.  This desert landscape is beautiful!

Iceland: Stunning Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Goodbye

Pink Midnight Sunset over Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Pink Midnight Sunset over Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Strawberry Moonrise over Ocean

Strawberry Moonrise over Ocean

Close-up of Strawberry Moon

Close-up of Strawberry Moon

Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Lupines

Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Lupines

Close-up of Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Close-up of Snaefellsjokull Glacier

Icelandic Mountain in Rear-View Mirror

Icelandic Mountain in Rear-View Mirror

The scenery on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is stunning!  The Snaefellsjokull Glacier there dominates the landscape and was the entrance point for scientists in the Jules Verne classic “Journey to the Center of the Earth”.  Jokull in Icelandic means glacier.  

One evening at midnight in June the sunset turned the mountain pink, while a strawberry moon rose over the ocean.  The view from our beachfront cabin was magic!  Making it even better was when three wild horses galloped by on the beach.  Some people think the mountain has high magnetic energy.  Belief is strong in the area that elves and hidden people live in the lava.  Plans are currently underway to draw a map detailing the area’s enchanted and magical places: http://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2016/06/06/belief_in_elves_very_strong_in_west_iceland/

Iceland is an amazing and must-see destination for any naturalist or photographer.  Although it is now in our rear-view window as I plan our next adventure, I am sure we will visit again someday.  I have prepared a custom Google map of places of interest to us in Iceland:   https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?hl=en&authuser=0&mid=1skvfqsNlWpCilCOaJc2tjreDGnc&ll=64.70735820733395%2C-19.523818050000045&z=7  Although we didn’t manage to see everything due to time or weather constraints, we did manage to see a majority of places.  Feel free to ask any questions you may have if you are planning your own trip.  I put together an Iceland travel guidebook illustrated with our best pictures here (PDF – click twice):  Iceland Travel Guide

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