Saturday, February 22, 2014

Not El Morro, part 2

Next up was supposed to be the second part of my trip to El Morro, the 1.5 mile hike over the top of the mesa and down the other side. It's glorious. I don't know how else to describe it. When I finished it I told the rangers at the visitor center it was the most beautiful hike I'd ever been on, but that observation may have been a function of my short memory. Today I have to say El Morro is as beautiful as any hike I've ever been on, because yesterday I hiked the Tepees to Blue Mesa trail at Petrified Forest again, my third time, and I don't think it was ever more breathtaking.

On Thursday afternoon a couple of friends came to visit from New York. One had been to the park far back in geologic time, and the other had never been here, so I gave them the nickel tour, all 27 miles from north to south. We stopped at the pullout at Tepees (Yes, that's how it's spelled. I keep wanting to correct it.) and headed down about a half-mile former road leading back to a parking area. It's long been closed but the old road is still visible and leads right back to the trail head.

If you follow the link above you'll see that it's recommended for experienced hikers only, so woo hoo!! I guess that makes me experienced. The first two times I took the hike was right after a group of teenagers had regraded, chopped steps, shored up crumbling areas, and generally made it a little easier to navigate. The weather has undone some of their work, though, and the trail was dicey in spots. I wished I had my hiking poles more than once.

The trail is a little longer than a mile with a 200-foot elevation gain and loss. There are a couple of sections that are knife-edged tracks no more than a foot wide, several areas covered in gravel as slippery as ice, and one or two where the edge of the trail has eroded down a steep ravine, leaving only inches to creep across. It was great!

The Civilian Conservation Corps had a significant presence here in the 1930s. They constructed buildings, bridges, roads, and a waterline about 13 miles long. I've seen a photo of one man after another, standing in a ditch, each with a shovel in hand. They were digging a trench for water to be pumped from the Puerco River to the Rainbow Forest at the south end of the park. The CCC also built the Tepees-Blue Mesa trail from 1933-1937 as a general-population trail but it was closed in 1955. Just last year it was reopened for adventurous hikers and it's so worth the effort.

Within the park, the layers of the Chinle Formation, from fluvial (river-related) deposits, include the Blue Mesa Member, the Sonsela Member, the Petrified Forest Member, and the Owl Rock Member.

The Blue Mesa Member consists of thick deposits of grey, blue, purple, and green mudstones and minor sandstone beds. This unit is best exposed in the Tepees area of the park. The Blue Mesa Member is approximately 220-225 million years old, making it the oldest exposed area here.

Think of it. The terrain I was crossing was once inhabited by pre-dinosaur amphibians, both herbivores and carnivores.

Probably the park's most famous fossil is Chindesaurus, coming from the Navajo word chindi, meaning ghost or evil spirit, and the Greek word sauros, meaning lizard. It was discovered in 1985, and just the other day I found a couple of photographs showing it being lifted out of the desert, jacketed in plaster and slung under a helicopter.

If you have a hard time remembering Chindesaurus, just call it Gertie. Everyone here will know what you mean. She dates back about 216 million years.

You get to the top of the mesa and think, it's all downhill from here! I have it made! Let me say, HA! The slipperier, steeper, and narrower part was yet to come. Let them smile; it will go away soon enough.

Baby hoodoos.

 Preadolescent  hoodoos.
It's hard to wrap my brain around geologic time: each of these layers could represent tens of millions of years.

Nearly the end of the trail. No compound fractures, no air evacuation needed.

Just under half a mile to go, a few steps away from the paved Blue Mesa loop trail, to get to our patiently waiting driver. Without him we'd have had to turn around and hike the trail back to our starting point. It's a good thing he always travels with his iPad and is a rare person in that he's never bored. 

Smiling once again. We all earned it.

One or two of my four readers have said they wish they could see the photos I post here in a larger format. I'm going to start tossing many of them up on Flickr as well, where you can magnify to your heart's content, and see all the flaws that you can't see here. It might take a day or so, but they'll show up there.

Quote of the day:

You're off to great places.
Today is your day.
Your mountain is waiting,
So get on your way.
                                   (Dr. Seuss)