Given its name—Petrified Forest National Park—of course you would expect to find one of the world’s largest concentrations of wood that has turned to stone, but did you know that this northeastern Arizona park offers much more—ancient petroglyphs, pueblo ruins, dinosaur fossils, a national historic landmark, colorfully striated rock formations—and it is the only national park to protect a part of historic Route 66! Whew! So as not to miss any highlights, pick up a map at the Painted Desert Visitor Center and watch the 20-minute orientation movie. Then take advantage of the park’s plentiful pull-offs and designated scenic stops.
Flanking the 28-mile paved park road is arid Painted Desert scenery of mostly sandstone and scrub. The Painted Desert extends beyond the borders of Petrified Forest National Park. It is a vast landscape that stretches from here to Grand Canyon National Park and is named for its colorful rocks. Depending on the time of day, you’ll see deep lavenders and rich grays, reds, oranges and pinks. The hues are especially brilliant at sunset. The Teepees and Blue Mesa loop drive are some of the prettiest clay and sandstone formations in the park. Even though it’s named the Painted Desert, it is hard to believe that the ecosystem here is not officially classified as desert. It’s actually one of the largest areas of intact grassland in the Southwest.
What’s even harder to believe as you look out over the seemingly barren terrain, is that during the Triassic Period 225 million years ago, 200-foot tall conifer trees grew along the banks of many streams and that giant amphibians, small dinosaurs, and lush ferns thrived here. Slowly but surely that tropical environment changed, but luckily much of the plant and animal life was fossilized during the process. As the stately trees fell into the swamplands, they were covered by volcanic mud. As the logs decomposed, chemical reactions occurred and tiny quartz crystals formed, encasing the wood and turning the trees to stone. Hundreds of feet of sediment continued to bury the conifers, further preserving them. Thanks to millions of years of erosion and changes in the earth’s pressure, the logs once again saw the light of day, but in a completely different form—petrified wood.
Just two miles down the road from the Visitor Center is the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. The adobe-style structure doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it once served as a trading post and restaurant for travelers along historic Arizona Route 66. In the late 1930s, it was reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp, and is filled with hand-painted glass ceiling panels, hammered-tin chandeliers, and murals painted in the late 1940s by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi Indian artist.
Check back next Monday for more on Petrified Forest National Park…
Petrified Forest National Park Visitor Information (928) 524-6228
Entrance fee for private vehicles is $10 (good for 7 days)
Paved park road is suitable for larger RVs, even with a toad.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com