On the way back home driving from a family wedding in Arizona, my husband and I decided to re-visit the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. We had visited the park many years before when our children were pre-teens, on a trip we took to the Grand Canyon and the Meteor Crater near Flagstaff. The Petrified National Forest is located in northwestern Arizona, 28 miles east of the Navajo Nation town of Holbrook, along I-40 and old Roue 66. The park is a surprising land of scenic wonders, featuring one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood. It also contains the multi hued badlands of the Chinle Formation known as the Painted Desert. Within the Petrified Forest National Park are historic structures, archaeological sites, and displays of 225 million year old fossils. (All photos will enlarge if clicked on)
Through gradual erosion, the gigantic logs and remnants of the petrified trees became exposed. They are now fascinating glimpses back in time for the over 600,000 annual visitors to the park to see.
The Petrified National Park consists of two main sections, and recent legislation has authorized doubling the land area to 217,533 acres. The southern part of the park has the major concentrations of the famous colorful petrified wood. Most of the pieces have been broken by the elements into giant logs, and are scattered over the land as far as the eye can see.
Some of the formations are more tree like in shape.
We stopped into one of the visitors centers called the Rainbow Forest Museum. Here we watched an interesting 20 minute orientation movie about the park and looked at the paleontological exhibits complete with skeleton displays of the prehistoric vertebrates found in the park--including the giant crocodile like reptile called the phytosaurs,and the large salamander like amphibians called Buettneria, plus early dinosaurs such as the pterosaurs, and invertebrates including freshwater snails and clams
Outside the Rainbow Forest Museum are trails where you can see the beautiful pieces of petrified wood up close. It is now against the law to remove any of the wood from the park, with strict fines imposed for any type of vandalism. Unfortunately, for many years before the area was protected by the government, large pieces of the petrified wood was removed by visitors for their own use or sold. There are still places that are outside the park in Navajo Nation that have petrified wood for sale, and since those pieces came from private land, they can be bought without penalty.
You can see the beautiful rainbow hues of the stone like wood in these photos.
There are many trails within the park. One of the most interesting formations is found on the Giant Logs Trail, a giant petrified tree called "Old Faithful." As you can see in the photo collage above it was truly massive, with a base base over 10 feet tall!
There were many different areas to see the petrified wood.....
...and this region is called the Crystal Forest.
The Crystal Forest Trail allows you to see the silica quartz in the petrified wood, that sparkles in the sun. During the 1800's people actually dynamited some of these logs in order to extract the quartz. Now visitors are required by law to protect these samples for future visitors by not taking pieces of them.
As we drove north in the park, the topography kept changing, with many colorful buttes and mesas.
The Petrified Forest National Park area it is constantly changing, as weather and time continues to erode it.
An example of the changing scenery can be read about in the placard above (click on to enlarge)
This structure is called the Agate Bridge. Centuries of flood waters washed out the area beneath this 110 foot long petrified log, and it formed a natural bridge. Conservationists over the years have tried to preserve this bridge, by first placing architectural support in 1911, and then a concrete span in 1917. Current National Park philosophy would be to allow nature to take its course, which would have left the Agate Bridge in its natural state, even if it means allowing it to fall.
The painted desert is also composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale of the Triassic period Chinle Formation. These fine grained rock layers contain abundant ion and manganese compounds which provide the pigments for the various colors of the region.
Exposed to wind and water, the formations erode into badlands made up of cliffs, gullies, mesas, buttes, and rounded hills.
The Petrified Forest National Park has many viewing sites in which to look down to these fanciful formations.
The time of day makes the colors change with shadows and brightness. Sunset is said to be the most magical time to view them.
The entire Painted Desert encompasses over 93,500 acres and stretches over 160 miles. It begins about 30 miles north of Cameron, Arizona, near the southeastern rim of the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest, where it is protected wilderness. There are a few authorized hiking trails within the park, check this link for their location. There are no camping facilities within the park. Check this link for other camping info.
Some more beautiful views....
Please click on to enlarge
There is also a placard nearby about the historic story of he once heavily traveled road Route 66 which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Petrified Forest National Park is the only National Park that a portion of the road passed through. You can also read more about Route 66 on the National Park web site here.
We left the Petrified Forest National Park grounds, but the amazing scenery continued,
We were on our way towards New Mexico, and hoping to reach the reservation we made at a hotel in Las Vegas---yes, not the famous Las Vegas of Nevada, but the Las Vegas of New Mexico-- before nightfall. New Mexico is called "The Land of Enchantment" for good reason. My next blog post will show more about what we saw on our journey home through this beautiful state!
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