If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here.
It seems to me that Petrified Forest National Park gets little love compared to other Arizona national parks and natural wonders. I’m here to tell you how unfair that is. This place rules! At the same time, however, I get that it being so out of the way from everything else may be a deterrent – so much so that when we were mapping out our route, we almost nixed it because of that factor. Well, I’m so happy that we didn’t, and my hope is that you, too will still be compelled to check it out after reading this post.
There are two entrances to the park: north and south. Both entrances have a visitor center and lead to the park’s main road, Petrified Forest Road, which is 28 miles long. As such, I’d enter wherever makes the most sense logistically. Because we were traveling from southern Arizona, the south entrance made the most sense for us. Of note, the Painted Desert makes up the northern section of the park. Meanwhile, the highest concentration of petrified wood is in the southern section of the park.
We started out at the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center. Similar to what I said in my previous post, while I generally don’t feel the need to hit up visitors centers, this is one worth checking out. Gaining an appreciation for petrified wood prior to seeing the real deal made the experience that much more surreal. But, if in the meantime you’re curious about what the heck petrified wood actually is, I’m happy to give you the nitty gritty. Petrified wood is fossils of fallen trees from the Triassic Period over 200 million years ago. Like, before dinosaurs existed! My head spins when I try to wrap my head around that timeframe.
Being that there are many trails, overlooks, and photo ops along Petrified Forest Road, I’d have an idea of what your must-sees are if time is limited. For us, that came down to the Giant Logs Trail (0.4 miles), the Crystal Forest Trail (0.75 miles), the Blue Mesa Trail (1 mile), the Route 66 Alignment for a quick photo op, and the Painted Desert Rim Trail (1 mile). Heading south to north, we experienced them in that order.
As its name indicates, the Giant Logs Trail showcases some of the largest petrified logs in the park. The Crystal Forest Trail also features many petrified logs, as well as a striking badlands landscape. My favorite must-see by far is the Blue Mesa Trail. It’s a short, yet challenging trail that descends upon a badlands landscape that is much more vibrant than that of the Crystal Forest. Lastly, we ended our day by walking along the Painted Desert Rim Trail. There are several overlooks that allow for encompassing views of the Painted Desert, so if you’re not in the mood to walk at this point in your journey, you’re truly not depriving yourself of an experience.
Before heading to our hotel in the neighboring town of Holbrook, we were set on drinking some margaritas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Uh, that was until we realized how in-the-middle-of-nowhere Holbrook actually is. Expect no-frills establishments when it comes to both restaurants and hotels. Speaking of hotels, we stayed at Quality Inn Holbrook. Our experience was nothing to write home about, but it was pleasant enough and included complimentary breakfast.
…Next stop, Grand Canyon National Park!