Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert is one of the least visited National Parks. Not understanding why it’s not as popular as other National Parks, we think it should be one of your bucket list destinations when you’re visiting the southwest United States. Its’ unique and vibrant natural features will lead your curiosity into wondering how these remnants were once a forest in the desert today.
Recollecting way back to my days as a young teenager, my mother, brother and I boarded a Greyhound bus from Erie, PA trekking across America destined for San Diego, California to visit family. Not realizing the significance of a small piece of petrified wood I picked up in a souvenir store would lead to visiting the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert a few decades later.
The night before visiting Petrified Forest National Park, we researched what to expect and how to prepare ourselves for our self tour of the park (ie. weather, terrain, food/water availability, etc.).
Day trip to the Petrified Forest National Park
The next morning, we took our showers, ate breakfast, packed our box lunch, grabbed our hiking poles and headed out.
Our first posted was the Visitor’s Center to see where the best trails are, points of interest, etc. Also, picking up a few post cards that I usually send out a year later. We get our National Park Passport stamped for our alibis and proof that we visited.
Layers upon layers…
The first exhibit wasn’t very far up the road; the beginning of the Painted Desert. Instantly, we realized why it was called 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 and southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. Before we knew it, we were looking down into the massive bowl of vibrant sandstone layers. We felt so tiny in comparison to the vastness of the landscape.
The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant, variegated colors of red rock and purple hues.
Our next stop was the Painted Desert Inn; originally constructed of petrified wood dating back to the early 1920’s, It was renovated a decade later with adobe facade keeping the original design and motif. Today, the Painted Desert Inn is a museum that displays Route 66, the workings of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the history of the building itself.
There were also some local featured artists showcasing their handcrafts and art to sell.
Reading the newspaper?
Our next stop was to see the Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs. This would be our very first in-person view petroglyphs.
However, we were disappointed when we arrived at the viewing station. Visitors are not permitted to hike down to see them up close as its part of the preservation of the Petroglyphs.
Unfortunately, from the viewing station, it was difficult to see them without the aid of binoculars. All was not lost though, I did use my DSLR Camera zoom lens to get a view of them.
To view them, click on each photo and then enlarge. Or, you can trust me in telling you that they really are there.
Along the hiking trail, there were trail placards showing that we weren’t alone…
The wind-carved mounds reminded us of giant candy corns.
How the layered mounds are formed…
We learned the desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible shale, mudstone, and siltstone from 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.
There really isn’t very much vegetation there than occasional Sagebrush. The Painted Desert is a very barren and unforgiving place for growing green things. But we did find these little pricklies; a species of the Cholla family.
Who cut the wood?
Check out our other National Park visits!