First Time in Petrified Forest National Park

I think I’ve mentioned this before but when I was a young child my parents bought me the 1973 World Book Encyclopedia set, which included a fifteen volume Childcraft anthology.  The volumes included World and Space, About Animals, and Places to Know, among others, and since  I read most of those books cover to cover, the pictures and stories formed the basis of my childhood bucket list. I don’t know if my mother knew what kind of impact those books would have on me, but every time we get to see a place I originally read about in those books I get pretty excited.   Not surprisingly, the Petrified Forest figured prominently in those books, and we knew it was a must do while we were in the area.

The only bad news was somehow Lee lost our American the Beautiful card and since the program is not computerized, once you lose the card you are out the money and have to buy a new membership.  Since the Petrified Forest cost $20 we would have done just that, but we got lucky when we discovered Easter Sunday was a free National Parks day. I wanted to go on Easter in any event.  I thought the traffic would be slow, and I like to do something special on Easter if I can.  Last year we were lucky enough to see a multi-denominational Easter celebration in Santa Fe so this year I thought being in a national park would be a nice choice.  

There are two ways to enter the Petrified Forest National park, and we chose to come in through the south entrance via Route 66. The Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert National Park were two different entities at one time and over time the park has been expanded and the two ends joined together.  The main road is also the old Route 66 and families would visit either using Route 66 or via the Santa Fe railroad which also runs through the park.  The upshot of all of that is originally I was just expecting to see petrified wood, but this park has so much more, including the painted desert, Indian ruins, and some amazing petroglyphs.   Even though it is easier to access via Route 40, I do recommend seeing the park the way we did.  The southern part was much better than the northern in my humble opinion.  If you do have to come in through the north, just make sure you make the entire 26 mile drive to the south entrance, because it really is spectacular, and the south entrance is where all of the petrified wood is.

This shows when sections of the park were added, the most recent was added by President George W. Bush in 2004.

Our first stop after entering the park was the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center.  Nice little museum, which included some skeletal remains of dinosaurs found in the area.  Much better than the visitors center at the north end, and definitely worth the stop.  Plus, behind it is the Giant Logs loop which is .4 paved miles and a can’t miss experience as some huge pieces of petrified wood are there, and have developed this awesome sheen that only comes from being outside for more than 200 years. The wood becomes petrified (rather than decomposing) by being buried under silt, and then wind and erosion uncovers it.

This was what the area looked like when the trees were alive.  See below for the skeleton of the dinosaurs.

This shows how the trees fell and then were buried in the silt where they became petrified. Later erosion uncovered them.

The size of the big trees

The trees turn into quartz, agate, and other stone

The biggest tree on the walk was 411 feet tall

Reminded me of the redwoods just everything had turned to stone

The sheen on this wood was amazing

Some kids startled this little guy. It was surprising seeing a living thing in what felt like a museum of old things.

The visitors area was a little crowded, but once we got on the road things were much quieter.  There are numerous pull-offs with great signage, and many of those have walks as well.  There is very little shade though in the park so I definitely recommend a hat and/or sun screen.  Our first stop was the Crystal Forest, which is a.75 mile loop, with a pretty large number of short but steep elevation changes.  I didn’t want to walk the whole thing, so we went up to the edge, and it was amazing how many pieces of wood there were. We also stopped and took some pictures along the way.

 

Next up was the Jasper Forest and the Agate bridge.  The Agate Bridge was really cool because a large tree had fallen over a gully and they had reinforced it with concrete back in the 40’s to help it stay there.

 

The Agate Bridge

View from the top

Base of the tree encased in rock

 

 

Next up was the Blue Mesa loop and this is absolutely a do not miss.  Not only does it have numerous pullouts with spectacular views it also has my favorite desert views maybe ever.  There is a 1 mile hiking trail that takes you down to the desert floor and if it wasn’t so hot (and had a 38% grade on the way back) I definitely would have done it.  We were lucky enough though to find a covered picnic table near the hike, which wasn’t on the map but thankfully gave us a cool place in which to eat lunch.

