A new state was waiting for us, and that was Arizona. On the route towards Flagstaff is the Petrified Forest National Park and naturally we had to take a look at it. The park consists of two parts, the Painted Desert and the petrified trees, from which the park gets its name.
We drove first to the Painted Desert about which we had a great overview from the rim across this colored desert. Along the route we walked toward the Painted Desert Inn we read information signs that didn’t quite make sense to us. About 270 million years ago here, 150 million years ago there…something about shifting plates and erosion…but there was little we could do with these dimensions. The result, though that we saw was stunning. The canyon here consists of several layers with each layer a different color as if Picasso or Van Gogh had worked in this landscape. We drove past several viewpoints from where you had an overview from different perspectives.
Then we parked the car at the Blue Mesa viewpoint. Down in the valley, the first petrified trees could already be spotted. There is a short hiking trail here that leads through the canyon. The rock of the canyon was so brittle that we were surprised there was a canyon here at all. If you took the stones between your fingers it quickly crumbled into tiny pieces. There is not much rainfall in this area, but with each rainfall, the upper layer would have to give way and wash away?!
This was in contrast to the petrified trees we saw just down the road at Crystal Forest. Here whole tree trunks lay cut into slices distributed in a larger area. The colors of the petrified trees were beautiful, almost colorful. Again such a miracle of nature that is difficult to comprehend.
Agate Bridge is a partially exposed 30-meter-long petrified log that spans a canyon at Agate Mesa, forming a “bridge.” Fearing the collapse of this landmark, a concrete beam was built as a support underneath in 1917.
We left the Petrified Forest and drove the last part on Route 66 towards Flagstaff. Here we had arranged to meet Sima and Thomas again, who were already waiting for us in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel. The two had already been in Flagstaff for a few days and had found a pub where live music was on the program on Saturday evening. That was a beautiful change in – at least in the evening – monotonous camper life.
The pub was rustic and the band not bad. A mixture of country and rock brought the present locals more or less numerous on the dance floor. The couples exchanged on the fly with each song and we were amazed at the dancing skills of the ladies and gentlemen of different ages. We had a really nice evening and after more than two hours the call for everyone to line dance finally came. This worked out more or less synchronously with the lead dancer and the people had a lot of fun.
The next day we drove to nearby Walnut Canyon. About 800 years ago, this canyon was home to the Sinagua people – the “people without water” who lived here in the steep walls of the canyon for about 100 years. In the indentations in the rock walls, naturally formed by water and erosion, the Sinagua built dwellings and storage rooms, the large overhangs forming natural roofs, and the walls were made from clay bricks.
On the Island Trail, stairs led us down into the canyon from where we could marvel at the remains of the cave dwellings. The sun was shining into the beautiful canyon, which got its name from the walnut trees that grow on the dry floor of the canyon. After climbing the stairs back up to the Visitor Center, we had a well-deserved coffee break. For the first time in a long time the camping chairs were brought out and we enjoyed the afternoon sun. In the late afternoon we drove back to Flagstaff for another night at the parking lot of Cracker Barrel.
Next on the program was Sedona. Sedona is almost 1,000 meter lower than Flagstaff and that makes itself noticeable in the average temperature. We had been at 2000 meters or higher for a month and now that winter approached, Sedona seemed a pleasant change for us. We chose scenic route 89a and that was the right choice! The road snaked its way down a canyon between the red-colored rocks. With every meter the temperature rose and we moved back to autumn instead of winter. In Flagstaff, not a leaf hung on the tree anymore. In Oak Creek Canyon, the red, yellow and brown leaves stood out beautifully against the red rocks and the clear blue sky beyond.
At the visitor center in Sedona, we were advised to drive a little further and opt for the Bell Rock Trail. A six-kilometer hike laid out around the Courthouse Butte. We headed for the Bell Rock Trail, stopping in a parking lot along the way. To the left and right of the road, tall red rocks rose into the sky. One formation more beautiful than the other and that had to be photographed.
The well-constructed hiking trail slowly ascended and made its way between Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. We enjoyed the many species of plants growing here. Because of the dry environment, it was especially many cactus species that felt at home here. At times it seemed like we were walking through a botanical garden. In the distance, we saw people trying to climb Bell Rock. The red rock lent itself well to that. We circled the Courthouse Butte and arrived back at the car after 3.5 hours.
This area lends itself well to hiking, so we decided to hike another trail the next day. Choosing from the large number of trails is not at all easy. We chose to drive in the direction of Cathedral Rock. This massive piece of red rock had caught our eye yesterday and we parked the cars “at the back of the rock”. At the beginning of the trail we walked along the river for a while, enjoying the beautiful fall colors.
Then the trail slowly ascended. The closer you got to the upright wall of the Cathdral Rock the more imposing the area became. We clambered further up and at one point bumped into the main route for the ascent which meant it suddenly became a bit more crowded around us. At the top, we found ourselves between two huge vertical walls with breathtaking views on either side.
We took a few pictures of the immense rock walls and found a small path to the right around the corner. Hidden behind the corner, we hiked up another 50 meters or so and came face to face with a freestanding pillar. What extraordinary rock formations are here. We did have to watch out for the strong wind here, which concentrated between the rocks and and almost blew us away. We walked back down and completed the round trail. After a well-deserved coffee break in Sedona, we drove back to Flagstaff.
What do we do when it is cold and inclement and the occasional heavy downpour descends on our car? We sleep in. Later we’ve allowed ourselves an afternoon at the local pool. Actually, we just wanted to shower. In recreation centers like this it is often possible to pay just a few dollars for a shower, but to pay $18 for two people only to wash? We thought that was too expensive and so not much later we walked straight to the whirlpool and with a view of the inclement weather outside, it was good fun! Alternating between swimming a few lengths and braving the hot water of the whirlpool. We lasted for about three hours like this. Then we made our way to the next highlight of our trip through Arizona, which was the Grand Canyon!