Picture This: The Petrified Forest


As we continue to seek out social distance friendly destinations the wide open spaces of Arizona offer an intriguing option… ancient, petrified trees!
When we heard forest, we expected large groups of upright trees. We felt kind of dumb. The petrified trees are all laying on the ground – alive with vibrant color – left there about 225 million years ago during the Late Triassic… CONTINUE READING >>

As we continue to seek out social distance friendly destinations the wide open spaces of Arizona offer an intriguing option… ancient, petrified trees!

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

A Petrified log in The Petrified National Forest, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is definitely a drive-through park.

The road stretches twenty-seven miles north-to-south through the forest with numerous pullouts and side roads for viewing the sights.

Calling it a forest gave us the wrong impression. The petrified trees are all laying on the ground, left there about 225 million years ago during the Late Triassic period.

When we heard forest, we expected large groups of upright trees. We felt kind of dumb.

Huge logs in The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
Yes, those are real buildings behind those huge logs!

A tree in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona - beautiful!

All those million years ago this area was an upright tropical forest. Fallen trees accumulated in river beds and were buried by volcanic ash.

The silica in the ash dissolved and seeped into the logs, forming beautiful quartz crystals.

Other minerals combined with the silica to create the rainbow of colors in the petrified wood.

Buried for eons, it wasn’t until about sixty million years ago that the Colorado Plateau began to be pushed up, forming mountains and allowing erosion to expose this ancient lumber.

Petrified wood, up close in The Petrified Forest National Park of Arizona

Wondering what else there is to do in the area around The Petrified Forest?

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

At our first stop, The Crystal Forest, a walking trail led us through hundreds of downed ancient trees, giving us our first up close look at the petrified wood.

It’s amazing how the rock has retained the exact look of the trees. The grain, rings and even the bark are perfectly preserved in stone.

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Our next pull off was Blue Mesa. From the top of the mesa we got a great view of valleys filled with petrified logs.

Many of them have rolled down and gathered in the canyons, while others are still being exposed by erosion that continues today.

Wondering what else there is to do in the area around The Petrified Forest?

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Petrified wood, up close in The Petrified Forest National Park of Arizona

As we continued north, we crossed I-40 and the Route 66 marker. When the old highway came through here back in the twenties, tourists began discovering this unique fossilized collection.

Unfortunately, they also began removing a lot of the specimens. The area was preserved as a national monument by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, but it wasn’t until the depression that Civilian Conservation Corps workers built infrastructure for the park and began to really protect it.

In 1962, the monument became Petrified Forest National Park.

Still, even with fines as high as $325,000.00 an estimated twelve tons of artifacts disappear from the park each year.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our Arizona Adventures!

On a Mission in San Antonio, Texas

We continue our look back at the best ways to travel while keeping our social distance, this time on bicycles.
Seemed like we should learn more about Texas’ second-largest city, so we had our mission, should we decide to accept it.
And mission is the right word. San Antonio wouldn’t even exist if not for missions. The most famous being the Alamo… CONTINUE READING >>

We continue our look back at the best ways to travel while keeping our social distance, this time on bicycles.

The Missions of San Antonio, TexasThere are two things we’ve known about San Antone since childhood.

Davy Crockett, whether played by Fess Parker or John Wayne, fought at the Alamo there and Charley Pride wanted to know if anybody was goin’ there.

Seemed like we should learn more about Texas’ second-largest city, so we had our mission, should we decide to accept it.

And mission is the right word. San Antonio wouldn’t even exist if not for missions.

The most famous being the San Antonio de Valero Mission, better known as the Alamo, but four others follow the river south through the city.

Built in the early 1700s as Spain began to expand colonization northward, these were lonely outposts in an often hostile wilderness.

Each mission was much more than just a church though, they were self contained little cities.

Spain‘s expansion was both political and religious, as the two were completely intertwined back then.

While the Franciscan friars were attempting to convert the Tejas natives, the military was using the compounds as fortifications and hoping to discourage France from expanding westward from Louisiana.

Communities sprung up around the missions as they were completed, with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of natives farming, trading and converting.

Many lived within the walls, the others could seek safety inside should danger approach.

The settlements flourished for the better part of a century, but by the early 1800s life in Texas was changing. By then the missions were no longer the only game in town so their importance began to fade a bit.

Our mission (we decided to accept it) began at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

San José Mission in San Antonio, Texas

The park was created in 1975 to ensure the continued protection of the missions other than The Alamo, which has been maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas since 1905.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, the largest and most ornate of the five missions, is home to the headquarters for the park.

