Petrified Forest NP and Mogollon Rim – Cool pines & hot rocks in AZ!

RV blog post - We camped in the cool pines of Arizona's Mogollon Rim and hiked amid the colorful rocks of the Petrified Forest National Park.

Getting to the US required 3 planes.

Tulips bloom in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Tulips bloom in Fraser, Michigan. Bleeding hearts bloom in Fraser, Michigan.

Bleeding Heart.

Saguaro cactus blooms in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Saguaro cactus top in


Starling chicks emerge from a fallen saguaro cactus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Starling chicks in a saguaro nest.

Starling chicks emerge from a fallen saguaro cactus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Mom takes good care of the babies in their fallen home.

A cardinal enjoys a seed snack on our picnic table at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona.

A cardinal enjoys a

snack on our table.

Looking out over the Mogollon Rim, Arizona.

The Mogollon Rim.

Getting a photo from the scary edge of the Mogollon Rim, Arizona.

It's a little scary right at the edge, but

few can resist a shot.

Smoke from the Gladiator Fire approaches the Mogollon Rim.

Smoke from the Gladiator Fire approaches.

Smoke from wildfires obscures the sun at the Mogollon Rim.

Wildfire smoke obscures the sun.

The paved and scenic Rim Lakes Vista Trail on the Mogollon Rim.

The awesome little paved rimside trail.

Standing on the edge of the Mogollon Rim in Rim Lakes Recreation Area, Arizona.

It's great to be alive.

Looking out at the views from the Mogollon Rim, Arizona

Mogollon Rim.

Spring brings new growth to the Rim Lakes Recreation Area on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

Spring - a time for new growth.

Wild lilacs in the Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. An elk calf rests in the grass at Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area, Mogollon Rim, Arizona.

An elk calf in the grass.

We ride our bikes down to Woods Canyon Lake on the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

Woods Canyon Lake.

Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company has lots of petrified wood for sale.

Jim Gray's Petrified Wood


Petrified wood logs ready for splitting at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

Petrified logs ready for splitting.

Geodes at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

Geodes ready for opening.

Dinosaur displays at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

Dinosaur country!

Don't get bitten by a dinosaur at Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company, Holbrook, Arizona.

They're cute, just don't get bit.

Dinosaur head, Crystal Forest Gift Shop, Arizona. Petrified logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Petrified Forest National Park.

We traveled to see colorful petrified logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. A single tree trunk split into logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

A tree trunk that has cracked into drums.

Agate House at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Agate House.

We hike down to Agate house at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

They built 'em small in 1200 AD

We hike the Long Logs trail at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

The National Park calls these rock structures "teepees."

We meet a collared lizard on the Agate House hiking trail at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Collared lizard on a petrified log.

Cows watch us as we drive through Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Cows watch us approach.

We hike to Puerco Pueblo Indian ruins at the north end of the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Puerco Pueblo housed 1,200 people.

We hike past petroglyphs on Puerco Pueblo trail at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

A stork carrying a baby, for sure!!

The Santa Fe Railroad rumbles beneath us at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Santa Fe Railroad.

The Santa Fe Railroad disappears in the distance at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. A rusting hulk of of a car sitting along historic Route 66 near Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

A rusting relic near the old Route 66.

Spectacular views at Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Painted Desert.

Mogollon Rim & Petrified Forest National Park

April-May, 2012 - It took us a few days to decompress after our awe inspiring three

weeks in inland Chiapas.  We had studied Spanish in colonial San Cristóbal, seen

Mayan ruins in Palenque, Yaxchilán and Bonampak, and visited sparkling waterfalls

at Agua Azul and Misol-Ha.  But we had received alarming news while in the jungle

that Mark's parents had unexpectedly taken very ill.  Their prognosis for survival had

become bleaker by the day.

We scrapped our plans to

sail 200 miles further to El

Salvador where a rollicking

annual rally of 50 boats was

in full swing, and instead

prepared our boat Groovy for a six month wait at Marina Chiapas while

we made a hasty retreat back to Mark's family homestead in Michigan.

It was jarring and disorienting to rejoin

modern American life after months of

immersion in southern Mexican culture.

Far more upsetting, however, was suddenly finding ourselves face-to-face with the specter of

death.  We passionately pursue our dreams everyday, always feeling the immense pressure of

time, but now the grim reaper was at the door trying to collect.  For days we huddled inside the

drab sterile walls of a modern health care facility trying to be positive while pondering the


Fortunately, spring was in full bloom outside.  Flowers were bursting with

color everywhere, and flowering trees seemed to grace every front yard.

Every time we stepped outside we were greeted by the cheerful image

of tulips, a heartwarming flower neither of us had seen for years.

