An Arizona Road Trip Back Into the Past

Montezuma Castle, Courtesy US NPS
Montezuma Castle
Courtesy US NPS
 
Location of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network,  Courtesy US NPSLocation of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network
Courtesy US NPS
 
Hubbell Trading Post, Courtesy US NPSHubbell Trading Post Interior
Courtesy US NPS

Arizona is rich in history — from the 1800s all the way back to the Late Triassic Period. You can stitch together a road trip that winds out of Flagstaff to Montezuma Castle National Monument, to Petrified Forest National Park, and ends at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Along the way you’ll experience fascinating chapters of geologic and cultural history.

At Montezuma Castle, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff and just off Interstate 17 (Exit 289), a short walk places you in front of a 5-story-tall cliff dwelling that offered safety from invaders: it stands 100 feet above the valley floor, nestled into an alcove.

The site was misnamed Montezuma Castle in the late 1800s by whites who thought the structure had been built by the Aztec people. The original owners, members of the Southern Sinagua (seen aug wah) people, called this area home from roughly 1100-1425 A.D.

Stroll the short trail that loops around a vegetated landscape below the “castle,” and you’ll find great views as well of the remains of Castle A. That dwelling once rose 60 feet and was home to about 100 residents.

From Montezuma’s Castle, it’s 95 miles via Arizona 87 to Winslow, and then 34 miles east on Interstate 40 to Holbrook. Finally, another 19 miles southeast on Arizona 180 leads you into Petrified Forest National Park and its unusual landscape.

There’s no lodging within the park, and you have to leave by sundown, so you will need to make some tough decisions if you have just one day. Do you take time to tour the Rainbow Forest Museum with its dinosaur displays, or hike out to Agate House?

A building built of petrified wood is pretty cool, so stretch your legs with a walk to the house. Then head north and deeper into the park to the Crystal Forest Trail. Wander this path and you’ll find yourself surrounded by petrified wood with its hues of yellow, red, and green, black and white.

Blue Mesa is another great stop. There’s a trail that takes you down into another colorful landscape of badlands and chunks, logs, and even slabs of petrified wood in shades of red, blue, yellow and black.

The northern end of the park road is anchored by the Painted Desert, a great place for sunset photos. Here you’ll also see the Painted Desert Inn, which some day could put the Park Service back into the lodging business but today is just a museum piece.

Back on Interstate 40, drive 22 miles east to Chambers, and then north on U.S. 191 for about 38 miles to Ganado and Hubbell Trading Post. This authentic trading post was opened by John Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878 on the Navajo Reservation.

Although it was added to the National Park System in 1967, Hubbell is not a museum piece but an active trading post. As such, it still holds richly woven Navajo rugs, jewelry, and other Native American artworks for purchase.

Schedule your visit to Hubbell Trading Post for May and you just might be able to attend the annual Native American Art Auction. Check with the park (928-755-3475) for the exact date.

If you have a little more free time, you could extend your your trip by heading 39 miles north on 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

Montezuma Castle National Monument, NationalParksTraveler.com, http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/03/visiting-montezuma-castle-national-monument-arizona9636

Montezuma Castle National Monument, US National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm

Geographic Area covered by the State of Deseret and Utah Territory, International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, http://www.dupinternational.org/dyn_page.php?pageID=54

Defining the Great Basin

Willow Creek North of Wells, NV. Sagebrush at mid-distance. Route of the California Trail used by pioneers.
Willow Creek north of Wells, NV.
Sagebrush at mid-distance.
Route of the California Trail
used by pioneers.

Courtesy & Copyright
Jim Cane, Photographer

Lupines amid sagebrush north of Wells, NV. Ruby Mountains in backgroundLupines amid sagebrush
north of Wells, NV.
Ruby Mountains in background
Courtesy & Copyright
Jim Cane, Photographer

Map delineating the Great basinMap delineating the Great basin
Courtesy Wikimedia, KMusser, Artist
Ref: wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Basin


The Great Basin is aptly named.  Twice the size of Kansas, it stretches from the watersheds of the Columbia and Snake rivers south to that of the Colorado, and from the crests of the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades eastward to the Wasatch front.  The Western explorer John Fremont coined its name in 1845.  The rivers and streams of the region that Fremont had seen all ended in sinks, marshes or lakes. None flowed to the Pacific Ocean.  He confirmed this on meeting Joseph Walker at Mountain Meadows in Utah.  Walker had traveled more of the basin’s western margins, dispelling  rumors of a river traversing the Sierra Nevada.  Precipitation that falls in the Great Basin stays in the Great Basin; water leaves only as vapor.  This is the hydrographic Great Basin.

