Pictured in this postcard is the Petrified Forest, located in northeast Arizona, near the Navajo reservation.
I could chase this single postcard in so many directions, I hardly know where to start, so start I will. First of all, these trees grew 225 million years ago, the Triassic Period, the beginning of the reign of the dinosaur. These tree species are all extinct, having been casualties of the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction. Even today, this awes me. This area was once a subtropical, hot, humid environment with ferns, early dinosaurs, gingko trees, and palm tree like plants that still live, called cycads. Somehow, seeing these fossilized trees bridges the gap in my imagination – the evidence is right here – before my eyes.
This part of Arizona is beyond rich in geologic, cultural and natural history. The people who wrote this post card start with the sentence “we went through the caves Monday”. The postcard is dated June 27, 1941 and was postmarked from the Grand Canyon. Of course, I will never know, but it seems likely these people visited Carlsbad Caverns, in southern New Mexico, then north to Santa Fe, across the northern part of New Mexico and Arizona to the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert and on to the Grand Canyon. They may have driven or taken a train for their vacation – and clearly, this is a vacation. The temperature would have been somewhere between 80 and 90 degrees. It is highly unlikely that the car had air conditioning. I can’t imagine.
People have been living and traveling through this area for more than 13,000 years. These petrified objects are obviously trees, but stone and minerals, not wood. I have to wonder what all these people thought about the fossilized trees. The Navajo believe they are the bones of a monster. The Paiute believe they are arrow shafts. Did others look at them and think – yep – trees – stone, but trees nonetheless?
Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500’s – 1700’s and wrote about the Painted Desert – another spectacular geologic site near the Petrified Forest and part of the same geologic formation. However, there is no mention of the Petrified Forest, or petrified trees. Did they not travel this part of the state, or did they find it uninteresting?
The trees themselves are spectacularly beautiful, colorful, luminescent, bright, and otherworldly, but they are not from elsewhere. They are just from a very, very long time ago.
Ancestral Pueblo Indians lived in the area, building pueblos from the trees. If I had been them, I would have felt protected, somehow, some magic inherent in such amazing stone. Spear points made from petrified wood have been discovered. Again, I think – if I had made this, used it – I would have thought there was special magic in the point. How could that not be possible?
Within the Petrified Forest can also be found what is known as “Newspaper Rock”, which is rich with petroglyphs. I like to think of this as postcards in stone. Symbols that conveyed direction, seasons, religious and spiritual concepts, family connection, maps, clans, history, planting or hunting schedules? While archeologists don’t know for certain, I have hope and some belief that elders of the native Americans, the descendants of the people who engraved the rocks know. Somehow in a visceral way – they have knowledge that eludes the interlopers on their land.
From here to painted desert, to Grand Canyon. From Ohio – what did they think? These people were traveling about 6 months before the US officially entered World War II. Were they thinking about world events while they traveled? Was this a military couple, or workers on their way to a new life, across the country? A vacation on the way to their final destination? Or a road trip and then home?
The stamp itself speaks to the war effort. It says “Industry – Agriculture for Defense”.
This is part of my fascination with postcards – it is a moment in time, with cultural, economic, world affairs and context. As I said when I started this post, this card takes me in so many directions, I don’t know where to start. More to come as my journey through postcards, postings, old and new continues.