Petrified Forest National Park
Like the Grand Canyon, this park presents an open book to the earth's past. It lies in the Painted Desert, whose colorful hills provide a world-famous resource of petrified wood and related fossils. Layers of the Chinle—a widespread geologic formation delicately tinted with reds, grays, oranges, and whites—have eroded to reveal remains of life frozen in stone from 225 million years ago. Rivers in that period carried fallen trees, some of which had towered almost 200 feet high, onto the flood plains. Waterborne minerals transformed the logs to stone, replacing wood cells and filling the spaces between with brightly colored quartz and jasper crystals. This now-arid land would be unrecognizable today to its ancient inhabitants: primitive fish, massive amphibians, and fearsome reptiles.
Some of the prettiest and most concentrated petrified wood in the park lies along the paved half-mile Crystal Forest Loop Trail.
An impressive collection of ancient petroglyphs covers a huge sandstone boulder. The drawings have not been interpreted, but they seem to represent animals and spiritual figures. Bring binoculars to better examine the artwork or use the free telescopes.
Mt. Baldy Wilderness,
southwest of Greer
The pristine forests and alpine meadows of 11,590-foot Mt. Baldy present a fine opportunity to visit a subalpine vegetation zone. You'll see magnificent forests untouched by commercial logging. Engelmann and blue spruce dominate, but quaking aspen, white fir, corkbark fir, Douglas fir, southwestern white pine, and ponderosa pine also cover the slopes. You might catch a glimpse of elk, mule or white-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, wild turkey, blue grouse, or other wildlife. Mount Baldy is an extinct volcano eight or nine million years old, worn down by three periods of glaciation.
West Fork #94 and East Fork #95 trails follow the respective branches of the Little Colorado River on the northeast slopes of Mt. Baldy. Each trail is 6.5 miles long; they meet on the grassy summit ridge. The summit is another mile away, but the last half mile of trail crosses White Mountain Apache land, which is closed to outsiders. The Apache vigorously enforce this closure—errant hikers have been arrested and their gear confiscated—so don't try to sneak in! Apache still make pilgrimages to this sacred peak.
Hiking season stretches from June to October, but plan to be off the ridges by early afternoon in July and August to avoid thunderstorms. The trailheads, about four miles apart by road, are easily reached from Sunrise, Big Lake, or Greer. In fact, both trails also go north to Greer, about five miles away. The West Fork Trailhead (elev. 9,240 feet) lies just outside the wilderness boundary at the end of Forest Road 113J, a half mile in from AZ 273. The East Fork Trailhead (elev. 9,400 feet) begins near the Phelps Cabin site, 0.2 mile in from AZ 273. An all-day or overnight loop hike uses a 3.3-mile connecting trail that joins the lower ends of West Fork and East Fork trails. This trail, which may not appear on maps, goes from the West Fork Trail (0.3 mile up from the trailhead) to the Phelps Cabin site area.
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