How else to view the vast region between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada? Geologists speak of the “Basin and Range Province”, so named for its valleys and the towering ranks of north-south mountain ranges that march across the landscapes of Nevada and edges of adjacent states. Unlike the upthrust Rockies and Sierra Nevada, Earth’s crust in the Great Basin appears to be spreading, to be pulling apart. The tilted escarpments of the Wasatch front are the easternmost evidence of this crustal deformation that has built the Basin and Range Province.

Botanists delimit the Great Basin by the hardy flora that clothes this rugged landscape. Great Basin plants tolerate freezing winters and parched summers, and in the valleys, soils of varying salinity.  The so-called Sagebrush Ocean fills many of the basins, as do other shrubs, such as shadscale and greasewood.  Upslope, these give way to juniper woodlands, often mixed with piñon pine.  This floristic Great Basin reaches eastward to central Utah and the Wasatch front, beyond which trees and other plants of the Rockies make their appearance.

The boundaries of all three concepts for the Great Basin — hydrographic, geologic and floristic — largely coincide.  Each recognizes the distinctive attributes of the Great Basin that set it apart from neighboring regions.  The Great Basin is readily recognizable to the trained eye, whether looking at satellite images, river courses, or the native plant communities encountered on a simple walk.

Credits:
Images: Jim Cane
Map: Courtesy Wikimedia, KMusser, Artist, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Text: Jim Cane

Additional Reading

Frémont, John Charles. 1845. Report of the exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842 and to Oregon and North California in the years 1843 – 44. Printed by order of the Senate of the United States , Gales & Seaton, 693 pages. –available as a Google eBook scanned from the original published book Grayson, Donald K. 1999. The desert’s past : a natural prehistory of the Great Basin. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., 356 pages. –an exceptionally readable, thorough and authoritative overview of the Great Basin, with many maps, photographs and illustrations.http://books.google.com/books?id=W8ICAAAAMAAJ

Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network. searchable plant database representing multiple holdings of herbaria at universities in Utah and Nevada, with maps, images and more http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/projects/index.php?proj=10

McPhee, John. 1981. Basin and Range. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York. 215 pages. –the first of the author’s many engaging books about geology. http://www.amazon.com/Basin-Range-John-McPhee/dp/0374516901

Utah at the Smithsonian

Utah at the Smithsonian: Click for a larger view of Diplodicus, Courtesy NMNH.si.edu, Michael Brett Surman, Photographer
Diplodicus
Courtesy NMNH.si.edu
Michael Brett Surman, Photographer

Utah at the Smithsonian: Camarasaurus, Camarasaurus lentus (Marsh), Courtesy http://www.nmnh.si.edu/, Michael Brett Surman, PhotographerCamarasaurus
Camarasaurus lentus (Marsh)

Courtesy NMNH.si.edu
Michael Brett Surman, Photographer

Utah at the Smithsonian: Smithsonian Butte, Public Domain, Courtesy National Scenic Byways Online, http://www.byways.org/ and Bureau of Land Management, John Smith, Photographer

Smithsonian Butte
Public Domain, Courtesy
National Scenic Byways Online and Bureau of Land Management.
John Smith, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

You don’t have to be in Utah to appreciate some of its treasures. Examples of Utah natural history can be found in museums around the globe. The last time I was in Washington DC, I explored the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There turned out to be a whole lot more Utah stuff than I ever imagined.

Many would consider dinosaurs to be our most illustrious museum export. Indeed a 90-foot long Utah diplodocus is the centerpiece of the museum’s Dinosaur Hall.

Not far away is an amazingly intact Camarasaurus from Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument. Its fossilized bones remained in position for over 150 million years. So beautifully and naturally preserved, it still rests on part of the sandstone block in which it was found.

Only a tiny fraction of the Museum’s collections are on display. The vast majority of its 126 million specimens are in drawers, vaults, and freezers. These items are meticulously cataloged and preserved and they serve as primary reference materials for researchers around the world. I found many 1000s of cataloged items for Utah plants, mammals and birds. Less abundant, there are still 100s of records representing specimens of our amphibians, reptiles and fish.

If you poke around in the collections databases you are sure to find something of interest. I found records of some 300 Utah plant specimens collected by Lester Frank Ward, a botanist who worked for John Wesley Powell on his western expeditions. Powell also contributed to the Smithsonian’s collection of flora and fauna. I found 8 bison skulls and one grass species, but there is probably more.

There is the skull and partial skeleton of a grizzly killed in Logan Canyon. Not Old Ephraim–his skull is here in Utah–but another one killed the year before.

In 1950, a meteorite struck a driveway just a few feet from a Box Elder County woman. A few years later, the meteorite was donated to the Smithsonian. But not before it was enhanced by local schoolchildren using crayons of various colors.

