Welcome to a place where the only trees in sight are petrified! We first visited Petrified Forest National Park in 2008. At the time we were in a hurry to reach another destination and unfortunately did not make the most of our visit. This time we made the most of our visit by walking most of the trails, learning more, and hopefully making better photographs. We hope you enjoy touring the park with us.
Where is it?
Petrified Forest National Park is located between I-40 and Highway 180, near Holbrook, Arizona. Access the park’s website here.
What you should know before you go:
- Admission fees apply.
- The 28-mile-long park road is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, as are the Rainbow Forest and Painted Desert Visitor Centers.
- The Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- A park film can be viewed in either of the two visitor centers.
- There are parking areas, trails, and/or overlooks at all the main attractions in the park.
- Pets are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed. Horses are allowed in designated wilderness areas.
- A diner and convenience store with gasoline are located next to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. There are also several picnic areas with restrooms throughout the park.
- There are no campgrounds in the park. However, backcountry camping is allowed in designated wilderness areas of park, and a permit is required.
- Park sponsored demonstrations, guided activities, and workshops take place throughout the year.
Rainbow Forest Museum
Our first stop was at the Rainbow Forest Museum and visitor center where we learned about the prehistoric history of the park. Once part of the super continent called Pangea about 220 million years ago, what is now Petrified Forest National Park was about 10 degrees north of the equator. As a rainforest surrounded by rivers and swamplands, its inhabitants included intriguing pre-dinosaur age animals that roamed or swam in the area.
Displays in the museum featured several interesting animals including the placerias hesternus. According to museum information: Placerias hesternus (plu-SAYR-ee-us hess- TERN-us) was a dicynodont therapsid. Therapsids were large “reptiles” that possessed many mammalian characteristics including a “cheek” bone, enlarged canine teeth, and a specialized attachment of the skull to the spine. This massive plant-eater was up to 9 feet (2.7 m) long and might have weighed as much as two tons.
Interestingly, a large number of placerias hesternus fossils were found in a quarry in St. Johns, Arizona, a town southeast of the park.
Giant Logs Trail
Giant Logs Trail located behind the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center lives up to its name. Below are a few photos of the colorful petrified tree trunks along the trail.
Believe it or not, the logs in Crystal Forest had become crystalline quartz before T. rex arrived 135 million years later!
According to the park, this area was once on the edge of a river channel. Flooding over time caused the trees to become buried under silt which preserved them. Gradually the volcanic silica in the groundwater replaced the molecules in the wood and created a replica of the tree or log in quartz.
The Blue Mesa area of the park was probably the most intriguing to us because of the incredible geology. We didn’t caption the photos below because words really can’t describe the beauty of the place. According to the park: The colorful bands of the Chinle Formation represent ancient soil horizons. While the red, blue, and green layers generally contain the same amount of iron and manganese, differences in color depend on the position of the groundwater table when the ancient soils were formed. In soils where the water table was high, a reducing environment existed due to a lack of oxygen in the sediments, giving the iron minerals in the soil a greenish or bluish hue, such as at Blue Mesa. The pink and reddish layers were formed where the water table fluctuated, allowing the iron mineral to oxidize (rust).
Blue Mesa isn’t the only area of the park with breathtaking terrain. Introducing the Tepees.
According to the park: The Tepees are located in the middle of the park, but expose one of the lowest, thus oldest, rock members within the park and the Painted Desert.
Newspaper Rock is not just one rock. Throughout the area are many rocks with petroglyphs and other writings. Visitors view the rocks through telescopes/binoculars at the viewpoint – or in our case by zooming in with the camera. Most of the rock below is covered with petroglyphs that are thought to date back 600 – 2,000 years.
Petrified Forest National Park protects the ruins of a village that was once a 100-room pueblo and home to about 200 people. Puerco Pueblo’s residents were farmers who grew beans, corn, and squash while utilizing the nearby Puerco River for irrigation. Scientists believe the site was abandoned by 1380 due to climate change and severe drought conditions.
Named by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the Painted Desert actually stretches about 150 miles from the eastern side of the Grand Canyon southeast to Petrified Forest National Park. Visitors traveling the portion of Historic Route 66 through Petrified Forest can see even more of the park’s breathtaking landscapes from several viewpoints along the way. Gorgeous desert vistas can also be seen from the Painted Desert Visitor Center.
While we have barely scratched the surface of Petrified Forest National Park, we hope we have inspired some wanderlust. This is one of those parks that cannot be justified by photographs and words; it needs to be seen in person to be appreciated for its beauty and historic importance. We thank you so much for joining us on our road trip! Need more national park inspiration? Try these other great parks:
- 10 Amazing Things to See and Do at Big Bend National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Gateway Arch National Park
Happy, safe travels, y’all!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.