San José was a great place to start. After a quick browse of the visitors center we ambled through the giant protective walls and into the mission itself.

A great glimpse into life out on the frontier well before the colonies back east had even thought about independence.

Mission San José in San Antonio, Texas

Barracks, storage and a dining hall for the troops line one wall while along the opposite side, housing for three hundred and fifty native workers was built right into the walls of the fortress.

The complex is, of course, dominated by the church. Very much like the grand cathedrals of Europe, San José sports an incredible dome and bell tower. It doesn’t seem so out of place these days, surrounded by city, but it had to stand out like the proverbial turd in a punch bowl back around 1730.

As a part of the park, a paved trail leads to the two missions south of Mission San José. A ten mile round trip, it would be a heck of a hike, but it’s perfect for bicycles. So we broke out our trusty bikes and pedaled down the trail toward Mission San Juan.

Makin' Hay by Tom Otterness in San Antonio, Texas

Along the way, we encountered some strange folks working in a field.

On closer inspection, we discovered that they were giant farmhands made of hay and steel.

Makin Hay is the creation of well-known public artist Tom Otterness.

We let them be so they could continue on while the sun shined.

The chapel of The Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio, Texas

The Mission San Juan Capistrano is not the same one that the swallows like so much that they keep coming back.

That’s out in California, but we wouldn’t blame them if they liked this one too.

San Juan was the most successful of the five missions agriculturally, with orchards, crops and thousands of cattle and sheep in its heyday.

There are still beautiful lush grounds surrounding the misson today.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada In San Antonio, Texas

A short ride further brought us to the southernmost of the San Antonio missions, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, or just Espada for short.

Espada was the first Spanish mission in Texas, but not at it’s current site. Originally founded in East Texas in 1690, Espada was moved to the banks of the San Antonio River in 1731 as the area expanded.

The churches at these first three missions are still in use today, providing a parish home for the locals, just as they have for nearly three centuries.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción in San Antonio, Texas

After riding north along the river back to the visitors center, we decided to continue on to see the Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción.

The bike trail ends so we rode along the city streets. This put us on the same roads as the driving tour of the missions, well marked and not a problem for cyclists.

Drawing on the walls of The Mission Concepción in San Antonio, Texas

The Mission Concepción is being studied as an archeological site and, as a result, has the most thorough and detailed displays than the other missions.

Veronica took off ahead and made a fascinating discovery while I locked up the bikes.

Once I caught up to her, she was thoroughly engrossed in the remnants of colorful patterns and pictures on the walls.

Drawing on the walls of The Mission Concepción in San Antonio, Texas

On display in the old mission’s library, there are numerous examples of religious symbols and native designs that were intended to make the converts feel more at home with their new religion.

We found it all fascinating, but our mission was not completed. Four down, one to go.

Though separate from the Park, it is possible to continue on to the Alamo from Mission Concepción. We opted to drive rather than ride that part of the tour to give us the chance to park downtown and do a bit of nightcrawling along the Riverwalk.

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo stands in stark contrast to the modern city that surrounds it. But in many ways it is the reason San Antonio exists at all.

As Mission San Antonio de Valero, The Alamo was the first mission built in this area, so the village that grew up around it, known as San Antonio de Béxar, became the most important settlement in the region.

Inside the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

Over a century later, when Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, The Alamo figured prominently in the city and region’s history again.

Even though the Texians were defeated in the battle of The Alamo, it served as a rallying cry that inspired the new republic’s ultimate victory just over a month later. “Remember the Alamo!”

It’s no wonder The Alamo has become the most popular tourist site in Texas. With over four million visitors a year, it is one of the most popular historic attractions in the country and continues to keep San Antonio going strong.

Gentleman remove hats. The rules to enter the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

This IS Texas, so the locals shouldn’t need to be told, but there is a sign at the mission’s entrance reminding any bushwhackers or greenhorns to remove their hats before entering sacred ground.

The Daughters of the Republic don’t take this lightly. Show some respect, act like somebody.

With proper reverence and hats in hand, we entered the old chapel.

The memorial honoring the men who fought at the Alamo in San Antoino, Texas

Across the street, competing with an astounding amount of cheesy tourist traps, stands a memorial honoring the brave men who fought and died at The Alamo.

They gave their lives so that Texas could live.

Mission accomplished.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com.

This post may contain sponsored links.

