Arizona is a fabulous state filled with beauty and natural wonders. Amazing canyons (Grand!), mountains, and desert scenery await visitors.
The Petrified National Park in Arizona
Having visited the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona on two different occasions, I am the proud owner of some fantastic desert pictures, and of course, the petrified wood is the star attraction.
The location of this national park is in the northcentral part of Arizona. The nearest highway is Interstate 40. It is approximately a two-hour drive east of Flagstaff, Arizona, or one-hour drive west of Gallup, New Mexico.
My first visit was with my mother and niece, and we enjoyed the views immensely but did not do much hiking. The colors and hues of the petrified wood are so varied and shine in the sunlight like precious jewels. The stark desert is a contrast to those multicolored gems of wood turned to stone.
With my German girlfriend accompanying me the second time of visiting the Arizona desert, and in particular the Petrified Forest, more hiking was in order. The majority of my pictures included in this post will be from that second visit.
Triassic Period Fossils
Discovered in 1981 were fossils dating back to the Triassic Period some 225 million years ago. Research continues. Evidence of small dinosaurs, as well as crocodile-like reptiles and big amphibians that would have eaten fish, are being discovered in this area in addition to the plant life that would have existed at the time.
At the Rainbow Forest Museum casts of the bones of a small dinosaur nicknamed Gertie are displayed for all to see. Located 2 miles north of the south entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park, 19 miles south of Holbrook off of highway 18, you will find the Rainbow Forest Museum.
Also contained within the museum is all kinds of visitor information, including a 20-minute orientation film that runs on the half-hour. Many fossil exhibits are on display, and you can acquire free back-country permits for hiking and backpacking there. Public restrooms are available as well as some limited amounts of food.
There are no campgrounds or lodging inside of this national park. Backpacking and wilderness camping only is allowed. Overnight accommodations are available in nearby towns outside of the park.
Protecting This Special Land
Around the year 1900, calls for preserving this unusual and beautiful landscape began. Tourists were removing bits and pieces of the beautifully colored petrified wood as souvenirs, and it became apparent that if this continued, the scenery would be forever changed.
In 1906 selected areas of what was to become this park first started as the Petrified Forest National Monument to preserve this land. Often this is the first step towards becoming a national park.
Two thousand five hundred more acres (1,000 hectares) were added to the monument in 1932.
Becoming a National Park
National Park status happened in 1962, and in 1970 an additional 50,000 acres (20,250 hectares) was set aside as wilderness area. The total area of this Petrified Forest National Park is now 93,533 acres or 37,881 hectares.
It is illegal to remove any pieces of petrified wood within the park boundaries. Plenty of it can be found outside the Petrified Forest National Park, and commercial interests have already collected and polished much of it up and offer it for sale.
One can purchase inexpensive small brightly colored pebbles or more expensive larger pieces made into bookends or many other assorted objects in gift shops that are allowed to sell the petrified wood.
When I was there with my girlfriend, I purchased a ring, some bookends, and a beautiful slab of a full-diameter cross-cut piece of a petrified log that I have on display in our home. Whether one decides to purchase any souvenirs, just seeing the creative objects made from the petrified wood is a treat.
Some Geology of This Area
This part of the country which is now about 5,400 feet in elevation and high and dry has a fascinating geologic history. It started as a floodplain where tall pine-like trees flourished in the south. This timeframe was also when the dinosaurs and other animals now being discovered as fossils roamed this area.
The trees eventually fell and were moved by the streams into the floodplain where they became covered with volcanic ash, mud, and silt.
What happened next was that silica deposits gradually infiltrated the wooden tissues of the logs, and over time the silica was replaced with quartz. This transformation preserved the logs, and they became the petrified wood we see today. Of course, this did not happen overnight, but over millions of years. Some of the species of these petrified remains of trees are now extinct.
Much later with time, the land became uplifted. The uplifted area exposed the fossilized plants and animals to the wind and water, and due to the stresses on those long petrified logs, most of them split and became broken. Some of the long logs lie in pieces next to one another, giving one an idea of how tall they were at one time when they stood upright.
