The Petrified National Forest: More than 225 Millions Years in the Making
Crystal Forest – Here you will find some of the most colorful pieces of petrified wood in the park, a result of the silica and minerals that infiltrated the wood. Unfortunately, many pieces have been stolen over the years. Regardless, there still remains a very large concentration to enjoy. As you stroll around the path, you will see a rainbow of different colors, varying based on the different combination of minerals. Some pieces appear to have been cut with a saw, however, this is actual a natural process.
Blue Mesa – Take in the beauty of the petrified wood from several overlooks or walk the short 1 mile trail to get an even better view of both the fossils and the gorgeous surrounding landscapes.
Newspaper Rock – From an overlook, you will be able to see more than 650 unique petroglyphs. There are free telescopes available to get an even better view. It’s interesting to see how the ancient people communicated.
Route 66 Alignment – A 1932 Studebaker marks the spot where Route 66 once cut through the park.
Puerco Pueblo – This pueblo was occupied more than 600 years ago. You can take a short walk along a trail to view the remains, along with viewing more ancient petroglyphs from one of 2 overlooks.
Whipple, Nizhoni, Pintado, and Lacey Points – These overlooks provide stunning views of the Painted Desert. Great panoramic views!
Painted Desert Inn– This historic lodging spot was once a welcome rest area for Route 66 travelers. Today you can check out the historic exhibits including the remains of the old restaurant. From here, you can take a hike along the Painted Desert Rim Trail, which provides more diverse views of the Painted Desert.
Despite many pieces of wood being stolen over the years, the park pretty much remains the same. In fact, the park has worked hard to capture images of the Petrified Forest back in the day in comparison to today. As you will be able to see during your visit, the views are almost identical today. If you compare photos from 80-100 years ago in the exact same spot, the photo appears to not have changed, with the petrified wood still in the same spot.
If you want your own piece of history, you can purchase petrified wood that has been legally collected. The gift shop contains all sorts of pieces, small and large, some very expensive depending upon the size.
*Visit in the winter if possible. The temps are much too hot in the summer (often into the 100’s) and there are way too many crowds. Be aware that winters are often much colder than expected, so dress in layers and always bring a jacket.
*Bring a water bottle and drink up. The chances for getting dehydrated in the desert climate are much higher, especially when you add in multiple hikes. You really need to stay properly hydrated and also keep in mind electrolyte balance (bring with a few salty snacks). There are water stations at both visitor centers to fill up.
*Fill up your gas tank in advance. There is only one station near the park, and it is currently closed. You will likely being doing several hours of driving to get to the park, along with a 28 mile drive when you arrive.
*Bring with a few snacks and eat a quality breakfast beforehand. There is not much to eat near the park.
*Leave early in the day, especially during the shorter daylight winter months. A scenic drive, several hikes, and exploring all the points of interest really adds up.
*Bring with a camera. There are so many scenic overlooks to capture stunning photos.
Directions and Pricing
Location: Visit the Petrified National Forest website for directions from your location.
Fees: Pricing is $20 per car (includes a 7 day pass)or $10 per person/bicyclist. I recommend an annual America the Beautiful pass which is $80, but good for the entire year (for standard admission charge or up to 4 adults) at any national park/monument. It easily pays for itself after just a few park visits.
The park is open everyday except Christmas. Hours vary based on season (remember that this area does not practice daylight savings, and thus follow mountain time year round). From Sept 20-Oct 31, park roads are open from 7am to 6pm, and from Nov 1, 2015-~February 20, 2016 roads are open from 8am to 5pm.