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Trial and Error - Tales from the Petrified Forest

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Joined: 03 Mar 2005
Articles: 2
Comments: 3
Location: Page, Az.
 Posted: 4/25/2005, 9:41 am

Calm. Becalmed. A sailing ship at sea could not make progress under these conditions – a pleasant break from the previous night’s situatiuon. Up before dawn (4:30 to be precise). Birds are stiring: the occasional nighthawk diving and swooping. A mourning dove calls from over the ridge. Things are begining to come into focus - a lump of petrified wood outside of my door, the arroyo bottoms, the rounded red cliffs on either side of me. The horizon has just the faintest tinge of light – a wash of salmon against the pale blue of the predawn sky. Most stars are gone now from the eastern sky – a faint few can barely be seen, usually by looking indirectly. The moon has long since set to the west, not even being half-full, and also owing to the cliffs that tower around me. This soft sediment, which reverts back to mud when wet, still manages to form sheer cliffs in this arid environment. Quite the dramatic testimony to the average rainfall of this place.
Wood! Gobs and gobs of wood, everywhere you look. The Black Forest Wilderness is chock full of it. None you could burn, or carve (not easily, at least), but here it is, leftovers from the Triassic Period. Logs as big around as my body, turned to stone over the ages, clog washes and gullies, forming staircases up the cliffs they are eroding out of. Visitors to the park expecting neat standing trees of stone will be disappointed: not a single log was preserved in its life position. But what does exist is spectacularly beautiful, stark in its naked presentation of the past.
The sky is clear, and to the east the salmon color is growing, expanding. Over a knoll due east of my campsite the sky is white, fading to robin’s egg blue – the sun makes its approach here.
Now the sky glows an electric blue, but the sun is still not up – a time without shadows. The night insects have stopped calling, and even the birds have fallen silent – they know what lays in wait for them once the earth’s inexorable spin brings our mass of incandescent gas into view.
Dawn, though the sun has not yet reached me. I see its signs all around – brilliant orange light setting flame to the deep red canyon walls, the yellow glow behind the ridge, how the grassland seems to radiate its own unearthly light. Dawn is here, sure enough, and it will find me soon.
It is calm, but I am not sure how long this will last. I have packed my gear and am ready to move. I’m going home. Or maybe not home. Maybe just someplace new, where I’ve never been before. I’m unsure (I guess) of myself. I don’t think I can stay another night here. At least, however, I can enjoy the park for most of the day. Have I failed? Am I failing? Am I not cut out for roughing it out on my own? I’m not sure I can say. First things first – I want to see Onyx Bridge before I depart.
Radiant splendor from the ridgetop! Sun low on the horizon, but rising. A lone mourning dove sounds in the canyons as I rest on a petrified log. To the west is the true glory, however – chocolate, red, and white cream hills, supple as a woman’s body, stand in rows, positively astounding in the electric First Dawn. In hardship comes beauty, and truly this is beauty. No words known to man can adequately describe this preternatural view – of a land before the begining and after the end.
Onyx Bridge, Onyx Bridge, wherefor art thou? I have seen nothing that resembles a bridge, onyx or not. Certainly have seen many log, some of which would have stood 200 feet tall in life, but no bridge.
I also found the bones of some old creature, gone from this earth for some 200 million years. What were you, old friend? Probably something like a crocodile, no doubt. What was it like here then, when you walked here? If only.
Onyx Bridge remains elusive. Perhaps it fell – I should be right at it. Maybe some other day. Its six in the morning, and I want to pack out before the heat of the day gets too much for me.
Rest break by the petroglyphs on the way out. Zigzags, bigfooted humans and dumbells all adorn this fallen slab of sandstone. Elegant, beautiful, enduring. I love petroglyphs, I think, because they give me hope that what I do may endure.
I think why I’m so worried about myself, if I’m “failing”, is that I rejoice in this. My ideal of perfection is my “purity of desolation.” I’m worried that my own idea of perfection is too pure for me. We’ll see though. Its only Saturday, and I don’t have to be at work until Monday at 5pm.
