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Petrified Forest National Park Things to Do: 84 reviews and 185 photos
Painted Desert landscape
The Painted Desert forms the northernmost part of the Petrified Forest National Park and is separated from it by Hwy 40, although those driving the park road will find themselves looping over that road to tour the various Painted Desert viewpoints. The park encloses just a small part of these vast badlands that stretch for 160 miles from north of the Grand Canyon south to the Little Colorado River. The Painted Desert derives its name for the multitude of colours ranging from lavenders to shades of gray with bands of red, orange and pink. It is a barren, austere, and, for all its bleakness, a beautiful landscape.
This landscape was created over millions of years by the instability of the earth’s crust. As the area shifted from heated volcanic activity, through earthquake, to damp forests and even complete inundation by fresh and sea waters, so layer upon layer of different sediments, clay and sandstone, stained with iron and manganese, were stacked one above the other. Erosion then took over, carving the land into buttes and outcrops that expose these layers to our awed gaze today.
This is a particularly great area for photography, and even if you are only driving through you should make the time to pull over, perhaps at one of the picnic areas on Hwy 40, to take a few photos of the colourful Painted Desert. Even the most cursory of glances will show you how it got its name, but it surely deserves just a little more of your attention than that!
The road passes eight viewpoints, each with an information board to explain the sights. There is a visitor centre near the entrance (or exit if like us you have driven north through the national park). As well as a shop selling souvenirs (including pieces of petrified wood), there is a self-service cafeteria and, usefully in this remote area, a gas station.
Agate House, Petrified Forest
The Pueblo people who once lived here used the petrified wood as all ancient peoples used stone: not only for tools such as arrowheads, knives and scrapers, but also as a building material. The so-called Agate House is a small, eight-room pueblo which archaeologists believe was built between A.D. 1050 and 1300. It was partially reconstructed in the 1930s and shows the how such buildings were constructed using blocks of the petrified wood sealed with a clay mortar. You can’t go inside but it is well worth taking the one mile trail to get a close look at the building. My photo shows the one fully-reconstructed room and the walls of another in front on the right.
This trail can be combined with the Longs Logs Trail for a 2.5 mile roundtrip hike, but we had already done the Great Logs Trail on the other side of the road (see separate tip) so gave that a miss.
Directions: The Agate House Trail starts from the Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot at the southern end of the park
Old Faithful, one of the largest logs in the park
There are three short trails which provide views of the major deposits of petrified wood in the park: the Long Logs Trail, the Giant Logs Trail and the Crystal Forest. We took the middle of these, mainly because, entering the park from the south, it was the first we came to.
This is a relatively easy walk, accessible to almost everyone as the path is paved, although there are a few hills and steps in places. It leads past a large number of big petrified trunks, including “Old Faithful”, named by the wife of the park’s first superintendent and one of the largest in the park. It is 35 feet (10.6 metres) long and weighs approximately 44 tons (39,900 kilos). There are also plenty of smaller “slices” of tree trunk scattered either side of the path, showing how over time most of the logs succumbed to the immense pressure of the hundreds of feet of earth under which they were buried.
Directions: The walk starts behind the Rainbow Forest Museum
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