20 May, 2009

Nature's Artwork - The Painted Desert

The morning after our desert adventure we started out towards Flagstaff hoping to spend the night at Andy's cousin Janae's house. On the way we decided to stop at Petrified Forest National Park. Since we wanted to make it to Flagstaff by a decent hour we limited ourselves to the Painted Desert portion and skipped the actual Petrified Forest. Despite this attempt at saving time, we were still there for over four hours.

The Painted Desert is without a doubt the most magnificent place I have ever seen. The sheer vastness itself is not only humbling, but peaceful, calming, inspiring, and utterly incomparable. The coloring of the landscape was so intensely beautiful. Some portions were a progression of dusty brick red, coral, and rust shades while others were steel and powder blue. Some of the most beautiful formations incorporated combinations of the red and blue shades resulting in an incredibly striking contrast. While many of the colors blended seamlessly together, others were organized as distinctive stripes of color giving the impression of a meticulously detailed painting. Intermixed with the colorful peaks and valleys were rolling hills covered in lush green undergrowth and protruding rock formations. The occasional puffy white cloud cast a remarkable shadow over portions of the immense landscape giving the appearance of intermittent dark gray blankets stretching over peaks and across valleys.

In addition to the grand vistas there were also remnants of civilizations past. The Pueblo Puerco compound was originally a central courtyard surrounded by individual rooms for housing and storage. Rocks nearby the remains of the compound displayed petroglyphs, or pictures and symbols etched into the earth. The Painted Desert Inn was originally built in the 1800s. Composed of mud, clay and wooden rafters, this traditional style building maintains its original charm and classic appearance despite restorations.

After several stops at various lookout points it seemed that an apparently hungry and unfrightened crow was actually following us. The bird literally allowed Andy and I to sit three feet away without so much as a flinch. As we made our way to a particular lookout point Sean noticed what appeared to be a deer at first glance a few hundred yards away. We pulled off the road and by some miracle my finicky telephoto lens decided to work for about three minutes while I took some tremendous shots. As far as we can tell it was a species of Prong Horn, a distant relative of the deer.

As we left the park we still hadn't spoken with Janae. All we could do was hope that in the next two hours before we got there Andy would be able to get in touch with her. At that point I wasn't concerned about trivial things like having a place to sleep for the night, I was still in awe of the breathtaking scenery known as the Painted Desert.

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