This is one of those ‘less visited’ National Parks that deserves a lot more attention and praise. As with any of the others, Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert displays the most intriguing beauty where there is no other like it.
I remember as a young teenager, my mother, brother and I boarded a Greyhound bus from Erie, PA to trek across America destined for San Diego, California (Coronado really). This was my first experience with petrified wood as I picked up a small 4″ x 3″ piece in a souvenir store as a momento of our trip. However, we came no where close to the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert.
Anyways, we parked Liberty for a couple nights in Holbrook, Arizona knowing this was one of the things we wanted to do while there…this and to go “Stand on the Corner of Winslow, Arizona”.
As always like the others, the night before visiting this National Park, we did a little Googling prior to plan our day. We researched what to expect and how to prepare ourselves for the elements (ie. weather, terrain, food/water availability, etc.).
The next morning, we took our showers, had breakfast, packed a cooler lunch, grabbed our hiking gear and patted our fuzzyheads on the heads telling them we’d be back later.
Entrance to the Park…
Once we got to the entrance, Dan pulled out his National Park Access Pass
and the Park Ranger gave us our information packet, smiled huge and sent us on our way.
We posted our first stop at the Visitor’s Center to obtain more info, see where the best trails are, points of interest, etc. We also like pick up a few post cards that I usually send out…a year later. Most importantly, we get our National Park Passport stamped.
Our adventure began…
The first exhibit wasn’t very far up the road; this is the beginning of the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert is a desert of badlands in the Four Corners area from close to the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. Before we knew it, we were looking down into a massive bowl of colorfully layered sandstone and it seemed there were miles and miles of it. We felt so tiny in comparison to the vastness of the landscape.
The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors, that not only include the more common red rock, but even shades of pale purple.
Off topic, isn’t it scary when you hand your camera over to someone, praying they get a good photo? Well, this one did well, didn’t they? I’m always leary of that. I really should master using my selfie stick.
Our next stop, we happened upon the Painted Desert Inn; originally constructed of petrified wood; dated back to the early 1920’s and renovated a decade later with adobe facade. The inn is now a museum with displays of Route 66, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the history of the building. There were also a few local featured artists showcasing their handcrafts and art.
We hopped back in Captain America to drive to our next stop…
Unfortunately, it was difficult to see them. We didn’t have our binoculars with us so, I used my DSLR Camera zoom lens instead to find them. If you click on each photo and then enlarge, you can see them. Or, you can trust me in telling you that they really are there.
Visitors are prohibited to go down to see them up close as its part of the preservation of the Petroglyphs.
Along the trail, there were placards telling us about habitants, dangers and what lurks on the grounds at night…or even while we were there.
We noticed this little guy scamper away at our feet.
After we finished hiking this trail, we got back into the truck, meandered our way through more of the park and found this spectacular beautiful view!
These wind-carved mounds reminded me of giant, color-layered candy corn…
How they are formed…
The desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible shale, mudstone, and siltstone of the Triassic Chinle Formation. These sandy rock layers contain abundant compounds of iron and manganese which give the mounds layered colors. The mesas are formed by volcanic lava and debris remnants and thin resistant lacustrine limestone layers. Numerous layers of silicic volcanic ash occur in the Chinle and provide the silica for the petrified logs of the area. The erosion of these layers has resulted in the formation of the badlands topography of the region.
So, in layman’s terms, the silica along with the arid climate is what dries the wood causing it to petrify.
Click on the below photos to learn about what the layers mean…
There really wasn’t very much vegetation. Afterall, the Painted Desert is a very barren and unforgiving place for growing green things. But we did find these little pricklies; some species of the Cholla family.
Time was marching on that we had to move on. So, in Captain America, we go again for our next stop. I couldn’t help but to keep looking in my side rear view mirror at the beauty behind us.
And then…BOOM!!! Our very first glimpse of real petrified wood; just like the small stone-like piece I bought forty-some years prior at that souvenir shop! The wood was buried in the layers over tens of thousands of years.
This was only the start of it. The deeper we went into the forest, the more petrified wood we saw. We found this ADA (American Disabilities Act) trail that was actually awesome even though it was asphalt paved.
We trekked down to the bottom of the bowl and were surrounded by hoodoos, more layers and large sections of petrified wood stumps from trees. Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rocks that have risen from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland…kind of like a stalagmite in a cave. They are carved by the wind.
This was an important sign, and believe me, they watch. There were Rangers walking the same trails; most likely to watch for thieves. That left me wondering if that piece I bought at the souvenir shop when I was 13 was illegally acquired? Let’s hope not. Or maybe it was and that’s why they have these signs now.
Here’s more samples of our ten thousand photos we took. It was incredibly amazing and I wanted to take them all home with us but well, Liberty has a weight limit and I surely didn’t want to go to the pokey for collecting. So, these photos will be our memory…
Now interestingly, you’ll notice the wood logs look like they’ve been cut. Well, read on…
Oh, now before we go, we have to show you more of what we learned about the wood. Long story short, as the wood ‘petrifies’, minerals contaminate the wood causing these beautiful colors and composition. They appear like quartz and the wood is hard as a rock.
I would have loved to have this piece. It was so beautiful and vibrant with colors.
Sunset was nearing and we needed to get back to Liberty and our fuzzy nomads. But the memory of this wonderful place will be etched in our memories forever like the petrified wood we just saw!