I had been checking the weather for a few days, mostly because it's been so changeable here, and on Wednesday or Thursday I saw there was a wintry storm predicted for Friday and Saturday. Lots of wind and rain, and if we were really, really lucky, some snow. Spring used to be my favorite season, but it's beginning to wear out its welcome. I checked the hotel website for its cancellation policy and it was 72 hours, so come hell or high water, or snow and wind, we were going.
Friday turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was windy but warmer than we expected and we even had blue skies. Who would ever think blue and orange would be so gorgeous together?
The enormity of the rock formations is so hard to show, so I try to find something to put them in scale, like the horses in the foreground of this monolith we passed on our way to the park.
The valley is on Navajo land, not part of the National Park Service. There's a fairly new hotel that was built on the edge of the valley, and I mean on the edge. I have a photo of it coming up. This is the lobby with a tall fireplace decorated with kachinas. For some reason I thought kachinas were exclusively Hopi but apparently not.
The View Hotel is one room and a corridor deep, so every room of its three floors faces the view. Hence the name. Our room was on the top floor which features something they call the StarView for great views of the night sky, perfect for long photographic exposures. We wondered what StarView meant, exactly, going so far as to speculate the ceiling was glass, so when we walked in we were disappointed to find a plain old ceiling. What it meant was the ceiling of the balcony was not as wide as the bottom two floors, which gave a wider view. And how could we complain with a view like this one?
There is a four-mile hiking loop that goes down 900 feet to the valley floor and around the west mitten, the one above on the left. I set out while my HH went to get lunch and turned around pretty soon because the wind was blowing sand everywhere. I put off my hike until the morning so I could see the sunrise from down below and be finished before the wind started. I will spare you the suspense and tell you right off that the spirit was willing and all that.
Instead of the afternoon hike, then, we drove the 17-mile loop road that you can see in the lower left corner in the photo above. There were a lot of cars down there just creeping along and we soon learned why. The road shown in this photo below was as smooth as a highway compared to the other 99%, which could kindly be described as washboard. The speed limit is 15mph and that would have been flying had we been able to achieve it. The only vehicles that managed it for any length of time were the open tour buggies which passed on the right, passed on the left, and left a cloud of dust in their wake. Some of their passengers were wearing masks or bandannas to avoid breathing it all in.
There is the hotel on the rim. On the right is the restaurant and gift shop. There is no bar and they don't serve or sell alcohol. There is also no pool here, something one might expect in a desert destination, but it was explained in the hotel's literature that not installing one was not just because of an ecological perspective - it is the desert and water is a scarce resource - but also honors the elders who live in the valley with no running water. There was a pickup on the road ahead of us with a gigantic tank in its bed, sloshing with water, and I thought I would not look forward to making that trip on that road with any regularity.
But the views were spectacular, of course. This is Merrick butte, named for a prospector who discovered silver in the park. I never knew the difference between a butte and a mesa until I came to Petrified Forest. A butte is taller than it is wide, and a mesa is the opposite. When I realized that mesa translates to table, it all made sense.
The three sisters formation is in the background; it's supposed to resemble a nun facing two pupils.
This is just a part of Rain God Mesa. It's so immense I couldn't get back far enough to fit it all in the frame. The sign in the lower left is maybe four feet tall, so that gives you an idea of the size. Formations in the park are from 400 to 1000 feet high.
This view is called North Window. Pretty.
We continued to shake our kidneys loose and made our way back to the hotel. The wind got stronger and blew a lot of sand, but it made for some atmospheric views. This might be Mitchell Mesa, named for another silver prospector, and it was to the south from the balcony. The dust casts a haze over the formations beyond.
Clouds accumulated pretty quickly as night approached, which I think are much more interesting to look at than a plain blue sky, as nice as it is to have. Below is West Mitten, East Mitten that looks more like a teapot to me, and Merrick Butte. The curve of the restaurant's patio is on the left.
This was an interesting phenomenon yesterday morning. Haze softened everything and I waited and waited for the sun to go behind a cloud so it wouldn't entirely blow out this view. It's still pretty bright but I like the watercolor rings of color that surround it, not to mention the incredible shadow falling down the face of the mitten.
We got on our way in driving sleet, in late April mind you, but there's a tradeoff for everything, like these dramatic views.
We made a bit of a detour on our way home to Navajo National Monument, and ran into snow there and even more farther south, almost back to Petrified Forest. Today is windy. Again. With sustained winds of 20 to 25mph. With gusts to 45. Are you reading a big sigh between every sentence fragment, because that's what I surely intend.
I got here a year ago yesterday, if I remember correctly, doing a lot of whistling in the dark, pretending to be brave, determined to be brave. I'm not going to belabor the point of how far I've come, literally and figuratively, again, but it's another anniversary that is remembered, another one to line through on the calendar.
Thought of the day:
Thank God, they cannot cut down the clouds! - Henry David Thoreau