Blue Mesa Views

This sign showed how one of the most photographed formations fell, and what it looked like then and now

This is what we saw, still cool but kind of a bummer

We liked this big tree perched on the ledge

Would have loved to eat lunch right here but the sun was relentless

Oh yes he was out on the ledge. He talked me into coming out here for the view, which was amazing, but I didn’t stay long

The absolute best area on the Blue Mesa loop though was where the hiking trails were.  These rocks were so amazing in their beauty it did indeed look like they had been painted.

The start of the trail

Where we found a place to eat lunch

You can see two figures in bottom left walking the trail

Loved, loved this rock

After Blue Mesa we passed the tepee rocks and then went to Newspaper Rock which was full of petroglyphs.  They are protected, which is great, but next to impossible to see without the aid of binoculars or a long camera lens.

Tepee rocks

Great depiction of how the different layers show different environmental conditions

Newspaper Rock.  Petroglyphs in darker brown sections

They had these viewers to help people see which worked well

Closeup pics with long lens showed an amazing amount of detail

Those petroglyphs were a little disappointing but were more than made up for by the next stop, Puerco Pueblo.  There is a restroom at this location and an old Harvey train building.  The railroad used to bring passengers here to see the area and a couple of the sites have old Harvey rest area.  They have been reconverted into min-museums and are nice and cool and shaded.  The loop to see the ruins is .3 miles and totally worth it because not only do you see the ruins of a 100 room complex but also the best petroglyphs I have ever seen.

This shows what the above ruins once looked like

The rebuilt Harvey building which has great information on the ruins

These are naked eye view points. The square drawing to the left stands for migration.

These represents spirits

My absolute favorite petroglyph to date. I thought it was a stork and baby (a common mistake), but it actually is …

An ibis holding a frog in its mouth!! Makes more sense

The best part of all though was this really cool solstice rock.  Two rocks were cut and drawn on so that one day a year (summer solstice in this case) the drawing lights up.  This let the agricultural people know when na agricultural event had to take place.  What was so amazing about it was how anyone figured it out.  If you just glanced at it, it looked like a couple of rocks.  Turns out there are dozens of calendar markers strewn throughout the area.  VERY cool.

Here’s the picture of how it works

And here are the actual rocks

The rock the sun landed on really spoke to me.  Was one of my favorite things I saw all day. Looks for the footprints carved into the front center.

Our next stop was right after crossing I-40 and there is the remnants of a 1932 Studebaker from the Route 66 days.  Lee loved this and even jumped inside, although getting out was pretty challenging.

Lee getting in

Funny!

Getting out was harder.  Keep that in mind if you try this

Next we stopped at numerous vista points to see the painted desert.  This was a totally different view and Lee loved these rich red and green colors.

 

 

 

 

 

We also stopped at the Painted Desert Inn, which was another Harvey Hotel, and particularly interesting because we ate at the Turquoise room the other day.  This has been converted into a museum, but I enjoyed looking at the layout and Lee found another geocache.

Painted Desert Inn

Soda Fountain

Check out these prices. 15 cents for almost everything

The glass ceiling was really beautiful

Finally we made it to the Northern side museum which was a big disappointment, although I have never seen a national park visitors center with a working gas station before.

Loved these fountains everywhere. One for water bottles, one for people, and the one on the bottom for dogs. Dogs are allowed on all the trails here and we saw several people with them throughout the day

On the way home we stopped at several spots along Route 66 for some pictures, and I bought a piece of petrified wood for myself and one for my niece Elise.  They find the wood by digging 6-8 feet down on private land in the area and there was tons of it.  Many pieces were polished, and those were more expensive and we saw some really cool pieces of art, again reminiscent of our time in the Redwoods.

This is a planter but we thought it would make a great wine bottle keeper

Most gift stores at small museums in them. This one had “Wild Bill” a prehistoric alligator

The Geronimo giftshop had the “world’s largest “petrified tree

The famous Jack Rabbit Trading post was closed by the time we got there

But I still sat on the rabbit. I liked the one at Wall drug better

Loved all the dinosaurs everywhere

My favorite though was this motor lodge which had antique cars parked in front of it and looked like you could still stay in the tepees rooms.. Route 66 at its finest.

Great day, but a full one.  Go early, bring a hat, and lots of water.  Really wished we would have done that hike to the base of the rocks, but will save that for next time.

 


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