The sun is beating down, the tourists are out of their dens, and its not even 8:30 in the morning. The paved pullouts bring out the worst in people.
1st stop on today’s tour is Puerco Pueblo, just south of the Rio Puerco. Once housing 100 people, the Pueblito now is home to fences, paths, bugs, and lizards. “Fragile Resource. Stay on Pavement,” one sign warns me. A blue bellied lizard ignores this and scampers off into the ruins. Another says, “Revegitation Area.” Revegitation? This is a pueblo! What about restoration and preservation? Do we want it to crumble to dust? I stop, surprised at myself. Is that what They would have wanted? Probably not. No wonder many people say they feel (or see!) spirits at these pueblo sites. The angry ghosts of the Anasazi, the Hohokam, the Mogollon, the Sinagua, the Hopi, the Zuni haunt these places, hoping, waiting for the time when it will all be ruins again.
More petroglyphs. Horny toads, zigzags, spirals, men all adorn the rocks here. Even a giant foot carving. Maybe they were a race of people with big feet. You know what they say about people with big feet.
More glyphs, more sinister this time. A disembodied head, a man holding a bow. Perhaps the most disturbing is the depiction of a huge ibis-like bird sucking (biting? Eating?) a terrified looking man. Are they even related? Maybe not. Maybe some prehistoric prankster decided to make a bird attack an existing figure. It seems to bizzare, too put-there-for-a-reason to make me believe that, though. What could inspire someone to depict such a macabe scene as this?
Newspaper Rock – more petroglyphs! Beyond rocks and logs, it seems like the thing the PEFO has the most is petroglyphs. Petroglyphs and lizards. Here, the figures (beyond the usual hands and feet, and usual abstract designs) are even more frightening. Two claw-handed, long-necked men stand next to each other, gigantic genitalia in full display. Some sort of four-winged flying creature. A two headed goat (not the first example of this. I’ve seen several up in Utah). Nightmare images, all grotesque and beautiful, scratched into the tough, sun burnt rock. The sky above is a deep blue, the color of salvation.
Blue Mesa. Aptly named. Deep blue-purple bands, layers within the Chinle form the slopes of this sandstone-capped mesa. Ramparts of white, red, tan in the same voluptuous curves, so familiar to me. Citadels. Fortreses. Castles of the Dinosaurs, these mesas, knolls, ridges, and hoodoos. This land is a graveyard for untold thousands of animals, whos old bones sit and wait patiently until they are exposed, eroded, and ground into sand. Passed to the ocean go the mighty reptiles. Dust to dust.
Finally a bridge! Not of steel, wood, or even onyx, but rather of agate and concrete. A huge petrified log lays across a narrow canyon, about 20 feet in the air. The sight would be far more impressive, however, if it weren’t for the large concrete butresses at either end of the log, and running along its underside, connecting the two ends. The never ending industry of man at work. The Old Man of the Mountain, back East, recently fell, despite cables, wires, and glue. One day Agate Bridge, with all its concrete supports, will go crashing to the bottom of its arroyo. I will not mourn its natural passing. It is only erosion, only evolution, only the way of the world. And as long as there are petrified trees within the earth, bridges such as this will continue to form. The circle will be unbroken.
Walking back from the Jasper Forest overlook, a minivan drives up, and rather chubby fellow shouts out, “Hey! Is that the forest, or just another view of the Painted Desert?” The paved, flat walk to the overlook is, at most, 50 feet long. You can even see the forest by looking over the wall along the sidewalk at the parking lot. You stupid, fat man, are you really too lazy to get out of your air-conditioned mini-van, and see what you’ve driven all the way from Missouri to see? It’s people like you, you that cause me anger. If you can’t see it from your car, its not worth seeing? Scenery doesn’t often come cheap here in the southwest – you have to earn it, with blood, or sweat, or pain, or tears, or trial. But here, a beautiful overlook, crumpled trees laying about the slopes, is put on a silver platter for the likes of you, and you refuse because you actually have to bear the midday heat for a minute or two. Begone. May you never come back.
Rating: 3.33/5.00 [3]

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