Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Park Tally: 10/59

Orientation: Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona, about 50 miles from the New Mexico border.  The park has two gateways – the north entrance off I-40 where the Painted Desert Visitor Center is situated, and the south entrance off US 180 where the Rainbow Forest Museum can be explored. In between the park entrances is a 28-mile scenic road with numerous viewpoints, trails and interesting scenery. The park is open 8am to 5pm year-round, with extended hours during spring through fall.

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Most iconic view:  The park is famous for its incredibly preserved petrified wood. The best locations to view the colorful wood is via a short walk around Crystal Forest (0.75-mile loop) and Giant Logs (0.4-mile loop). It is important to leave the petrified wood as you find it, so visitors can continue to enjoy the wonder of the park for years to come. Petrified wood mementos can be purchased from the gift shop by the Painted Desert Visitor Center, which has been gathered legally from areas outside of the national park.

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Accessible activity:  The short trails mentioned above (Crystal Forest and Giant Logs) are both excellent “easy” walks, providing close-up views of the petrified wood. Driving the Blue Mesa road is a wonderful opportunity to witness the vibrant blue, purple and gray badlands dotted with petrified wood.

Many visitors opt to explore the famous Painted Desert Inn whilst in the northern section of the park. The Inn is a National Historic Landmark and offers exhibits on the building’s rich 20th-century history. The historic Route 66 Alignment can be found nearby, where the legendary drive once cut through the park.

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For the adventurous:  The park has various options for those wanting to get “off the beaten path”. Some of these include Billing’s Gap, a 3-mile (roundtrip) hike atop the Blue Mesa, and Onyx Bridge, a 4-mile (roundtrip) hike to a petrified wood “bridge”. Those looking for an even bigger adventure can spend the night camping in the park’s peaceful wilderness area, though be sure to obtain a permit from the Painted Desert Visitor Center.

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Best photo opportunities: The park’s limited opening hours can make it challenging to capture photographs during the best light (sunrise and sunset). We were there during spring and the park was open until 7:30pm (all visitors had to be getting into their cars and driving directly to the exit at that time). We still managed to experience most of “golden hour” at Crystal Forest and sunset at Blue Mesa – both definitely worth staying out later for!

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How is the wood “petrified”? The petrified wood found in the park is thought to be around 225 million years old. As trees died or were knocked over by wind and water, many were carried down-stream. From there they were buried by layers of sediment. Groundwater and silica from volcanic ash were soaked up by the logs. Over time this crystalized into quartz, with different minerals creating the colorful layers seen in many pieces.

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Quick facts

  • In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Petrified Forest National Monument, and in 1952 it became a national park.
  • The park has one of the largest petrified wood deposits in the world.
  • Many people hold the incorrect belief that massive amounts of petrified wood has been stolen from the park over time. Wood theft does occur, though today’s visitors are not experiencing something less than what their grandparent’s generation did.
  • Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best places in the world to see the dinosaur fossils from during the Late Triassic Period.
  • Many prehistoric people lived in the park, leaving remnants today in the form of petroglyphs, pueblo structures and pottery.
  • Historic Route 66 was established in 1926 and was one of the original highways in the US Highway System. The road was decommissioned in 1985 due to the alternative more express interstate highway system. Petrified Forest is the only national park that protects a section of Route 66.
  • In 2016 the park had 643,274 visitors

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