Utterly Unexpected Palo Duro Canyon

It isn’t hard to keep your social distance out on the lone prairie, in fact it might be harder to find someone to get too close to. Still, there are some big surprises and here’s one of the biggest! Out of nowhere the Texas prairie drops one thousand feet down into the second largest canyon in the United States. CONTINUE READING >> 

It isn’t hard to keep your social distance out on the lone prairie, in fact it might be harder to find someone to get too close to. Still, there are some big surprises and here’s one of the biggest!

We know everything’s big in Texas, and the Lone Star State is full of surprises… but this was one BIG surprise!

To make it even more surprising, we didn’t find it in Big Bend National Park, or even in that southwest part of the state where mountains are a part of the landscape.

No, the impressive Palo Duro Canyon is right smack in the middle of the plains of the panhandle. Out of nowhere the prairie drops one thousand feet down into the second largest canyon in the United States.

If we hadn’t known what we were about to encounter our jaws would have hit the ground. They almost did anyway.

Driving toward the rim we couldn’t help but think about what early settlers rolling across the smooth, open prairie in their covered wagons must have though when they hit the edge.  “This is too easy, nothin’ to it. We’ll be in Caiforn… Holy $#*%!!!! What in the Sam Hill is this?”

It was formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River during the Pleistocene era, when melting Ice Age glaciers provided massive torrents of water. Thousands of years later, in 1934, this incredible geologic wonder became Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Soon after that the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, built roads, trails, cabins, and campgrounds that still serve the park’s hundreds of thousands of visitors.

On our recent autumnal visit we found nary a drop of the water that carved through the layers of rock through the ages, but we did find amazing colors in the resulting formations. These are very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon.

Even in the fall it can still be pretty hot, so we spent most of our time driving the miles of roads that took us over the edge and down the slope of the canyon wall then in a loop along the floor.

We did stop for a couple short hikes, one led to a formation called the painted rocks, where fairly recent erosion has exposed a large cliff of red-orange stone.

The other took us to a stone that natives had used for grinding roots, mesquite beans, and various seeds for food.

Over the ages the process wore down obvious holes in the rock that allowed archeologists to make the discovery.

Soon after that we encountered a good sized flock of wild turkeys. With the heat and lack of water, these were the only wildlife we saw all day, but we guess that they would have made a fine meal too.

When we drove back up on the rim, we stopped in for a quick look through the visitor’s center and then another short walk that took us to an overlook with a panoramic view of the entire upper portion of the canyon.

From there we got a long distance view of the park’s most famous landmark, Lighthouse Rock, which made us feel okay about skipping the six mile trail that would have given us a close up view. With that, we felt that we had done a pretty good job seeing most of the sights.

Amarillo is only twenty five miles to the north, but we decided to stay in the closer town of Canyon. This smaller, and definitely quirkier, little enclave proved to be a good choice.

It is home to West Texas A&M University, and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on its campus, along with a couple interesting eating establishments that we can heartily give two thumbs up.

Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner was fun, with model trains circling the ceiling, but our favorite for both the food and its unique combination had to be Pepito’s Mexican Restaurante & Auto Sales.

We have a strict rule to never stop in Texas without getting our fill of Tex-Mex. However, we can’t say that we’ve ever considered getting our burritos and Buicks in the same place, but we can declare that at least the food was fantastic. No word on the wheels

On our way back to the main road in Amarillo the following morning, we made a quick pit stop at the RV Museum. The collection is on display at Jack Sisemore Traveland, which is the oldest RV dealership in the state.

Jack began collecting vintage trailers, campers, and motorhomes back in 1986, and has managed to gather quite an impressive array that embody the past century of Recreational Vehicle development.

After spending most of the last ten years in our three motorhomes, we couldn’t help but be intrigued, and were definitely not disappointed.

Right off the bat we were greeted by a 1915 Ford Kampkar. The body was actually made by Anheuser-Busch and fitted on to a Ford chassis, creating what was one of the first motorhomes, rustic as it may have been.

As we moved on, we encountered over a dozen other iconic models including the very first Airstream from 1935, a 1967 VW hippie bus, a 1976 FMC that was owned by Max Factor, and the 1948 Flxible bus featured in the Robin Williams movie RV.

One of the coolest things about this museum is that we were not only able to view these babies from the outside; the interiors are also open and impeccably restored. We could have spent all day, but had to get going.

As we pulled back out onto the highway it seemed more than fitting that we were traveling along the course of Route 66.

We certainly got our kicks.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Picture This: White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument
Talk about social distancing!

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is a blinding alien landscape with giant shifting dunes of pure white gypsum… CONTINUE READING >>

Talk about social distancing!

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is a blinding alien landscape with giant shifting dunes of pure white gypsum sand.

A unique dry lake bed forms a never ending supply of the snowy mineral that blows across the barren landscape.

White Sands National Monument

Normally the gypsum would dissolve in the rain, but rain nearly never falls in this desert, so the giant sandbox continues to grow and grow.

Lone tree at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico
We loved this lone tree; we’re always amazed when life finds a way to flourish.

See more about this area of New Mexico

White Sands National Monument

A shocking situation at White Sands National Park
They weren’t kidding, it was quite the shocking situation!

Funny sign at White Sands National Monument

Most of the wildlife — lizards, mice, rabbits and foxes — that inhabit this peculiar environment have adapted, becoming white to blend in with the surrounding sand for protection.

However, according to one of the park signs, these little guys still end up as tasty little dishes of fast food. Call us wacky, but that seems like the sign might be just a tad disturbing to the kiddies.

Good thing ours are all grown up.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more about this area of New Mexico

Our Favorite Great American Road Trips

All of these extraordinary expeditions offer the opportunity to see the USA while still maintaining safe social distancing. Looks like that will be the way to travel in 2020.
We all recall those glorious days of yesteryear with the station wagon packed to the gills, miles of billboard bingo, and endless Are we there yet?s.
Whether we were the kids, or when we had the kids, those memories are an indelible part of our American summers. Guess what? Those intrepid explorations don’t have to end just because the offspring have moved out… CONTINUE READING >>

All of these extraordinary expeditions offer the opportunity to see the USA while still maintaining safe social distancing. Looks like that will be the way to travel in 2020.

David at the helm of BAMF! GypsyNester.com
Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime.

We all recall those glorious days of yesteryear with the station wagon packed to the gills, miles and miles of billboard bingo, and endless asking Are we there yet?

Whether we are thinking back to when we were the kids, or when we had the kids, those memories are an indelible part of our American summer traditions.

Guess what? Those intrepid explorations don’t have to end just because the offspring have moved out.

The road trip can be accomplished in a two seater just as well as a minivan! Or, for the truly daring, we could strap the grandkids in their car seats and set out for some high adventure.

Here are our favorite ways to see USA in your Chevrolet:

Driving through the Redwood Forest in California… and the Pacific Coast Highway

Hiking through the Redwood Forest of California! GypsyNester.com
Giant raindrops and David the Tree Model

Highway 101 through Northern California is known as the Redwood Highway.

Bucket list item: The Great American Road Trip! Here's our eight fave to choose from!

The road feels like a trip through time as it connects all of the state and national parks that have groves of the humongous trees.

Mature coastal redwoods average over five hundred years old, and a few are documented to have lived over two thousand years.

They are among the longest-living organisms on earth and the forests have a dreamlike prehistoric feel.

Inside Humboldt Redwoods State Park the road divides, with the old highway, known as The Avenue of The Giants, meandering into the woods.

This is a road like no other, where bright sunny days turn to twilight as the trees envelope the road. Once a stagecoach road to Oregon, later a US highway, now a national treasure, the narrow blacktop winds through the trees where the trunks sometime stand just inches from the pavement.

Check out the Redwood Highway

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur – Check out our full drive down Big Sur – spectacular!

See all of our adventures along the California Coast!

Alaska’s Seward Highway is unbelievably beautiful – and the wildlife…

Glaciers at the top of the Alyeska Aerial Tram in Girdwood, Alaska

It is no wonder that the 127 miles of blacktop of the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Resurrection Bay along the incredibly picturesque Kenai Peninsula has been named a National Scenic Byway and All-American Road.

A bull moose swims at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Wait. Moose can swim?

Beginning along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, where some of the largest tides in the world provide ever changing vistas of ocean and mud flats, and continuing through mountains, glaciers, rivers, that define the Last Frontier, the Seward Highway captures Alaska in a nutshell.

This is a scenic wonderland where the deer and the antelope play, or we should say the moose and the mountain goats… and the bears, and eagles, and rams, and seahawks, and dolphins, and… wait, those are all football teams, but they do actually live there too.

Check out the Seward Highway

A bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

See all of our adventures in Alaska!

There’s nothing more American than Route 66!

Route 66 ends at the Santa Monica Pier
Route 66 ends at the Santa Monica Pier

From the pier in Santa Monica to the Windy City, America’s favorite cross country highway has become the stuff of legends.

It’s a journey where simply standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona can be immortalized.

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
The Petrified Forest in Arizona

Veronica bikes the Grand Canyon! GypsyNester.com
We did the Grand Canyon three ways – by mule, helicopter & bike!

