Friday, November 23, 2012

Petrified Forest, Sarmiento (Monumento Bosque Petrificado)

Another side trip we made while waiting for the motorhome was to the Petrified Forest. Located just 30 Km (20 miles) south of Sarmiento along a gravel road this provincial natural monument is a petrified forest from about 65 – 70 million years ago during the Cenozoic era. At the entrance to the forest was a small ranger station with an even smaller visitor’s center. The ranger spoke a little English and explained to us how to follow the self-guided trails so we would see the best the area had to offer. There is only one simple rule to follow – you cannot take even a sliver of the fossilized wood. We can touch, climb, sit and stand on the trees, pose beside them or on top them but do not take a piece. To confirm this fact we were told we would be expected to turn our pockets inside out and have our daypacks searched before leaving. Thus admonished we set off to find the trail. Even from the center we could see the trees that had been fossilized exactly where they had fallen. As we climbed the hills we were afforded superb views of the valley, which was once a wide coastal plain where 70 million years ago the Atlantic Ocean had formed lagoons and thick, prehistoric forests. Today, the valley floor with its soft slopes are made up of volcanic ashes and in the surrounding hills, the grey, red and purple sandstone with their rounded points formed by the eroding winds gives the valley its’ apt name of Moon Valley. Scattered along these vast and colorfully striated badlands are trunks of conifer and palm trees, some of considerable size and others that you can pick up and inspect, while walking on pieces that have splintered off from the constant erosion. The petrified tree trunks in the middle of this lunar landscape and in the hills around us make the experience surreal which is only exemplified by the absolute quiet and stillness that surrounds us. We found ourselves speaking quietly as if not to disturb the tranquility and the workings of nature while a story of change and evolution unfolded around us and we reflected on what the area must have looked like all those millions of years ago. It was humbling to acknowledge that we really are just a speck in the eons of time and history. Back at the ranger station, the ranger did indeed make us turn out our pockets and checked our packs whilst we explained that to remove anything would be akin to desecrating the area. If our earths’ evolution, history and geology interest you, then this moonlike landscape, sandstone hills showing the different strata with varied colors and the extraordinary outcropping of petrified trees, make this a “must-see”. As we drove back to Rada Tilly, we both commented that the visit had given us some perspective that made us feel that our transmission problem and delay was truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

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