Tucson, Arizona is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American west. These majestic plants (or could they be considered trees), found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park. They are primarily to the east and west of the modern city of Tucson, where you can see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset. (National Park Service – https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm)
As we traveled through southern Arizona we saw these majestic cacti slowly reaching toward the sky over the years, inch-by-inch. It seems like they just stand still, reaching upward with outstretched hands, towering over those who would ponder their beauty and age.
Saguaro are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall (12-18m). When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds. (https://www.desertmuseum.org)
The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States.
Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet.
After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. The holes that birds nested in or “saguaro boots” can be found among the dead saguaros. Native Americans used these as water containers long before the canteen was available.
Since the saguaro is a symbol of the American west, I plan to highlight Tombstone, Arizona in my next two posts. Stay tuned.
I really appreciate each of you traveling with me along Route 66 toward the Grand Canyon in Arizona, U.S.A. Our journey continues as I highlight just a few things. There is so much to post but I’ll let this website provide the details. https://grandcanyon.com/
There is no doubt some people disagree with the origin and timeline of the Grand Canyon. However, I’m not here to argue the point. Let’s just enjoy the beauty and learn a little about it based on what the National Park Service states, and our own eyes.
Just as we traveled west of Holbrook, Arizona along Interstate 40 (and along old Route 66) we came upon the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.
Wow! It was surprising and quite amazing.
I did a little review of the history of this forest (although it’s like a desert) while on location but I think it’s better to use some previous, documented research to provide some background.
How Petrified Wood Was Formed
According to ArizonaLeisure.com, when trees were toppled by volcanic eruptions, they were swept away by flowing water and deposited in marshes and covered with mud and volcanic ash. Buried under layers of sediment, the logs remained buried for millions of years undergoing a extremely slow process of petrification which essentially turned the logs to colorful stone. (How does this compare to eruptions in Hawaii and elsewhere?)
The logs were also covered with even more sediment from the ocean. Millions of years ago the ocean disappeared and was replaced with flowing rivers that gradually eroded over 2,600 feet of sediment depth slowly exposing the petrified wood that litters the landscape at the Petrified Forest National Park.
The petrification process began with tree burial. The volcanic ash and mud released chemicals during decomposition. The chemicals reacted with wood to form quartz crystals which by themselves are colorless. Minerals in the water such as iron or manganese gave the quartz red and pinkish hues. Over millions of years, the quartz crystals “cocooned” the logs slowly turning them to stone.
National Geographic: See the Enchanting, Ancient Forest in the Middle of a Desert
“Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is a can’t-miss destination for those looking for otherworldly landscapes.”
According to National Geographic the Painted Desert (part of the Petrified Forest National Park) draws more than 600,000 visitors each year. “While most come to see one of the world’s largest concentrations of brilliantly colored petrified wood, many leave having glimpsed something more.” The current 346 square miles of Petrified Forest open a window on an environment that was once far more drastic than today’s grassland. more than 200 million years old, one radically different from today’s grassland.
Where you now see ravens soaring over a stark landscape, leathery-winged pterosaurs once glided over rivers teeming with armor-scaled fish and giant, spatula-headed amphibians. Nearby ran herds of some of the earliest dinosaurs. Scientists have identified several hundred species of fossil plants and animals in Petrified Forest.
Much of the quartz that replaced the wood tissue 200 million years ago is tinted in rainbow hues. Many visitors cannot resist taking rocks, despite strict regulations and stiff fines against removing any material. To see if the petrified wood was actually disappearing at an alarming rate, resource managers established survey plots with a specific number of pieces of wood; some were nearly barren in less than a week.
The problem is not new. Military survey parties passing through the region in the 1850s filled their saddlebags with the petrified wood. As word of these remarkable deposits spread, fossil logs were hauled off by the wagonload for tabletops, lamps, and mantels. In the 1890s gem collectors began dynamiting logs searching for amethyst and quartz crystals. To prevent further destruction of its unique bounty, the area was designated a national monument in 1906 and a national park more than a half century later. (More details are at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/petrified-forest-national-park/
Isn’t it interesting that humans can’t resist leaving beauty behind for others to behold. This aspect of history doesn’t change. We all want to take a little piece with us. You’ll even notice some local businesses selling pieces of the artifacts. I resisted though and rely on photography along with memories.
USA Today tips for visiting the Petrified Forest
One of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world is found at Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona, about 110 miles east of Flagstaff and 210 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Add to that dramatic, colorful geological formations and ancient art and you’ll quickly see why Petrified Forest National Park is a must-visit.