The museum’s mineral collection contains 1000s of Utah specimen, some with very strange names : I found Beaverite, Rabbitite Englishite, Coffinite, Psuedowavellite, Cristobalite, Alunite, Apatite and even Bieberite. As in Justin, I guess.

Anyway, you get the idea. The Smithsonian collections form the largest, most comprehensive natural history collection in the world. And Utah is a prime contributor of both collection items and the stories behind them.

By the way, not only are Utah things in the Smithsonian, but there are also Smithsonian things in Utah.

For example, the Henry Mountains in south central Utah were named after the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Joseph Henry.

Another example is Smithsonite–or zinc carbonate–which was first identified by James Smithson in 1802. The very same Smithson left his fortune to the United States government, directing that it be used to create the Smithsonian Institution. The mineral Smithsonite has been found in Tooele and Washington Counties.

Lastly, there’s Smithsonian Butte. When the Powell Expedition traveled through the Zion area, geologist Edward Dutton named the Butte after the expedition’s most generous sponsor. Smithsonian Butte Road is a designated national backcountry byway, crossing over the Vermilion cliffs between Utah 9 and Utah 59.

For pictures, sources and links, go to www.Wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: Information and photos provided with the permission of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 10th and Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20560-0193. (http://www.nmnh.si.edu/)
Smithsonian Butte, Public Domain, Courtesy National Scenic Byways Online and Bureau of Land Management., John Smith, Photographer
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading


Panoramic Virtual Tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Navigate or go directly to the Dinosaur Hall to see the diplodocus from Utah. (Fossils: Dinosaur 2)
http://www.mnh.si.edu/panoramas/index.html

Dinosaur page of the NMNH.http://paleobiology.si.edu/dinosaurs/index.html

Research and Collections of the Smithsonian NMNH.
http://www.mnh.si.edu/rc/

Access to Smithsonian NMNH Museum Collection Records databases
http://collections.mnh.si.edu/search/

Smithsonite, Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute, http://www.mnh.si.edu/onehundredyears/featured_objects/smithsonite.html

Sereno Watson and the King Survey

Sereno Watson and the King Survey: Click for a larger view of a King Survey Camp near Salt Lake City, Utah. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, Photographer
A King Survey Camp
Near Salt Lake City

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer


Click for a larger view of Ogden Canyon taken by the King Survey. Courtesy USGS, T.H. O'Sullivan, PhotographerThe Mouth of Ogden Canyon
at the time of the King Survey

Courtesy USGS
T.H. O’Sullivan, Photographer


Click for a larger view of Penstemon watsonii. Photographed in Millard County. And named for Sereno Watson of the King Survey. Courtesy PenstamenFestival.com
Penstemon watsonii
named for Sereno Watson
of the King Survey

Courtesy PenstemonFestival.com
Copyright Lisa White, Photographer

The mid-1800s were a transformative period in US history. The bloody Civil War had run its course. Twelve years earlier, the Mexican/American war had forced annexation of a vast territory that stretched from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. Across the northern edge of this territory, a transcontinental railroad was planned. An ambitious young geologist, Clarence King, convinced President Lincoln of the need to explore, survey and map the topography, watersheds, geology, mineralogy, flora and fauna of this vast uncharted region. King mustered 20 scientists, technicians and frontiersmen to form his Survey of the 40th Parallel. The Survey team took multiple years to thoroughly explore and map a 100-mile-wide band from Virginia City Nevada to Cheyenne Wyoming.

Among the men was one Sereno Watson, who at 42, found himself disenchanted by his forays into medicine, teaching, farming and banking. Word of the King Survey fired his imagination, so in 1867 he joined the migration west. A barefoot, penniless Sereno Watson found the Survey encamped on the lower Truckee River south of Pyramid Lake. More from pity than need, Clarence King let Watson join as an unpaid assistant. When illness sidelined the Survey’s botanist, Serano Watson eagerly took his place.

King prized Watson for his diligence and enthusiasm. In June of 1869, the Survey staked out what would become a favorite encampment at Parley’s Park north of Park City. From that base, Survey members fanned out to explore the Wasatch Range, the western spurs of the High Uintas, and the Great Salt Lake. Watson added to his plant collections, ultimately pressing 900 specimens, many new to science. He later curated them back at Yale. Watson honored the Survey’s leader by naming new plant species kingii, including a species each of biscuit root, buckwheat, bladderpod, flax, lupine, clover and ragwort. Asa Gray, then the reigning US botanist, honored Sereno in naming Penstemon watsonii, a lovely species discovered by the mining town of Austin Nevada. You can see the striking sky blue flowering spires of this wildflower amid montane meadows from eastern Nevada across central Utah into Colorado, including the vicinity of Parley’s Park.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy USGS

and Courtesy PenstamonFestival.org, Lisa White, Photographer,
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading: