Art, and Life Back on the Island

Before we flew back home we took a day to visit Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. There are exhibit halls as well as a working “hot shop” where you can watch glass art being made by the Museum’s team or by visiting artists from around the world. The day we visited there was a Swedish artist working in the shop, making a large teardrop shape incorporating lots of glass canes. It’s really neat to watch the process throughout the day.

One of the galleries was closed while they changed exhibits, but the glass art in the hallways was just as fun to see.

The various galleries are always changing, featuring a particular artist or style of glass art. The range of things that can be created in glass boggles the mind! We stepped into the open gallery to find an artist that we’re familiar with – Preston Singletary – a Tlingit whose work we’ve admired many times. Wow!

This is all GLASS… sometimes with a matte finish, sometimes opaque combined with translucent elements. The small items were beautiful, but the canoe and collection of busts were amazing.

It was a great way to wrap up our trip “down south”, and the day after we got home we had the chance to see another kind of art show. Our local radio station, KFSK, had a “Wearable Art Show” fundraiser – and we always try to support the station. Many of the pieces created by local people highlighted the problem of plastic trash impacting our planet…

…and the pieces below showed how to use objects from nature and natural dyes to decorate clothing – done by a local botanist.

Mother Nature got in on the artistic theme with a dusting of frost on the muskeg in the early mornings, and geometric patterns as ice started to form in the kettle ponds… only to thaw in the sunlight and repeat the process overnight.

We really miss our town when we’re away, especially the strong sense of community. Everyone sticks together and helps one another, which is important when you live on an island. During the ridiculously long Federal government shut-down, many businesses and groups in town stepped up to help people impacted by it, particularly our Forest Service and Coast Guard contingents. And after it was all over, those groups took out ads in the paper to say “thank you” and posted this nice sign on the message board outside of the Forest Service office.

Classy. It’s just another example of why we love it here. And we know how to have fun too! April is the annual fundraiser for the Humane Society where you can have a flock of plastic pink flamingos installed in someone’s yard for a day. A donation will get someone “flocked”, and the “flock-ee” makes a donation to get the birds removed. Or you can buy “anti-flock” insurance. We flocked some friends (who can’t retaliate since the flamingos can’t come down to the harbor!), and they sent photos.

Karen loves all animals so she offered the visiting birds some peanuts, but reported that they didn’t like them. I said I hoped they didn’t make too much mess in their yard and Don replied, “flamingo poop everywhere.” Oh well, it’s all for charity!

The deer are wandering around town, starting to nibble on the skunk cabbage shoots as soon as they appear, and I’m sure they’re eating any flowers they can find. I spotted a male orca cruising up the Narrows while walking one morning, and people’s chickens are starting to wander around – sometimes disappearing when a lucky goshawk or eagle stops by.
You just never know what you’ll see!

Petrified Wood

After waxing poetic about the Painted Desert and petroglyphs in Petrified Forest National Park, now it’s finally time to close out our two day adventure with a focus on petrified wood!

Wood fiber is replaced by silica (or calcite) to become “petrified”. Submerged in water and buried under volcanic ash (which is loaded with silica), organic tissue buried in sediment decays until the oxygen in the surrounding water is consumed. The decay process releases carbon dioxide, which combines with water to form carbonic acid… making the water around a submerged log slightly acidic. If the water contains silica, the silica will precipitate out and become incorporated into the wood’s cell wall. Voila – petrified wood! The rangers told us that there are examples of petrified wood in all 50 states.

Petrified log cross-section close up

The various colors are produced by different minerals – reds and pinks come from hematite (oxidized iron), yellow, brown and orange come from goethite (another type of iron oxide), green comes from iron (mostly from meteorites), white is pure silica, black comes from organic carbon or pyrite, and purple or blue comes from manganese dioxide. Chemistry surely produces a magnificent palette!

Remember, this is high desert – over 5000′ in altitude. You can see how the caprock crust crumbled leaving softer, almost silty ground layered with mineral colors. As the ground erodes, the petrified logs are uncovered.

As you look around the landscape there are many cone-shaped hills stratified with color. The patterns of the land fascinates with every turn.

