The other day I realized how much my eyes had been working all day, after I had done some book marketing on Facebook, worked on another translation of one of my Wycliff novels, and then finished reading another author friend’s suspenseful mystery story. My head felt like it would burst with all the information. Interestingly so, my eyes had been working all day during an outing only a few weeks ago, too. But though they never closed till bedtime, they never tired, and my brain never felt that it didn’t want to be fed any more information.
My husband and I had travelled across the Cascades and towards Vantage. I had read about this Gingko Petrified Forest State Park somewhere along the Old Vantage Highway. It was a smoky day, and the orange light, limited views, and rolling grey-green and ochre hills lent the trip from Ellensburg’s green valleys to the trail head a special quality. We were the only ones in the parking lot, and the lonely gate house with its miniature interpretive room looked intriguing. A few yards beyond the gate, the trail into the hills started, marked by a warning of rattlesnakes. Not truly a comfortable thought, to be sure, but we didn’t encounter a single one – so our experience was not marred by me screaming.
It took us only a few steps to run into the first site of a petrified tree stump, that of a maple tree. It was pretty stunning how all of its grain was preserved so well in the rock it had turned to. If trees could talk … Because once, in the Miocene age, what is now a desert had been a lush, swampy jungle, and even Asian gingko trees could be found on this site! A volcanic fissure in the southeast swamped the area with molten lava and ashes – and preserved these trees and petrified them over time.
As ever so often, it was construction workers – this time of the highway – who discovered the petrified trunks in the early 1930s. And soon geologists started their excavations. What is shown around the trail site is now secured by metal cages to prevent visitors from breaking away their stone mementi. It’s sad that there is apparently so little respect for such unique relics of the past, sometimes.
Well, we walked the entire trail (a mere mile and a few more yards) through the rolling hills, then up the ridge. The silence and solitude were refreshing, the colors soothing, the closeness to some prehistoric times inspiring. There were no great views of any kind due to the thick smoke – but that wrapped us into a time capsule of our own, I guess.
We didn’t go to the interpretive center in Vantage with more petrified trees and even petroglyphs by the Wanapum tribe (some 60 members still live in the area, by the way). We had found the meditation we had needed that day – far from the maddening crowd, alone with time and nature. There had been pretty, tiny desert flowers along the trail. No wild animals of any kind. There wasn’t even any wind that would have rustled the sage brush on that late afternoon.
If you need some peace of mind these days, which are overwhelmingly filled with contradictory and aggressive messages about all kinds of issues, with an overflow of emails, text messages, news, memes, robo calls, and whatnot – think of Nature as your friend. If you can, head out somewhere quiet. A forest, a dock on the water, a beach, a prairie meadow. To us, the quiet of a petrified forest did its best, and the memory of its solemn silence still soothes us with rock-solid steadiness.