Stop along the way
Visit the museum
Take a hike
Go old school – really old (archeology style)
Watch for birds
Stop by the inn (Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark)
Route 66 has been an interesting ride in this series. There is so much to see and interpret. I can’t do it justice with the few posts I provided – only tidbits. I’ll close out my focus on Route 66 with this post by providing a little history; although the next few posts will still be along Route 66 (I-40) in Arizona.
After being intrigued about Route 66’s origin, I found out its birth was long before the development of cars.
According to https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html, the history of Route 66 began shortly after the U.S. incorporated the southwestern territories it had acquired from Mexico after the 1846 -1848 War.
The U.S. Congress commissioned Amiel Weeks Whipple (1817 – 1863), a Captain of the Army Topographical Corps, to survey a proposed transcontinental railroad, resulting in development of wagon trails in the far west.
“Four years later, Congress instructed Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale to mark a route between New Mexico and California. His expedition charted a route which would be used by thousands of migrants on their way to California. And was the basis for the roads which would later cross the region, like Route 66.” https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html
Although automobiles had been around since the late 1800s, they began to become more popular toward the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.
The automobile experienced a boom in the early 1920s passing from 180,000 registered vehicles in 1910 to 17 million in 1920. The increase in cars led to a growing demand for better roads and a coherent network of highways. (Route66.com)
No doubt the increase in travels westward triggered the first legislation being passed in 1916, the “Federal Aid Road Act”, which was the beginning of federal government assistance for state highway costs. It was meant to improve any rural road over which the U.S. mail was carried. It obliged the states to have highway departments to design, build and upkeep the roads. (https://www.theroute-66.com/history.html)
The Federal Highway Act of 1921 set up a multi-year plan of federal funding for the program. Congress passed this Act to create a National highway system funded by the Federal government. It was to be an interstate network linking the country.
As the automobile became more popular, the masses took to the roads, and what was once an adventure for the wealthy (and the brave), became commonplace. Americans could now roam across America, free and unchallenged.
Who would think that a person certified to be a school teacher in 1893 in Missouri, and moving to Oklahoma City around 1897 to be an insurance agent, would become the father of Route 66? Yet that is what Cyrus Avery did. You can read more of his story at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Avery.
Avery was impressed with the Good Roads Movement going on in Missouri and became involved with various commissions and associations to learn more about these endeavors – pushing toward a federal level of roadways.
Because of the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Avery argued that the new route requested by Congress from Virginia to California (U.S. Highway 60) should go through Tulsa and Oklahoma City, continue west across the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California. Apparently his argument had merit and was adopted. It was also beneficial to commercial development.
After the highways were routed, a decision was made not to name the highways but instead follow the pattern of numbering them as established in Wisconsin and Missouri.
The east-west routes would be even numbers, and the north-south would be odd. Major routes would be one or two-digit numbers ending in either “1” or “0” depending on the route.
Route 66 was almost named Route 60.
To avoid a “U.S. 0”, U.S. Highway 2 was treated as a “0” highway and U.S. Route 101 would be treated as a two-digit highway to expand the number of available routes north-south. Avery, arguing that the Chicago to Los Angeles route would be a major highway, numbered the highway US 60.
U.S. 60 vs. U.S. 62
The Virginia Beach–Springfield route had been designated as U.S. 62 and actually terminated south of Ozark, Missouri at U.S. Highway 65. Kentucky would be the only state without a “0” highway. They countered Avery’s US route by pushing for US 60 to run between Virginia Beach and Los Angeles; the Springfield to Chicago section could be “U.S. 60 North”. Avery returned with “U.S. 60 South” for the Springfield–Virginia Beach alignment. Kentucky threatened to walk completely out of the new highway system (individual states could not be forced to participate in it).
Finally, Kentucky offered a compromise: connect their highway with Avery’s in Springfield and give their highway the number 60. Avery could have his Chicago–Los Angeles highway if he would accept the number 62 which was originally assigned to their road.
Avery disliked the number 62, found out 66 was not used, and designated the Chicago–Los Angeles highway as U.S. 66.
Route 66 was launched as the nation’s first Federal highway system. It was intertwined with local, state and national roads.
I believe these changes began an every-increasing growth out west as people began falling in love with their automobiles and traveling farther distances. The territories along Route 66 increased with travelers exploring the vast homeland. The Petrified Forest was one of the popular landmarks.