Very gradually, and totally miraculously, both of Mark's parents began to

recover and were able to return home.  As they gained strength we did

too, and the dark, raw emotions in our hearts began to ease.  Out in a

friend's garden a cluster of bleeding hearts reminded us that often the

most precious things in life are also the most fragile, and that life itself is

a gift we receive every day.

When we eventually returned to our own hometown in Phoenix, Arizona, we

found spring had sprung there too.  Our beloved saguaro cactuses were

wearing their little springtime crowns of white flowers on every limb.

Just a few weeks earlier an ancient saguaro in a friend's

yard had died and toppled over.  It now held the fledgling

chicks of a starling that had moved into her condo when

the cactus was still upright.

Despite living in a house that was now eight inches from the ground,

not a great spot for a small bird, she bravely got those chicks raised to

adolescence, and in no time they had all moved out.

We got our trailer out of storage, dusted it off, and set up camp at

nearby Roosevelt Lake.  Still recovering from all that had gone on, and

feeling a bit battle weary, we reveled in watching a cardinal come to

our little seed plate every day.  We could have stayed for a month, but unfortunately the desert temps

were climbing and soon became intolerable.

Fortunately, just 80 miles north of Phoenix we found ideal temps

up on the Mogollon Rim (pronounce "Mugeeyone").  At 7500'

we were in the cool pines, and we found a camping spot right on

the edge of the rim with views to the valley floor far below.

The rim is a jagged shelf of flat rocks that stick out in layers.

The views are expansive and the smell of the ponderosa pines

is invigorating.  There is something about the edge of the rim

that is very alluring and draws people to it, even though the

sheer drop-off is a little unnerving.  At all the scenic overlooks

everyone gets out of their cars and walks right out to the edge

to take in the view and get a photo.

While we were there four huge forest fires were

burning in the valley below us.  The Gladiator Fire

made the national news, and we saw the hotshot

firefighting team's base camp nearby.  Firefighters

had been flown in from all over the country to help

out, and some 1,000 people were fighting the

blaze.  The smoke was intense

at one point, and it billowed

over us like a huge wave.

That evening the sun was

almost totally obscured by the

smoke.  But the hotshots

managed to wrestle all the

fires under control, and in just

a few days the air was clear


We discovered a wonderful

paved trail that runs along the

edge of the rim for a few miles.

Luckily for us, it had just been

lengthened by a mile.  The edge of the rim

is magical, and at every rock outcropping

we found ourselves stopping to get another

look.  This same trail also heads into the

forest towards Woods Canyon Lake where

it weaves past several campgrounds.  We

rode our bikes along the trail and savored

the crisp air and pretty views.

Spring was happening up here too.  The

pines were all adorned with their new

feathery soft needles, and we found flowers

that looked like wild irises growing in a


We passed a mother elk

sitting under a tree

chewing her cud.  Nearby

her young calf was

hanging out chewing its

cud too.  They were

totally indifferent to our

presence -- or to that of

the cars that had started

to stack up in the road as

everyone grabbed their

cameras and jumped out

for photos.  We stood

there for quite some time

watching the mouths of

these two large animals slowly working around and

around while their gazes wandered calmly between us

and the cars.  It was as if they were kids hanging around

at the street corner, chewing gum, and waiting for

something to happen.

Woods Canyon Lake is cool and serene, surrounded

by pines.  Families were out fishing and an energetic

guy rowed a skull back and forth.

We stayed in this beautiful mountain forest

for two weeks, settling into our homestead

as if it were our own private mountain home.

Every day we ran, biked and walked.  Then

we read, napped, played on the internet and

watched the boob tube, something we hadn't

done for eight months.  Isn't it amazing, we

kept saying to each other, that we can get 12

Phoenix digital TV stations via our antenna

and good internet from our nifty new Verizon

MiFi unit, while we are camped several miles

down a dirt road deep in the woods on the

edge of a cliff?!

It was hard to leave, but once we

got the wheels rolling on our

buggy, we couldn't wait to get out

and see our beautiful country.  Our

first stop was the Petrified Forest

National Park.  Actually, we

stopped just before the National

Park because the guy who owns

the vast acreage next door has

been mining petrified logs from as

deep as 30' down in the ground for

decades, and the collection he has

on display and for sale at his store

"Jim Gray's Petrified Wood Company" is astonishing.

Petrified logs are created when a log gets buried in sediment, preventing rot, and then becomes

infiltrated by silica in the groundwater, replacing its organic material.  This stuff eventually

crystallizes and "petrifies" the whole log.  Over time, as erosion peels the ground out from under

the log, it cracks into short drum-shaped pieces that for all the world look like they are ready for


We wandered through the

endless display of petrified logs

and even found a pile of geodes

out back.  This pile stood almost

10' tall and maybe 30' around at

the base.  What a treasure trove!

