Monday, January 25, 2010

A 'Wrong Turn' to Ginkgo Petrified Forest...and adventure

Yesterday, while on an excursion in Central Washington state, we relied on our car GPS, and it put us on the I-90 freeway going the wrong direction. This wouldn't be a big deal, except the fact that the next exit was 25 miles away over desert scrubland.

The six-lane freeway was separated by a parched dirt median that was generally about three hundred feet wide, and often at differing elevations, but every so often when the two opposing directions converged, there'd be an asphalt connector with a prominent "No U Turn" sign.  My husband missed a couple of them, as they were curved and unmarked, but when we neared a visible one, he wanted to veer. "No! No!" I screamed, eyeballing the ominous sign and the fact he'd have to abruptly swerve across two lanes to make it.

We passed the turn but a couple miles further, my husband's grumbling at our compounding our detour erupted into out-and-out annoyance that we faced miles more of this G-d-forsaken desert. Why didn't I let him turn? Nobody would have stopped us.  My protests that it was dangerous were out-groused by his perturbed accusations.  Then he missed one, then two of the turnarounds himself.

By the time we found the first exit, we were at Vantage, Washington, on the Columbia River, which stretched wide and long between the brown mound-like hills.  A sign caught our eyes:  "Ginkgo Petrified Forest," with an arrow.  Ginkgo? There's a petrified forest of Ginkgo here?  Who could resist?

An interpretive center was closed for the winter, so we walked around reading all the informative placards on the scenic bluff overlooking the rolling Columbia.  Petrified logs were placed everywhere, just lying out. On the way to our car we were captivated by a sign inviting us to see the Wanapum Indian petroglyphs...right out there, a few feet away, exposed to the elements--primitive drawings that are 200-10,000 years old.  Scratched onto black basalt were representations of animals, people, arcs and geometric designs that had been moved about a mile to their perch overlooking the Columbia when the Wanapum Dam submerged their original location.

But most fun was visiting the Gingko Gem Shop, marked by petrified logs and large colorful dinosaurs, where the proprietor told us that despite the plethora of petrified trees in the area, just four petrified ginkgo trees had been found--and they comprise a mystery. Apparently ginkgos were wiped out 50 million years ago when glaciers covered North America. Only one species, Ginkgo Biloba, the same tree that provides the medicinal supplements touted to increase circulation and therefore brain acuity, originally from China, lives today, and only under cultivation.  The University of Washington says it's the oldest tree anywhere that has continually survived--thanks to Chinese monks who carefully fertilized and grew them over millenia, despite the messy and stinky fruit of the female of the species. 

How these four ginkgo trees, in their little cluster, managed to remain as the only petrified souvenirs of their North American existence, continues to baffle geologists.

While at the Ginkgo Gem Shop, we purchased our own little polished piece of petrified wood, and I took a photo of another bizarre relic on display there: an Apatosaurus femur. Yes, a big thigh bone, just sort of resting there on a wall.

You never know the wonders you can encounter, serendipitously.

My husband's irritation assuaged, we headed back to the freeway, stopping for espresso at a delightful, eccentrically-decorated little restaurant called Blustery's.  The owner, Greg, turned out to be a fan of my fave radio host, and introduced us to the only other person in the restaurant, his friend who happened to be a pastor--who got the calling to pray that Fave Host should be divinely guided in his broadcasts.  Thus fortified, we headed back on the freeway toward Seattle, most of the way through a snowstorm so dense and windy the splattery flakes seemed to fly horizontally into our windshield.

Who's to say we took a wrong turn yesterday?  It wouldn't be me.


  1. So then it was a RIGHT turn? I love your adventures and enjoyment of the obscure. I've seen the Ginkgo Petrified Forest sign many times, but never had the opporunity to wander in. How wonderfully interesting! Hugs!

  2. Organize: ha-ha! Yes, fortunately we've enjoyed many 'right turns!' Go to the Ginkgo forest in the late spring when the interpretive center's open and the park's in bloom with wildflowers...

  3. What a wonderful adventure and so charmingly told!