May 27 – 29, 2016: Petrified Forest National Park, like the rest of our planet, has been shaped by erosion.
Approximately 225 million years ago the now-Arizona landscape was tropical (as it sat much closer to the equator than it does now) and, since then, the continents have shifted, areas uplifted, and climates changed. The landscape, as it was then, was buried over time. The buried trees soaked up groundwater and silica from volcanic ash. Over time this crystallized in quartz and different minerals created the variety of color we now see in the petrified wood.
We entered Petrified Forest National Park from the south and kicked off our visit in the visitor center where we learned about the geologic formations and much more. Behind the visitor center is a short accessible half-mile loop trail, Giant Logs Trail, which contains some of the largest petrified logs in the park. Old Faithful measures ten feet across its base.
Next up was the Long Logs + Agate House combined loop trail (2.6 miles total). Here we saw petrified wood that was once part of a massive log jam as well as a super cool reconstructed pueblo made from petrified wood. Apparently there used to be a whole community of petrified wood pueblos. Can you imagine the beauty of such a neighborhood?
We continued on, walking the Crystal Forest Trail (accessible, paved .75 mile loop in a badlands landscape), and visiting the Agate Bridge and Jasper Forest overlooks.
Next up was my favorite – Blue Mesa Trail (trailhead is located on a 3.5 mile loop road); a one mile hike down into the badlands. The landscape is stunning and surreal: purple ombré hills (despite being called Blue Mesa). It reminded me of the Painted Desert in Death Valley National Park (also one of my favorite places).
After Blue Mesa, we stopped at the remaining overlooks/pullouts in the park: Newspaper Rock Point (here you can view petroglyphs from mounted telescopes); a Route 66 pull-out (the historic Route 66 used to be located here); Painted Desert Inn (a National Historic Landmark); and another seven or so overlooks and pullouts with more great views of the painted desert area in the north of the park.
As you can see, Petrified Forest National Park is beautiful. The park is compact enough that we were able to complete every hike, except wilderness/backcountry hikes, and stop at every viewpoint/overlook/pullout within a single day.
TIP: I know it is tempting to take some of the beautiful petrified wood from the park but this is illegal. Petrified Forest National Park protects less than 20% of the petrified wood found in northeastern Arizona. If you would like some petrified wood to call your own, please purchase it from the many rock shops that obtain their petrified wood from areas outside the park. Let’s ensure future generations can enjoy the same beauty we see in the park today!
TIP: Petrified Forest National Park can be explored from accommodation in Holbrook, Arizona.