Close to Flagstaff, Sunset Crater, the site of the most recent eruption in Northern Arizona,…
We left the sleepy town of Holbrook, Arizona, which is not a place one should be sad to leave. Once a rough frontier town – it doesn’t have much more to offer in 2018. Fortunately, only a short drive away is the Petrified Forest National Park. Our children love rocks, minerals and fossils, so to go and look at petrified wood was heaven to them. The first stop was the visitor centre, where we get treated to a Ranger talk on the formation of the petrified forest in the late Triassic period, 225 million years ago.
This is a great introduction and we follow this by taking the short trail outside we actually get to see the final great act of petrification. Here are the fallen trees of the primordial forest, most likely carried to these spots by a rampageous river. The minerals from the river would have been absorbed by the wood of the trees and over time what was wood has been mineralized to leave a permanent record on the landscape. The effect of mineralization has created a wonderful kaleidoscope of colours in the petrified wood. There are huge petrified trunks of trees lying all around the trail. Truly wonderful!
The National Park itself is vast – taking nearly an hour of solid driving from the south entrance to the north entrance. En route, we make a couple of stops to look at some Pueblo ruins and petroglyphs painted on the rocks. At the North entrance of the park, we take the Painted Desert loop, taking us past grand vistas of the colourful desert. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating and it was also not the best time of day to see the colours; early morning and late afternoon sun will bring out the colours most effectively. We don’t have the time to wait so will have to rely on our imagination to picture this splendid scene – it is time to move on to our next stop.
|Address:||1 Park Rd, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ|
|Telephone:||T: (928) 524-6228|
The park is open year round except November 25 and December 25.
Park Road Hours – Park hours are 8 am to 5 pm. You must enter the park before 5 pm. Visitors will need to be in their vehicle by 5 pm, heading to the closest exit without stopping.
Painted Desert Visitor Center and Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center hours are 8am to 5 pm
Private Vehicles – $25. Admits one private, non-commercial vehicle (15-passenger capacity or less) and all occupants. Valid for 7 days.
Bicycles & Pedestrians – $15 per individual. Admits one individual with no motor vehicle (bicyclist, hiker, pedestrian). Youth 15 and under are admitted free of charge. Valid for 7 days.
Motorcycles – $20. Admits one or two passengers on a single private, non-commercial motorcycle. Valid for 7 days.
We set off across the flat and tedious high desert plains. One of the issues with flat plains is that they don’t provide any protection from the wind, which is particularly tiresome (and dangerous) in a relatively lightweight, high sided vehicle – oh yes, like a motor home. Well, as chance would have it, a strong afternoon gusty wind kicked up across the desert – throwing up a bit of a dust storm. Of more concern was the impact of strong wind gusts side on to our vehicle as we drove down the road. Also, because of the direction, the wind is blowing it was causing the awning (which was furled up) to lift and bash against the side of the motor home – loudly. Not usually of weak disposition in terms of driving conditions, I was struggling to hold a steady course on the road. We decide to pull off at the signs for Meteor Crater Natural Monument where there were services – as we approached the services we passed over a cattle grid which caused the remote brakes to go on in our tow-behind Jeep. We felt this was a message from God is to cut our losses and stop. As luck would have it there was an RV park right next to the service station – so with no hesitation we pulled in for the night and hooked up.
It had been our intention to stop and look at Meteor Crater anyway, so providence had a hand in bringing us to this point. Although it was getting late in the day we still had about an hour to explore the crater so we drove up to the visitor centre. The approach to the crater passed through the flat desert, with the crater walls rising 150 feet above the plain making it easy to see from miles around. The crater was created about 50,000 years ago during the Pleistocene epoch when a nickel-iron meteor about 150 feet across collided with the earth at about 30,000 miles per hour. The impact was devastating, producing a massive explosion equivalent to at least 2.5 megatons of TNT comparable to a large thermonuclear explosion and about 150 times the yield of the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The explosion dug out 175 million tons of rock leaving a crater that is 4000 feet in diameter and 570 feet deep. The wind that caused us to stop here had also prevented walking tours along the rim but we were able to go out onto the viewing decks and admire this large dent in the earth’s surface. It is difficult to imagine what it would have been like to be here during the collision – probably deadly. There is a good visitors centre here and we found out more about the crater’s history and the nature of the Earth at the time from watching a short video and listening to the staff talk around a large chunk of nickel-iron found in a wash some distance from the crater. Unfortunately, it was late in the day and we didn’t have time to look around the museum exhibits – choosing the gift shop (as always) instead.
|Address:||Interstate 40, Exit, 233, Winslow, AZ|
GENERAL ADMISSION RATES ON-SITE WEBSITE
Best time to visit Flagstaff
The best time to visit Flagstaff is between September and November when the summer crowds have dispersed, the trees are alight with colour and the weather is crisp and clear. The three months between December and February are popular among winter sports enthusiasts, but Flagstaff typically has very snowy winters, which can make travel difficult. In March, April and May, the city starts to thaw, but this time of year is also known for having high winds. June, July and August are high travel season when visitors descend on Flagstaff to take advantage of the beautiful 80-degree weather.
Where to stay
1. LITTLE AMERICA HOTEL FLAGSTAFF
Just off I-40, this hotel is located on 500 acres of Ponderosa Pine forest. Free Wi-Fi is available in all rooms. Free transport services to Flagstaff Pulliam Airport are offered during limited hours.
All air-conditioned rooms feature a seating area, a flat-screen TV with cable channels and a small refrigerator at Little America Hotel Flagstaff. Each room has an private bathroom equipped with a hairdryer.
Guests can relax in the outdoor pool at Flagstaff Little America Hotel. A business center with 8 conference rooms is available. Free parking is provided.
Little America Restaurant and Bar offers breakfast, lunch and dinner daily at Little America Hotel Flagstaff. Cocktails and appetizers are available at Little America Restaurant and Bar.
2. ENGLAND HOUSE B&B
3. STARLIGHT PINES B&B
This quaint bed and breakfast offers uniquely decorated rooms with antique furniture. The bed and breakfast is located at the foot of Mount Elden.