paxview

A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Alligators, Petrified wood, and Sandstone…

Three easy-drive trip ideas, ideal for the fall.

I travel a lot and occasionally I get myself involved in some great driving and touring trips inside the USA. In 2018 I was at 3 locations that were so much more than “average”  that I want to share them as easy (low cost) driveable destinations where walking is an OPTION but you can also stay in or close to your car. A few simple descriptions, some photos, maps, and ideas…

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Anahuac Texas.

Petrified Forest National Park, Adamana Arizona.

#1) The Petrified Forest National Park is about half way between Albuquerque and Flagstaff on Interstate-40. It is an easy road trip detour, containing several rest areas (with bathrooms), and lots of well marked pullouts and scenic vistas. In terms of overall length (assuming you do not get out to walk), the road is about 25 miles north entrance to south exit, and takes an hour. But you are going to stop. At every pullout. And be in awe. I would allow a minimum of 2 hours, possibly 3 hours if the weather is cool and you want to do a lot of walking. (This is a desert, so bring water if walking!)

Pet Forest

Petrified Forest National Park, off of I-40 in Arizona.

The park is actually 3 parks in one. Large sections of the park contain uncountable pieces, logs, and whole trees of petrified wood from the forests that stood here in the Triassic era, 250 million years ago. Tree trunks, some of them exceeding 2 feet in diameter, now stone and colored agate, lying in chunks and long pieces lie scattered as they fell. Truly impressive to get out and touch a piece of “wood” that was standing tall when dinosaurs ruled the earth. And the colors are simply amazing…

Az Pet Forest 2586a

A 2 foot (60 cm) wide section of a 250 million year old tree…

 

 

 

Also in the park are portions of the Painted Desert, which is a large area of sandstone outcrop in the southwest USA that extends through portions of 4 states. Here in the park, the reds, oranges, and yellows of the painted desert are simply awe inspiring. If you can time a visit for early in the day or late afternoon, the colors really explode. But even at high noon in mid-summer, still colorful. Note that I highly recommend this park in the fall or spring. It can be incredibly hot in mid-summer. This is open desert, there is no shade or relief here except for the HQ and rest area buildings, and the A/C in your car.

Az PaintedDesert 2533

Simply jaw dropping, the colors of the painted desert.

Az PaintedDesert 2557

Just another amazing view…

And last of all, the park contains extensive beds of fossils. However due to poaching, theft, vandalism, and even spray painting (!) these fossils beds are mostly off limits, and the fossils can only be seen in the Park HQ building. Which is actually nice, because there they have been cleaned and preserved, mounted, and you can walk around in the air conditioning while reading the descriptive tags. I don’t know if you have ever really looked for fossil outcrops in a desert, but if you have, you will appreciate the HQ facility… And who doesn’t enjoy safely contemplating the 4 foot long skull of a massive Triassic alligator while sipping a cold drink?

#2 The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is a collection of roads, paths, walkways and scenery along the south east Texas bayou coastline, up against the Gulf of Mexico. It is located roughly half way between Houston and Beaumont Texas, about 20 minutes south of the I-10. To be honest, the waters here are uniformly flat, shallow, and best described as a cover of water over 20 feet of mud. It is what the critters here like, but it is not much of a place for you and I to go swimming. (LOL !)

The density of wildlife (especially) birds is amazing, and this is my top go-to place when a Texas visitor wants to see wild alligators. I mean wild. Not fenced, caged, or penned. These are wild alligators, and you are on their territory. On a bad day, I will only see a few, maybe a half dozen. But there have been days when I have counted dozens, as in multiple dozens ranging from the newly hatched and foot long small alligators, up to the bayou kings at 10-12 feet and over 500 lbs.

Texas Anahuac gator 2

My best guess is 11 feet 500 lbs (3.4m 225 Kg)

The refuge is split into two pieces, one section (close to the I-10) has a nice set of wooden and/or paved walk ways thru the woods, down to a bayou, and this is where the HQ building is located.

anahuac-map

Anahuac NWR, HQ near I-10, wilder area 10 miles south along coastline.

Sad note – Feb 2019. Atlas Air flight 5Y3591 crashed at the tip of Trinity bay, just west of the park HQ and Monroe City, right where the map say “Anahuac”.  #Respect

DSCN2236

Texas pine/cypress bayou, and a nice level wooden walkway near HQ and I-10.

The other section is much larger, has many driveable (mostly gravel) touring roads as well as walkways, and is up against the Gulf of Mexico. Here the birds can appear in flocks that look like clouds, and the gators rule. Please note: YOU ARE SAFE, as long as you stay in your car and on the roads or the clearly marked walkways. Do not tempt fate, and do obey the abundant signs that remind you to not let your dog (or very young children) run free. You are in the alligator’s home… The 3-mile loop around Shoveler pond is especially easy to drive, and you are almost guaranteed to see wild ‘gators.

Texas Anahuac gator 3

I really enjoy Anahuac, and many times when I have had to travel between Houston and Beaumont, I have added a couple of hours to my schedule to take advantage of this free place to explore. As is typical of many wildlife areas, high noon tends to be fairly quiet, and in the early morning and late afternoon the wildlife activity increases.

JLR_1155

A gravel road in Anahuac, a blue sky, and who knows what else…

#3 The Garden of the Gods, is a small city park, just on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is an easy to drive park, the twisting road winds through and around everything you want to see, and there are enough pullouts and parking areas for easy photography. Admission is free, and it is amazing to have scenery like this so close to downtown.

GardenGods

Just west of Colorado Springs, at the front of the Rockies.

If you want to get out and walk around the area (you will want to!) you can do anything from short 5-minute walks on flat land, to a bit steeper walking paths, to trails that are really tough and rough hiking. Multiple off-road bike paths also cross the park and many city residents come here on weekends, park their cars, then bike the park paths. Because of its proximity to Colorado Springs, and the nearby United States Air Force Academy, you probably want to avoid weekends. Also, the online data says the park opens at 8AM. Not true. The park is always open, it is only the shops and stores that open at 8! Getting there super early gives you the best light, and the smallest crowds.

Co G Gods 1955

You can not imagine the beauty, until you get here.

 

 

 

So there you have it, 3 drive-thru attractions to consider for your next road trip. Easy access, easy to drive, no need to walk (unless you want to), and if any one of these is along the way for you… Take the time and make the detour!

Have you been to any of these 3? Let me know in the comments. Thanks

More photos on my photography website at Roehr Photo

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Photographs from "Around the World" roehrphotography.wordpress.com

All images are available w/o watermarks as prints ($30 11x14 shipped) or custom framed, signed, and numbered. Contact RoehrPhotography@Gmail.com

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