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2004 Travelogue #30 The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert
A-OK RV Park
Holbrook, AZ

Places of Interest:

New Mexico: Gallup, Gallup Cultural Center, Kiva Gallery, Richardson Trading Company

Arizona: Holbrook, Petrified Forest National Park, Painted Desert Painted Desert Inn

8/26 In the early years of Gallup, NM, the stores on the "Mother Road" benefited from the highway traffic and also from the Santa Fe Railroad just across the highway. The city buildings were built to the south but the main drag was on US 66.

We parked in public parking in the center of this historic area, near the shops and the old Santa Fe Train Station, now updated and transformed into Gallup's Cultural Center. On the first floor of the two-story station is the tourist information area, a gift shop and a small restaurant with an espresso coffee bar. Old black and white photos of the Harvey House, once attached to the train station, line the walls of the coffee bar wing. The pictures of the old hotel, torn down in 1957, showed it a bustling place in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.

Upstairs was a museum that was very well done, dealing with the history and culture of the Navajo. There were wonderful black and white photos of the Indians, in town and on the Reservation, taken by a gentleman by the name of Mularkey. I found these photographs, from the late 20's and 30's, fascinating and noted that they were on loan to the Museum by the Mularkey Photo Gallery. On departing the Museum, I asked the attendant for directions to the Gallery and she said, "At the corner of First and US 66".

We were off to Mularkey's but it wasn't on the corner of First Street, but rather one block down and known as the Kiva Gallery (www.kiva-gallery.com). The double doors into the building were at the corner of the structure, like many old banks at the turn of the century. The interior had been updated and housed the Gallery, which did photography as well as picture framing and sold Indian artwork, paintings and sketches.

Nello Guadagnoli, the seventy-one-year-old owner, asked if we needed help. I told him about seeing Mularkey's photographs at the Culture Center and asked if we could see more of his work. This request struck a favorable chord with the gentleman and he began pointing out photos around the store, most of which lined the upper portion of all the walls. Nello said his father came to Gallup from Italy and worked in the coalmines outside of town. When growing up Nello enjoyed photography and bought the store, along with all the negatives and 57 glass plates that Mularkey had created, from the Mularkey Estate in 1963.

Seeing our interest, he showed us even more and when we told him about going to Canyon de Chelly he took us into another room to see four large color photos framed in brass of the Canyon that he had shot. These were taken in the fall when the cottonwood leaves were golden. The sunlight on the leaves and the red sandstone cliffs, with just the right amount of light, made for stunning photographs. We "oohed" and "ahed" so much; he was pleased and said, "Come on, I want to show you my vault. Years ago this building was a bank and down here are two vaults." He unlocked the vaults, turned on the lights and we entered. Treasures were everywhere, jewelry, artwork, and who knows what else plus Mularkey's negatives and glass plates. After seeing the Edward Sheriff Curtis photographs in Santa Fe, we knew Mr. Guadagnoli had a wonderful collection of treasured photographs and negatives.

Next, we spent time in the Richardson Trading Company on West US 66. This famous trading post and pawn has been in Gallup since 1913; walking into the place is a step back in time. Large photographs of Navajo families, satisfied customers from over the years, hang all around the rooms. The floors are polished old wooden planks, and many glass display cases hold Indian jewelry, new and old pawn, baskets and pottery. Their Rug Room was like nothing we'd ever seen with a multitude of wonderfully textured, hand woven, museum quality rugs, available for the right price. We felt privileged to see and touch.

Another aspect of our encounter with the Trading Company was meeting Mark King. He was our salesman and a retired Bank President in town, doing this for fun. He was an avid quail hunter, telling us about his Brittany Spaniels, some of his hunts, and metal detecting. He knew the area and was enjoyable.

Time now to head home to the RV and do chores. Later that evening, while out for a walk, I met Paul and Karen LeSage, from Mesa, AZ who had just bought a new rig. It even had an outdoor, side-bay kitchen. What will they think of next? They were on their way to Michigan. We meet the most interesting people in these RV Parks.

8/27 As we were packing to leave this morning, Paul stopped to ask about my cell phone. I met Paul and his lovely wife, Karen, last night while walking and watching the moon rise. They were traveling east to their home on the upper peninsula of Michigan and this was the third week in their new Fleetwood Excursion motor coach. Needless to say, they were very excited and wanted me to see it. We exchanged cards and will be in contact in the future.

We left Gallup this morning at 11:30, heading only 90 miles down the road to Holbrook, AZ where we'll spend the next couple of nights. Holbrook is one of those interesting places on Historic Route 66, located on the banks of the Little Colorado River in the high plateau country. At the turn of the century, it was known as a wild "shoot'em" up cowboy town, "too tough for women and churches". In the late 1800's and early 1900's Holbrook competed with Tombstone, AZ for the fictional title "toughest town in the West". In 1881, the Atlantic Pacific Railroad turned the city into the trade center for northern Arizona.

After hooking up we took a short tour of the city, finding the 1898 Courthouse still being used for multi-purposes. The courtroom is on the 2nd floor while the 1st floor houses a museum, gift shop, tourist information and the old jail. We found the museum to be a collection of period relics, such as an old telephone switchboard, old phones and things used in the early days of phone systems. Another was an old fully stocked chuck-wagon, a pharmacy, and a schoolhouse.

