Fun fact: did you know that parts of Arizona were a lush rainforest with dinosaurs 225 millions years ago? That how Petrified Forest National Park came to be. It is a unique little park in the northeast corner of Arizona. It’s the first park that we’ve visited that had hours of operation, running from 8AM -5PM each day. The park itself is organized along a 30+mile long road running north-south through the park. There are lots of lookout points and historical ruins that can be seen along the way. It’s a great park to visit if you’re on a road trip, but also a place where you can do some backcountry camping in their designated wilderness areas.
Entering Petrified Forest National Park, we started at the north end and came across some beautiful vistas and an old hotel, the Painted Desert Inn, that is now a museum. Part of Petrified Forest was part of Historic Route 66. It was built right on a cliff and had amazing views for sunrises. Many of the views throughout the park reminded us of the Artists Palette section of Death Valley National Park because of the purples and oranges that were coloring the landscape. As we see more and more parks, we begin to notice some common features or resemblances as we explore.
The big ticket item to see at Petrified Forest is the petrified trees near the southern entrance of the park. These trees were part of a lush rainforest. As trees died naturally, they might fall into a riverbed and get covered in sediment, which prevented their decay. Mineral-rich groundwater would percolate up into the logs depositing minerals. Over time, the now fossilized logs are exposed due to natural erosion of the soil. The park literature describes this fossilizing period as “quick,” taking only a few thousand years. But when we are talking about trees that are 225 million years old, a few thousand years is a drop in the bucket.
Each trip, the four of us list our favorite part of the trip.
Sean: In the middle of the park are native ruins and petroglyphs at a place called Puerco Pueblo. They are dated to around 1250-138 CE. The ruins are a giant rectangle, that had nearly 100 rooms housing 200 people. There was a center courtyard for socializing as well as these holes in the ground, called kivas. The kivas were for meetings. I was amazed at how beautiful they looked and the toughness of a people that could endure the weather in that area.
Mary: The crystal trees. Hands down. It was the coolest thing to see.
Quincy: I loved the crystal trees and the lookout point near the Painted Desert Inn.
Leona: The crystal trees and the Rainbow Forest visitor center dinosaur bones display.