This is also dinosaur country,

and the local gift shops have all

kinds of fun making crazy

displays for tourists.  Mark found

a few out by the geodes.

Petrified Forest National Park is an easy park to miss

inadvertently because it sits on a road that cuts between an

Arizona highway and an interstate.  We had made that mistake

years ago.  We had driven along at 55 mph waiting to see a

Forest, and we skipped the pullouts because there was no

evidence there was any Forest there.  After an hour we emerged

at the other end of the park having seen nothing but wide plains

and a few scattered logs in the distance.  That goof-up has been

a standing joke between us ever since.

The only way to see this national park is to get out

and do some hikes.  The hilly field behind the

visitors center is strewn with huge logs, many

resting in a row and fitting together to make an

entire tree trunk.  These things are massively heavy

and are 8 times harder to cut than granite.  From a

distance the crystalized bark, knots and tree rings

look lifelike, but up close the agate colors merge

and swirl in non-treelike patterns.

We hiked on the Long Logs trail which features one tree

trunk after another, each one segmented into shorter

logs that lie end-to-end.  Looking around the sweeping,

empty, grassy plains it is hard to imagine that 260 million

years ago this area was a logjam in an ancient riverbed,

back when all the continents were joined and Arizona's

latitude was somewhere around modern day Panama.

13 species of large but extinct pines forested the area.

Out at the Agate House we

found an ancient Indian

pueblo made of petrified

wood pieces.  Archaeologists

believe it was constructed

between 1050 and 1300 AD.

Those guys built very small


The trail took us past tall,

horizontally striped "sand

piles" that are now solid

stone.  It looked like a gravel

yard that had been carefully

layered in different types of gravel.  The heights of the

dark stripes matched from one pile to the next.  There is

an otherworldly quality to this landscape.

As we walked back to the

truck Mark spotted a collared

lizard sitting on a hunk of

petrified wood.  His little pink

mouth seemed to be grinning,

and his long skinny tail trailed

almost twice his body length

behind him.

This is cattle ranching country

too, and before we could get

to the petrified log that spans a chasm -- the Agate Bridge -- we had to

get past a group of cows standing in the middle of the road.  These

guys didn't move an inch as we drove past.  Only their heads turned to

watch us as our enormous truck and trailer nearly brushed them when

we drove by.

The Puerco Pueblo hike took us to an ancient Indian settlement built

around 1250 AD.  It was home to some 1,200 people.  6'x8' was a typical

room size, and unlike the mammoth Mayan and Zapotec buildings we'd

seen a few thousand miles to the south, these ruined walls have been

reconstructed to

just a foot in height.

Far more intriguing

for us were the

petroglyphs that the

ancients had

pecked into the nearby rocks.  One showed what

looked to me like a stork carrying a baby.  I'm sure

the archaeologists would disagree about that, but

these images are often a bit like ink blots -- what

you see in them is up to you.

The park road crosses I-40 and deposits visitors in

the middle of the Painted Desert.  But first you get a glimpse of the

Santa Fe railroad and some relics of the old Route 66.  While we

were wandering the hiking trails closest to I-40 we kept hearing

the horns and rumbles of endlessly long trains rolling past.  I

climbed up on a bridge overlooking the tracks and caught a train

as it approached.  Running to the other side I watched it

disappear around the bend.  These tracks date back to 1882

when the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad went through.  Early visitors

to the park arrived by train and took guided tours hosted by the

Fred Harvey company.

Mark was fascinated by an ancient rusting hulk of a car

that had been abandoned long ago on the side of the

old Route 66.  Stretching 2,200 miles from Chicago to

Los Angeles, that historic road passed right through

this area, bringing tourists to the park in their own

private cars instead of by train.  Now this part of Route

66 is overgrown by prairie grasses.

Our final miles along the park road

took us past some incredible vistas

overlooking the Painted Desert.  This is

a colorful area of more gravel-pit

looking solid stone "sand piles," and

we had taken so long

getting through the park

that we arrived while the

late afternoon sun was

lighting the vivid

landscape to its most

brilliant hues.  Gazing out

at this exotic land, the

sun beating down on us

and our sinuses rapidly

shriveling up in the dry air, it was hard to imagine what the ancients or the early

settlers must have thought or how they even survived.  So harsh and yet so


By now our spirits were fully restored.  As we studied our maps we decided to

head north via the tiny squiggle labeled "Indian Route 12" and head towards

Canyon de Chelly National Park.  This road was marked as a scenic route

but despite being Arizona residents before our traveling lifestyle we had never

heard of it before.