One area we both found fascinating was the old jail, which they stopped using in the early 1990's. It was like a steel cage placed in a basement or lower section of the Courthouse. Some of the inmates were good artists and their artwork still covered the walls. The portrait of a young woman was very good as was a likeness of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The other thing that struck us was how small and confining the cage was with small metal bunks and stainless steel beat up toilets.

The building had so many cracks; it looked as if it would crumble in a hard wind. I was glad to move on down the road. The only 90-degree turn on the "Mother Road" is in Holbrook and we took it. We saw old motels, some boarded up but others still being used. One classic Route 66 motel was the Wig-Wum Motel. The units were white stucco teepees and out front, in the circular parking area, were scattered vintage 50's automobiles, a Studabaker, Buick, etc. I didn't see any patrons stopping for overnight but several were taking photographs of this famous Route 66 landmark.

8/28 Yesterday, when driving into Holbrook, Peggy made the comment, "This is last place I would want to live." I would agree, the area is arid, bleak, and desolate but most things have some kind of beauty, you just have to look for it and today we did.

We drove to the south entrance of The Petrified Forest National Park this morning. It was in this area some 225 million years ago, in the late Triassic period that the formation of the two National Parks, The Petrified Forest and The Painted Desert had their beginning. One of the largest forests of petrified wood on earth is located here and time can be found frozen in this landscape. The Painted Desert encompasses the entire region, over a million acres, while The Petrified Forest is a part of this region revealed through erosion.

The late Triassic period was the time of crocodile-like reptiles, giant fish-eating amphibians and when the first dinosaurs roamed this landscape of ferns, conifers, and other tropical plants. This area was a sub tropical flood plain and the petrified forest of today was created from some major log jams.

It is hard to believe that 250 million years ago, this very ground was part of Pangaea, the ancient land-mass that connected all the continents. Our Ranger, Rita Garcia, informed us that where we were standing was, at one time, 10 degrees above the Equator, which would be Panama today.

The Petrified Forest began when these trees lived in an ancient ecosystem. These logs were buried in layers of sediment along a great river system. Ashes from the volcanoes were deposited here; layer upon layer of silt, and mud, with no oxidation. The gradual deposits of silica from the ground water gradually replaced the organic material in the trees. As the process continued, the silica crystallized into quartz, and the logs were preserved as petrified wood.

We were fortunate this morning to have Rita Garcia as our Ranger/Tour Guide. We met her at the Crystal Forest station (a stop on the self-guided tour route). Along with another couple, we followed her off the concrete path into areas where most visitors are not allowed to walk. In these areas, Rita showed us how the Park once looked before all the "rock hounds" pecked the grounds clean.

Rita pointed out several interesting things about the area. The first being the soil, if you can call it that, is Bentonite clay. The clay swells as it absorbs moisture then shrinks and cracks as it dries, causing surface movement that discourages plant growth, making it easier to erode. It does make excellent "kitty litter". Another thing she told us was, before 1906 when Teddy Roosevelt established the area as a National Park, "rock hunters" would dynamite the center from these logs to retrieve the quartz crystals.

Looking at these hard stones, the sandstone mesas and buttes it's hard to imagine this arid area was once ancient riverbeds and large bodies of water. But with closer inspection, we found smaller pebbles that had been rounded by the rolling current of the ancient river.

A mile-and-a-half from the south entrance of the Park is the Visitors Center with a good museum and a walking trail into the "Rainbow Forest". Here, like in Yellowstone is an "Old Faithful" but rather than a geyser, it's a huge petrified log.
Other logs in the area were very colorful because silica replaced the organic material. Iron minerals provided bright mustard, orange, rich reds, ochre, and black. The manganese minerals provided the colors of blue, purple, and brown. Walking the path we understood why they call it the "Rainbow Forest".

The drive through the Park is 27 miles-long with designated stops for scenic observation; we took advantage of nearly every one. At Pintado Point we could see San Francisco Peak, near Flagstaff, about 120 miles away. Here the air is the purest and clearest, of anywhere in the continental United States.

Our last stop in the Park was the Painted Desert Inn, which once served travelers along Route 66. Herbert Lore originally built the Inn in 1924 using the Pueblo Revival style of architecture to blend into the dry rolling terrain. Ponderosa pines and aspen poles cut from Arizona's forests were used for roofing beams (vigas) and crossbeams (savinos)

In 1939, the National Park system purchased the Inn and brought in the CCC to do some remodeling and one of the first things the Conservation Corps did was put in skylights. Two of these talented men hand-painted multi-segment panels, which fit into six fabulous, glass skylight panels. Their designs for the panels were of pre-historic and present day Indian pottery.

In 1947, the Fred Harvey Company renovated and redecorated the Inn using the expertise of Mary Jane Colter, the company's architect and interior designer. She hired famous Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie, to paint murals depicting the Hopi culture on the interior walls.

While there, we chatted with a volunteer who told us the Inn was shutting down soon, to go through its fourth reconstruction. The soil is very unstable and the contractors are going to try to do a better job of stabilizing the foundation.

The Painted Desert is a desolate but delicate land. It's a land of timeless impressions, frozen in rocks from 250 million years ago.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


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