We could find petroglyphs at pull-outs along the park road…

…and some unique colors in the Blue Mesa area. Can you spot the people walking on the trail below?

We wanted to go explore down there, but after the long hikes earlier in the day and the previous day we were too tuckered out. It’s okay to leave something to investigate the next time.

Lastly, we stopped to see a little memento of historic Route 66 which runs through the park.

Petroglyphs in Petrified Forest National Park

Day 2 in Petrified Forest National Park found us once again on a ranger led hike, with the same rangers as the day before. This time we were on the south side of I-40 in a different part of the park, and the day’s objective was to find petroglyphs and some native pot shards. Our hike the previous day had only one other person, but this hike was full with 16 people plus the guides! Apparently the local Arizona residents get super-excited by petroglyphs and pot shards, so hikes like these are filled months in advance.

After a long hike across fairly flat land, our first stop was to see “Starving Man”…

…and in addition to the Man, the rock was covered with historic “graffiti” from different time periods and in different styles. The area had a number of petroglyph sites with recognizable human figures and faces, animals…

…and all other manner of images. Once we learned to spot them we found them all over the place out there.

In addition to the petroglyphs, we saw some interesting pieces of broken pottery. One lady had a book that showed many of the styles to help identify the century when things were made.

The simpler, everyday type of pottery was like this “corrugated” shard…

…and the fancier kind was painted and decorated. The piece she looked up was probably made in the 13th century. Now I understand why these kinds of hikes are so popular!

After a much-needed pause for lunch, we continued our long elliptical path around Martha’s Butte.

We climbed up some bentonite hills to get a better perspective, and the rangers found some petrified wood that had been worked into tools by Native Americans. Even the scattered pieces of petrified wood up there (about 5700′) were bright splashes of color against the soft brown of the ground.

Petrified wood
Petrified wood

Just as with the Painted Desert badlands, the basalt caprock has cracked and crumbled away to reveal the soft bentonite which is easily eroded.

The ravens agree with us – it’s a fantastic place… and yet there’s STILL more that we saw after the long hike… stay tuned.

Exploring Arizona’s Painted Desert

As I mentioned in the last post that although we were gobsmacked at the beauty of the Painted Desert (we were in the section that’s in part of Petrified Forest National Park), we took things to the next level by joining some rangers for a hike down into the badlands. Just to refresh your memories, here is what it looks like from the rim at around 5700’…

…and here we go, dropping down into the washes between the bentonite hills.

Bentonite is a generic term for these fine-grained eroded hills, composed of different minerals which give them a variety of colors. The thing that’s important to remember about walking on bentonite is that when it gets wet, it turns to snot! There is no nicer term I can think of to describe the consistency, but it’s slippery, heavy, and clingy… and we would not want to try this in the rain!

Among the bentonite and scrub brush, we also found lots of beautiful mica-like gypsum.

You’re not allowed to collect any rocks or petrified wood in the national park, and we obeyed the rules… but of all the neat rocks we saw I found gypsum (which came in different colors) was the most tempting.

As we meandered around the badlands the rangers showed us a surprise – a hidden pond in the desert!

As the pond was drying at the edges the mud cracked and took on strange patterns.

At one time this whole area (elevation 5400′) was covered by fresh water, and we found plenty of evidence in the form of small shells from freshwater organisms.

And the inundation is what caused the wood in this area to petrify. Petrification starts when an organic material is saturated with dissolved minerals, and the minerals in this area came from volcanic ash. The process takes a very loooooong time as you can imagine, and eventually the minerals replace the original material (with few more steps and lots more time) and then: ta da! You have petrified wood.

Petrified wood

In this part of Petrified Forest National Park a lot of the petrified wood is a dark color, which indicates the presence of magnesium. As you’ll see in the next post, the petrified wood in the southern part of the park displays more and brighter colors. Where the wood started to decompose before petrification began, crystals formed in the voids creating beautiful sparkles.

We thoroughly enjoyed our hike and the company of the ranger couple who led it – they shared a wealth of information and made this first day of our visit really special.