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.
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…
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.
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.
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.