Petrified Forest National Park
The Petrified Forest National Park is very large park with lots to see but is mostly seen from the car. The roughly 30 mile road that is the base for the park takes you through history as you see painted desert, petrified wood, carved rocks, and even cross over the original Route 66. Here is a journey from the entrance off of I-40 heading south through the park.
Painted Desert Rim
My first stop on the journey through the park was to hike the Painted Desert Rim trail from Tawa Point.
I did a complete write up that you can read here: Painted Desert Rim Trail.
The painted desert is absolutely stunning. From the rim trail the rock formations in the distance glisten with red and white minerals. It is almost like looking at a layers of a cake as the history of the world unfolds in front of your eyes.
If you take the rim trail, or continue to drive to the next parking area the next stop is the Painted Desert Inn. This historic landmark was closed due to Covid considerations so I couldn’t go inside but it is still a very cool piece of architecture with equally nice views.
Next you will see a series of pull offs on the west side of the road. These are Whipple, Lacey, and Nizhoni points. They had similar views and informational placards explaining even more of the history of the area.
Not much to do at these spots other than to take in the view but it is worth a quick stop.
As you continue down Petrified Forest Road you will see an odd thing on the side of the road. An old car. Now this piqued my interest enough to warrant a stop. I pulled over and got a better view of the car and another informational placard.
It turns out the old rusting Studebaker (I actually don’t know what kind it was but I think of every car from that era as a Studebaker) was marking the original Route 66. Since I am imaginative I immediately started thinking of Bonnie and Clyde driving right here. Also, I am not a history major so all of these references could be off. Here is the exact spot that RTE 66 ran, marked by the old utility poles that flanked the road and are still there.
Continuing south down the road will lead you to the signs for Newspaper rock. I had no idea what this was as I pulled up. I half assumed a rock that would look like a folded newspaper. Even standing on the viewing platform I wasn’t sure until someone next to me with binoculars pointed out carvings on the rocks.
These carvings are between 650-2000 years old and there are more than 650 of them! I really gave the zoom feature on my new Samsung phone a workout and was able to see a few. Then I started to think that every scratch was a message.
This was actually a lot cooler than I thought it would be. Once you see your first it becomes easy to see more. Even though I was just standing and looking at the display on my phone I really enjoyed this hunt. Not all of the below pictures have carvings but see how many you can find!
Heading back down the road (it is a very long road) the flat desert topography suddenly rises up and reaches for the sky. Seemingly out of nowhere a series of conical, or tepee, shaped hills that are layered in the red, grey, and white patterns rise up. These are similar to the Painted Rim rock formations but a lot closer.
This is another pull over and take some pictures and read a sign post stop. It will only take a few moments to take it all in but worth the quick stop.
The Crystal Forest
When I pulled up to the park I asked the Ranger where the iconic petrified wood was at. Her response was “The Crystal Forest but its like 20 miles away”. She was not lying. It was both about 20 miles away and full of the fossils that everyone associates the Petrified Forest with.
I did a complete write up on this spot that you can read here: The Crystal Forest
This “forest” was more of a bunch of rocks on the ground but it was the first time getting out of the car since the Painted Rim so I was game. The quick, paved path is under a mile and loops around a series of the trees that time froze.
The estimates that I saw was that these trees had been here for around 255 million years. If they have waited that long, they will definitely wait the 20 miles for you to drive to them.
Geek moment: These were really cool. To see a tree, or fragment of a tree that had turned to complete rock based on time was fascinating to me. Plus, you can see the whole “forest” in about 25 minutes.
Back in the car again and another eight miles down the road took me to my final spot. The Rainbow Forest Museum and the Giant Logs paths. Roughly 28 miles from the I-40 entrance is the end of the road. Or the beginning if you came from Arizona 180!
I did a full write up on Giant Logs that you can read here: Giant Logs
The Giant Logs path was very similar to the the Crystal Forest. A paved path, this one more of a figure 8, that took you around a series of fossilized timber. These were the big ones though.
This is more of what I was thinking of when it came to a “forest”. These were giant pieces and still just as fascinating.
The museum was open but limiting the number of people. I decided to not go in because there was a series of families with kids and I didn’t want to take the time away from them. There is also a gift shop down at this end.
There are a few other places to stop in the park that I didn’t make it to but this is a pretty good representation.
Wrapping up Petrified Forest National Park
I am so split on Petrified Forest. I actually had to do this in two trips as I showed up pretty close to closing time on first time through. The first trip I saw the Painted Desert and fell in love. It was so cool to see the tiered rocks gleaming in the sun.
Because I was so impressed I came back on my way home from the Great Southwestern Road Trip. My problem was the drive through the park. While there are a lot of cool things to see, you end up spending half of your time in the car. The petrified wood was very cool but both spots I saw it were very small areas that only took about a half hour to view.
I guess what I can say mostly is that I am very glad that I got to see the entire park. I mean even seeing where Route 66 once ran was cool. The fossils and the painted desert sections had me enthralled. When I got to the hotel I hit the Google machine and did a bunch of research about the science. That all being said, I think this is a good place to come at least once. I don’t know that I would make a return trip. But I did love seeing it all for the first time.
I have added the Petrified Forest National Park to my interactive map that you can find here. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me at any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!