What is viewed today in the Petrified Forest National Park is only a fraction of what is truly there. At a depth of some 300 feet, fossilized remains are still there. The forces of erosion over time will continue to bring more of these petrified remains towards the surface.
Human residence within the park is known for more than 2,000 years. The dating of rubble, potsherds, and petroglyphs seem to have ended after the year 1400. Before that, there is definite proof of occupation between the years 1100 to 1200 and between 1300 to 1400.
Titled Newspaper Rock, this is only one of many paintings left on the petrified wood by Native Americans who would have lived in this area. Many such petroglyphs exist throughout the park confines.
From the Rainbow Forest Museum, one can follow a trail that takes one through the Giant Logs and to the site of the Agate House.
The Agate House dates back to the Pueblo III period and Indians during that time would have collected chunks of petrified wood building lodging for themselves. It was partially restored in the 1930s so that one can visualize what a pueblo house would have looked like built out of the colorful petrified wood.
Many other minerals, some of which include iron, manganese, and carbon comprise these polychromatic pieces of stone. It is a fantastic site seeing them piled together as I am sure you will agree when you view the pictures.
I snapped a photo of a sign which aptly described this Badlands area of the national park. It tells the following story:
"This moonscape of hills and gullies is called badlands.
The Blue Mesa badlands are made up of rock known as the Chinle Formation, which extends from Texas, across northern Arizona, and into Utah. The rock is mostly fine-grained clay and siltstone but also contains sandstone and conglomerate. Bentonite, a major ingredient, swells and becomes sticky when wet and cracks and shrinks when it dries.
The constant shrinking and swelling of the surface gives the Chinle its elephant-skin texture.
Petrified logs appear to be perched on pedestals of the softer clays. Once the clay erodes under the logs, they will topple down the hillside."
Walking through this hot and dry area, one should think of wearing sunscreen, appropriate clothing with comfortable shoes, hats, sunglasses, and make sure that one is carrying enough water to stay hydrated. These recommendations are suitable for all of this Petrified Forest National Park.
On the back of this oversized vintage postcard purchased by my grandparents on their travels many years ago, it reads:
"PETRIFIED FOREST of ARIZONA
Rich and strange in color and shapes these petrified trees carry one's imagination back to prehistoric days when dinosaurs roamed northern Arizona.
PETLY Color Card - PUBLISHED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PETLEY STUDIOS, PHOENIX, ARIZONA
KODACHROME BY JERRY McLAIN"
Park Entrance Fees
As of the year 2021, these are the current entrance fees to enter the Petrified Forest National Park for private, non-commercial vehicles:
- $25 for a 7-day pass
- $45 for an annual pass
For people who plan to visit more than one national park or who meet specific standards, these are probably the best things of which to take advantage:
- The Access Pass offers free lifetime access to all national parks if one is permanently disabled or blind.
- The Annual Pass is $80 for one year for access to all of our national parks for people of all ages.
- The Senior Pass for people 62 and older costs $80 and offers lifetime access to all national parks, or $20 for an annual pass. Who said that there are not some perks to getting older! Ha!
- The Military Pass for current members of the military and their dependents, veterans, and Gold Star family members is free.
These passports can be acquired at any of our national parks. These fees are a vehicle fee and not a per-person fee. So for people traveling as friends or family, getting to enjoy our national parks is truly a bargain.
Part of the Painted Desert
The Petrified Forest National Park is a portion of the Painted Desert. This part of the country is uniquely beautiful.
There are 28 miles of a scenic drive throughout the Petrified Forest National Park. Also provided are many pull-outs where one can overlook different areas within the park from one's vehicle. Sweeping vistas of the various sites are on view from these parking areas. Because of this, even handicapped people can enjoy seeing the Petrified Forest.
Be sure to stop at the visitor centers, one at each end of the park, for much more information including current weather forecasts, maps, and for those heartier souls permits to camp and hike in the wilderness areas.
Petrified wood exists in other areas around the country and world, but being able to enjoy such an extensive collection of it in one concentrated area makes the Petrified Forest National Park in the Painted Desert of Arizona unique and well worth a trip.