Archive for September, 2009

Petrified Forest

September 27th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

After the Barringer crater, we drove to the petrified forest, which is about a four hour drive from Flagstaff.  It’s a “small” park by national park standards, but still an enormous land area.

Driving out west, it’s true about what “they” say – that distances on maps are deceiving.  I guess you have to account for the curvature of the earth as you go south; it’s a little more stretched out.  But four hours of driving out here is very different than four hours in the I95 corridor on the east coast.  Out east it’s a Hobbesian struggle to fight your way to your destination passing through many uninspiring, paved, or blighted urban scenes.

Driving through the four corners area is a different thing altogether.  First of all it is not crowded, and you can go 80 miles an hour without fear of being pulled over (speed limit of 75).  You will go by many incredible natural vistas as you go to to your destination, things that would be worthy of visiting themselves but which are simply distractions in this region.



The petrified wood here is one of the hardest naturally occurring minerals.  There are only a few types of saws that can cut it.  Although many of the logs look strangely cut – very even – it is a result of the brittle stone breaking when the soil erodes from underneath it; the stone has a characteristic strength and mass that cause it to break at regular intervals as strain increases on the trunk over time.





A temporary cloud formation cast an eerie shadow across the cliffs, causing them to glow fantastically in the distance over the darkened plain.



The colors of the petrified wood are in technicolor.


Lichens grow on the surfaces.  I’ve read that in some of these logs, if the minerals are dissolved with acids in the laboratory, organic material still remains.


The environment of the petrified forest park ranges from grassy arid prairie to stark desert. Most of it is a “wasteland.”



But plants manage to survive in places, even to prosper:




Rain does come to this arid place:


Remember, all of this is solid, hard rock, even though it looks like wood that fell recently.  It’s astonishing; I kept going up to logs and tapping on them to check.  They were always hard stone.


The number  and wide distribution of petrified logs is surprising.  Of course, the stone logs don’t just occur in the park, they are spread out over a large area.  Most of it lies on private land and is “mined” for sale.  The soil still resembles the volcanic ash that once covered an enormous logjam of dead wood as the delta of a river that disappeared hundreds of millions of years ago.




Barringer meteor crater

September 26th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

Since it’s so easy to get there from Flagstaff, we decided to go to Barringer crater on our way to the Petrified forest.  Here is the plain between the San Francisco peaks and the crater (Flagstaff is behind those mountains).


You have to take the cheesy guided tour after going through the cheesy gift shop.  The crater is still privately owned.  They have all of the trappings of a national monument – which the crater is – but the people that look just like park rangers are not.  They are more like amusement park employees.  They want you to think they are the same as a national park, but it is a for-profit organization.  Nothing wrong with that, but it irked me that they would pretend to be something that they are not.

The crater is impressive and you should see it if you can, but I wouldn’t make a trip to Arizona just to see it.  You can’t walk around by yourself; you can only go on a short path with a gaggle of other people. There are no hikes to the bottom, at least not normally.




This is all that’s left of Barringer’s house.  He had a pretty good view.


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South Rim Sunset

September 25th, 2009 | Category: Arizona

Along the vein of sunset pictures, here are some from an evening trip to the south rim of the grand canyon. From Flagstaff, you can leave at 2 PM, drive through the Kaibab forest and get there at about 3:30 to drive around before you watch the sunset, then drive home through the desert in the twilight. The best way is to go in through the west entrance where grand canyon village sits, because most people are staying there and are going towards it while you’re driving away from it.  As the sun sets there will be fewer and fewer people at the eastern extent of the canyon.









A curious event at sunset

September 24th, 2009 | Category: Arizona
petrified wood

I’ve been so busy doing things that I haven’t had time to blog about them.  Every weekend for the last six weeks, I’ve running out to do something fun.

These images were taken on a trip to the petrified forest.  We went for a day – it takes about 2 hours to get there from our flagstaff home.  We also stopped at the Barringer meteor crater – which is along the way – but I’ll save that for another time.

petrified wood



At first glance you might think it’s just a pretty sunset, but look closely at these next few (click on them to enlarge)  and you’ll see something spectacular.


What is that thing?


It’s a tornado!

It didn’t touch the ground, but traveled from one layer of atmosphere to another. It evolved quickly, over a period of less than 10 minutes.


On the right side, there’s another one.  Actually there were many, but not all were well-formed and obvious like these two.

There was no sound or wind, it was completely silent.  It was if the gods were evident, untouchable, unreachable, unknowable.



Here’s one that is horizontal.




Telescope developments and Sedona

September 11th, 2009 | Category: Arizona,Lowell

Recently my Dad and his family visited, so I took them out to see the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT)  site.  Below you can see a couple of views of the telescope and the mirror coating chamber.  The chamber will be used to put an aluminum coating on the mirror; the coating will be only a few molecules thick.  When in the telescope, it will be open to the elements (when it’s being used) and not protected from dust by anything other than occasional blasts of cleaning gases. So every so often, it will have to have the aluminum coating replaced.  The mirror will be removed from the telescope, transported on rails into the auxiliary building, washed with acids and put into the chamber, where under a vacuum we’ll vaporize some aluminum filaments, coating the glass with the metal.  The layer of aluminum will be 400 atoms thick.


After visiting the telescope we went to Sedona and watched the sun set.  A nearby forest fire created a dramatic sunset.

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