In the desert, you can remember your name

…as America sang in A Horse With No Name, although i didn’t really have any difficulty remembering my name before we got  to the desert. We left Santa Fe early to cover the 270 miles to our penultimate road trip stop in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. Our route took us past Albuquerque, so we decided to stop there to fill the car’s tank and have a coffee.

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Like the old part of Santa Fe, Albuquerque has embraced the pueblo revival architectural style. It’s very pretty and I expect very practical in the climate both cities enjoy.

From Albuquerque, we set off west on Interstate 40, which has largely replaced this section of historic Route 66.

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We had plenty of time on our hands to cover the distance required today so we decided to take a bit of a diversion and headed south off of I-40 towards El Malpais National Monument. We stopped at the Visitor Centre there, where they pointed us in the direction of the El Calderon Loop Trail, an easy 3 mile hike across the lava flows that give El Malpais its name – it’s Spanish for Badlands.

From there, we carried on along the road and stopped off at the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano. This involved another short hike, with a 500 foot ascent to see the crater of the dormant volcano. We then went down to take a look at the ice cave. This is an odd little quirk of topology. The cave is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t have warm air circulating through it so melt water that seeps down through the rock and freezes at the bottom of the cave. Native Americans knew about it and used the cave as a food store for centuries.

From here, we completed our journey to our home for the next two nights: a Days Inn motel at a motorway service station back up on I-40. We just had a relaxing evening here and ate motorway service station food.

On Wednesday, we drove to the Petrified Forest National Park. This place is full of logs that, 200 million years ago, fell down and were washed along a river bed and then were quickly covered by sediment. The anaerobic conditions meant the decay of the wood was slowed and minerals were absorbed into the porous wood, gradually replacing the cells of the wood altogether while retaining the original shape of the logs. The quartz that now carries the tree shapes has been discoloured by various impurities, producing a rainbow of colours in these fossils.

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It’s an amazing place and, delightfully for us, the petrified forest is also part of the painted desert. We spent some time driving in the National Park and also had a couple of small hikes so that we could enjoy the scenery at a more leisurely pace.

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On one of the hikes, we encountered a lizard who was kind enough to hang around and let Ishbel take a great close-up shot of it.

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We had a great day here and after the largely urban tour we’d taken across America, it was wonderful to see some of the country’s true wilderness.

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