Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert

  We have driven past this National Park several time over the past three years, and never have had the time to stop and visit.  We were returning, from our annual family ski trip,  to where we moochdocked AIROSMITH north of Phoenix.  We chose to stop in Holbrook Arizona for several night with the express purpose to spend a day at the Petrified Forest National Park.  It was their park video on this website that won us over.  Take the time to watch it.

The park is an easy one day visit, unless you plan to spend time in the backcountry.  Being out of our home, we snagged two nights at a Best Western in Holbrook.  It made the 10+ hour trip from Colorado worth it.  The park is easy to visit from here, as the Park Road makes for an easy one day loop.  We began ours at the Painted Desert Visitors Center on the north, driving south through the Park and leaving past the Rainbow Forest Museum.  The route is easily done in the opposite direction.  Plan on a full day.

 The north part of the park is geared for the Painted Desert.  This a 160 mile long desert that runs through Arizona.  The Petrified Forest National Park lies entirely within the Painted Desert.  There is a significant wilderness here, and could take weeks to explore the backcountry.

 The first stop here is the Painted Desert Inn.  First built in the 1920’s as a road side cafe and attraction for the anticipated Route 66 highway.  It was refurbished in 1937 to reflect an Adobe Pueblo style.  The National Park Service had acquired the buildings along with the land as the park expanded to the north.  The work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps, with a nod to the natural landscapes and the native inhabitants.  The building now served as a museum and information center.  I am partial to any work done by the CCC Boy’s as my Dad, at 18 years old, was in the CCC’s serving in the Beaverhead National Forest in Wise River Montana in 1933.

The murals painted on the inside walls were done by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and depict various aspects of Hopi life.

Buffalo Dance

The San Francisco Peaks and Daily Life

The journey and return through the Painted Desert to the Great Salt Lake for salt
Mountian Lion Petroglyph

Hand crafted fixture by the CCC’s
Hand painted skylight frames by the CCC’s

The original building was built with petrified wood.

 The drive from the Visitors Center and the Painted Desert Inn provides many chances to stop and view the Painted Desert.  It would be great to visit these at different times during the day, and in different seasons, as I am certain that you could see a different vista during each visit.

 Our next stop was along the only portion of the historic US Route 66 that lies within a National Park.  Route 66 was America’s Main Street and ran from Chicago Illinois to Santa Monica in California.

This 1932 Studebaker marks the spot of Route 66 through the Park

“Get your kicks on Route 66”

 Driving south, you cross over Interstate 40, and later the Santa Fe Rail line.  Along the way you pass the Puerco Pueblo a 100 room village that was occupied between 1250 and 1380.  Associated with this Pueblo are a series of Petroglyphs and may give some clue to the people who lived here.

Just beyond you visit Newspaper Rock.  A collection of some 600 Petroglyphs that were left here by succeeding generations of residents and travelers.  Some are 2000 years old.  What are they trying to tell us? 

Puerco Pueblo Petroglyphs - Avocet and Frog or Stork and a Baby?
Puerco Pueblo Petroglyphs

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock Detail

Newspaper Rock

The ubiquitous National Park Raven, at Newspaper Rock

We found that one of the most stunning stops along this drive was along the Blue Mesa.  As in most National Parks the terrain is varied and can be quite different throughout the park.  Here we began with the Painted Desert, followed by the Blue Mesa and finishing in several petrified forests.  It is in the Blue Mesa that many of the fossils from the Triassic period are found.  The area was once a riverbed and rain forest similar to what is found in Costa Rica.

Petrified Logs in the Blue Mesa

The Blue Mesa

Blue Mesa

At the southern end of the Park you begin to encounter the Petrified Forests.  You should stop at the Jasper Forest, the Crystal Forest and the Giant Logs at the Rainbow Forest Museum.  These petrified giants began as large trees in rainforests along great rivers.  The trees would fall into and across the water and overtime become covered in river sediment and volcanic ash.  The ash had a high silica content that overtime replaced the organic material of the logs and turned them to stone.  The color comes mostly from the mineral content of the layering sediments.  The logs then come to the surface by uplift and erosion.  The erosion process is ongoing, and you can see logs work their way to the surface throughout the park.

Agate Bridge was a photo stop for years until erosion put an end to it.
People would pose for photos while standing on the log.

The Jasper Forest has the highest concentration of petrified wood in the world

Jasper Forest

The Crystal Forest has a mile long path through it.  This was our favorite stop because you can see the petrified wood up close

Rainbow Forest has a self guided trail through the Giant Logs.  Here you see a large petrified log laying on top of what was once an ancient stream bed

And finally you come across “Old Faithful” a 35 foot petrified log that has become a photo stop for many who visit here.

We celebrate an anniversary here today.  We begin our sixth year on the road as nomads living in AIROSMITH


  1. Well done and thank you for this Jim. Has to be one of the most driven by "I'll have to stop there someday" spots going. This may give me an incentive. I am in Green Valley through April if you get down this way ;)


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