Natural wonders abound, with ancient, petrified forests and massive canyons just around the bend.

Or, if you love the goofy stuff as much as we’d do, the unnatural attractions of Route 66 have a lot to offer.

Sites like the World’s Largest Rocking Chair and a giant oil rig worker known as the Golden Driller abound, and there’s a good chance there’s a stretch of 66 near your hometown!

Check out all of our sightings on Route 66

For roadtrips, it’s hard to beat tooling around the American Southwest!

History and music fans dream trip – the Mississippi Blues Trail!

Gateway to the Blues

The blues had a baby and they named it Rock & Roll.

That kid had cousins in The Magnolia State, with names like Country, Pop, Rap, R&B and Soul.

The delta region of Mississippi was the cradle for all of those babies.

Why not take a little trip down the Mississippi Blues Trail, to see what rocked that cradle?

The Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale Mississippi

The “Trail” is not an actual path or route, but a collection of about 120 markers, like those historical marker signs we see in most every state, that highlight significant places and people in the history of the Blues.

Along the way, stay in at an inn created from sharecropper shacks and visit the last of the authentic Juke Joints.

While discovering the roots of American music down home food is easy to find at almost any crossroads too, no deals with the devil required.

Check out the Mississippi Blues Trail

See all of our adventures in Mississippi!

The Great River Road in Illinois is a blast!

Biking along the Mississippi River in Quincy

The John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the banks of the Mississippi River from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

The scenic route stretches over 3,000 miles across ten states, but we chose to focus on the section through Illinois where we found the home of John Deere tractors, Ulysses S. Grant, Illinois’ Biggest Biker Bar (you’ll never believe what it’s called!), the oldest vineyard in the Land of Lincoln, and the self proclaimed “Nutroll Nazi” of Quincy.

Check out the Great River Road

See all of our adventures in Illinois!

Traveling the route of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery was a very emotional experience for us

Foot Soldier Tribute

While Birmingham was not part of this particular protest, it makes a perfect starting point.

The Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park’s Freedom Walk are all on different sides of the intersection of 6th Avenue and 16th Street.

Moving on to Montgomery, we visited The Rosa Parks Library and Museum, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and The Civil Rights Memorial Center before retracing the path along Highway 80 of the March from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.

The Civil Rights Memorial

When Dr. King led the marchers in 1965 it took four days to travel the fifty miles, the road trip can be covered in a about an hour, but the impact could last a lifetime.

See more about our Civil Rights road trip

See all of our adventures in Alabama!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the Summertime? Bliss…

Known us the U. P., the Upper Peninsula of the Wolverine State is truly one of a kind.

The two peninsulas of the Wolverine State are linked by the magnificent Mackinac Bridge

The individualist inhabitants are known as Yoopers and are scattered from the Porcupine Mountains near the Wisconsin border to the magnificent Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-naw) Bridge that crosses over the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Along Michigan 185 on Mackinac Island, the only the highway that doesn't allow cars

Folks rely on horse drawn carriages to get around on Mackinac Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!

Follow the coast of Lake Superior to Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, then on to Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Bay and the rushing rapids of Sault Ste. Marie.

Make sure to stop off for a pasty – the meat, potato, and rutabaga turnovers that are a staple of the Yooper diet.

Head south from there and leave the car behind for a visit to quaint and quirky Mackinac Island, where folks rely on horse drawn carriages and bicycles to get from point A to point B, since motorized vehicles have been banned since 1898.

Check out the Upper Peninsula

See all of our adventures in Michigan!

Highway 1 through the Florida Keys – stunning!

US Highway 1 in Florida

One of the greatest drives in America has to be the trip down U.S. Highway 1 to Key West.

Originally built as The Overseas Railroad, a hurricane in 1935 trashed it so badly that it was sold to the state and refurbished as a highway.

The run can be done in a few hours, but we strongly suggest making the trip on island time and let the hours become days.

Start by searching for Skunk Ape in the amazing Everglades, or visiting the incredible Coral Castle in Homestead.

Edward Leedskalnin's Coral Castle

Then, after an encounter with Florida’s version of Bigfoot or some gravity defying stonework, mosey on down through Key Largo, Marathon, across the Seven Mile Bridge, and finally into Key West, the southernmost point of the fifty states and unofficial capital of the Conch Republic.

Check out US Highway 1

Key West

See all of our adventures in Florida!

Summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime.

Here’s to a great one!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in the USA!

YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you to take a road trip? Where do you want to go next? Did we miss any you’d like to share?

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