Our visit to Petrified Forest National Park was part of our road trip to the southwest region from three years ago. When we got there, it’s closed to 4 pm. and we weren’t sure what time it got dark. There are two entrances to this park: South Entrance and North Entrance, and the distance from one end to the other end are 28 miles (45 km) that takes about an hour of driving. Since we came from Tucson, we entered through the South Entrance.
Petrified Forest National Park: South Entrance
After taking quick pictures at the entrance, we drove to Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center which was also the first stop you would make when entering from the South. We picked up the Junior Ranger book program for our son and strolled through the paleontological exhibits in the museum, followed by watching the park film. Then we walked the Giant Logs Trail located right at the back of the building. An easy 0.4-mile paved trail with stairs.
Wow! How amazed we were with thousands of petrified wood deposits rested all over the ground with their stunning color, from small ones to giant ones. Our little Paleontologist felt like in heaven; touching, hugging, and examining them with wonder. He even tried to pick the giant one.
Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. “Old Faithful”, at the top of the trail, is almost ten feet wide at the base!
From the museum parking lot, there’s a trail that leads to the Agate House. Over there you would see remains of the house built by the Ancestral Puebloan people who used petrified wood as a building material. The eight-room home was built and occupied sometime between 1050 and 1300. Looked interesting, but the trail was 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip and we didn’t think we had enough time to do it, because we wanted to drive all the way to the North Entrance before dark. So, we hopped on to the car and continued exploring the park to the North side.
Petrified Forest National Park: from Crystal Forest to Historic Route 66
Our next stop was Crystal Forest (0.7 mile = 1.2 km loop). It named for the presence of beautiful crystals that could be found in the petrified logs. Here, we saw more petrified wood deposits rested all over the ground.
Then we stopped at the Agate Bridge, a large petrified log spanning a gully. You can see it, but not cross on it.
The Tepees awaited us on the left side of the road on the way to the North Entrance. Basically, it’s a rock formation shaped like a cone with its beautiful layer of blues, purples, and grays color created by iron, carbon, manganese, and other minerals. Incredibly beautiful!
From there we checked the Newspaper Rock where hundreds of petroglyphs etched on the stone. You need the spotting scope on the overlook to see them, but you can keep your quarter in your pocket. It’s free.
Then, we stopped at Puerco Pueblo. This is a site of 100-room village built by Puebloan people over 600 years ago. Through the short paved trail along the site we saw some petroglyphs, too.
Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park site that contains segment of the Historic Route 66 alignment. That was our next stop before we reached the North Entrance. Here we could see traces of an old roadbed and weathered telephone poles that mark the path of the famous “Main Street of America”.
Petrified Forest National Park: Kachina Point
By the time we arrived at the end of the park, the Painted Desert Inn and Painted Desert Visitor Center were already closed. Painted Desert Inn is a national historic landmark functions as a museum now, where displays inside highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. A restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie could be found here as well.
We walked to Kachina Point to get a panoramic view of the Painted Desert. It was spectacular! It’s like looking at a gigantic painting without a wooden frame. Amazing!
When we left the parking, it’s already dark. Fortunately, the park ranger at the gate could check our son Junior Ranger Program book and sworn him in as a certified Petrified Forest National Park Junior Ranger. They already anticipated this would happen to the visitors with children. Thank you, thank you!
What is Petrified Wood?
Over 200 million years ago, tall, stately conifer trees grew along the banks. At one time the tress fell, and swollen streams washed them into adjacent floodplains. A mix of silt, mud, and volcanic ash from distant volcanoes buried the logs deep into the earth. This sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs’ decay. Then silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs, replacing the original wood tissue with silica and petrifying the logs.
Since then, continents moved to today’s position, the region uplifted, and climate changed. Over time, wind and water wore away the rock layers and exposed these fossilized ancient.
That’s why we can still see them in the form of wood or wood pieces but they’re hard as a rock. Because they are fossils.
Why the color?
Petrified wood’s brilliant colors came from minerals in the silica-saturated water. Pure quartz is white, manganese oxides form blue, purple, black, and brown, and iron oxides provide hues from yellow through red to brown. They are very heavy, weighs up to 200 pounds per cubic foot.
– The highest concentrations of petrified wood are found in the southern end of the park, while the northern end showcases the human story and Painted Desert vistas. Start at an entrance that interests you more.
– Never ever collect or remove any petrified wood from the park even if it’s as small as your finger nail.
– You can buy petrified wood collected from private lands outside the park at the rock shops in nearby communities.
– The park’s website offered trip itinerary that you can always accommodate to your interests.
– Use your America the Beautiful National Park pass.
Address: 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest, AZ 86028.
Visited: June 2014.
Have you been there? Tell me about your experience. Or, let me know if this article makes you want to pay a visit to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.