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If you’re road tripping in the Southwest, be sure to make some time for Petrified Forest National Park. This unique park offers amazing views of the Painted Desert, and you won’t believe all the petrified wood you’ll see throughout the park.
This national park has two entrances. Since we’d spent the night at Tucumcari, New Mexico, the night before, we planned to begin exploring the park in the afternoon when we arrived. For this first day, we entered from the north at the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center, just off of I-40.
You may be wondering, was it really hot in July at about 3:00 p.m.? Yes, yes it was. Still, it was manageable when you weren’t in the direct sun. And the wind was much stronger than I would’ve imagined, so that helped with cooling. We didn’t do any long hiking trails. We stayed close to the beaten path and only took short jaunts to see the main attractions. After we were out and about, we could cool off in the car and drink our water.
It’s also good to note that both entrances have the typical national park visitor’s center gift shops and an additional gift shop. We bought our magnet and a piece of petrified wood in the privately-owned gift shop. This entrance also has a gas station, so be sure you’re not running low on fuel before you start driving through the park!
The Painted Desert
When you’re ready to enter the park, you’ll drive to the gates to pay the fee. You will then be able to enter the park for seven days, which is nice since we planned to return in the morning. Once we had our park guide, we were off.
As you drive through the Painted Desert, you’ll see several “points” where you can pull off and take in the beautiful views. The pictures don’t do it justice. And I can’t describe the expanse of it. The desert looks as if it goes on forever.
You’ll also probably run into the largest crows you’ve ever seen. They kept their distance.
I could post pictures of the Painted Desert all day. So beautiful.
The Painted Desert Inn National Landmark
In this section of the park, you’ll also see the Painted Desert Inn. This inn used to serve as lodging for visitors to the Painted Desert. Now it’s a museum dedicated to the history of the inn. I’m actually a little bummed that you can’t stay here anymore. The views from the property are amazing. I suppose they’d have to do some work so that modern guests would be comfortable. Here is a guest room. And no, it doesn’t have a private bathroom. Just a sink.
Route 66 Crossing Point
This classic car is a monument to honor those who traveled Route 66. The old highway location is marked by the electric poles in the background. You can also see the current travel route, I-40, in the background of the next picture.
At this stop, you can see the ancient ruins of the homes of the Pueblos. They are believed to be about 700 years old.
Here is another area with the foundations.
This is also the best place to see petroglyphs, ancient symbols carved into the rocks by ancient people.
We had fun spotting these.
Newspaper Rock is another great place to see petroglyphs, but you won’t get to see them as close. You’ll have to spot them with the free binoculars at the overlook.
This is one of the most beautiful parts of the park. This area is named, of course, for the shape and coloring of the formations in the area.
I could post pictures of this area all day, too.
We finally started getting up close and personal to some petrified wood when we drove this loop. We thought it was crazy how petrified wood is just scattered everywhere. Little did we know, more wood was in our future.
We didn’t deviate from the main auto path, but there is a walking trail in this area. We just took in the beauty from the road.
This is actually the last part we explored on the first day since the park closed at 5:00 p.m. You may be luckier on your visit to be able to stay later. It would be really amazing to stay until sunset. We drove the rest of the way out of the park, and we picked up the rest the next day. In order to maintain continuity of the park, I will continue describing the areas in order.
This is a fun stop because you’re able to view the petrified log bridge. You’re not allowed to cross this delicate bridge, but it sure is amazing to view. In 1911, officials reinforced the 110-foot petrified log bridge with pillars to prevent its collapse. In 1917, the concrete slab was added.
This slab will not prevent the inevitable collapse it the bridge’s future. The water that carves the ravine to this day will one day cause the bridge to fall.
Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest
In these sections of the park, you’ll see petrified wood that seems to be sprinkled around as far as the eye can see. It almost feels like you’re on another planet, although I must admit, I felt that way in several places in the park.
At Crystal Forest, you can hike a paved path to see some intact logs. Since it was already pretty warm when we encountered this section, and we’d seen some intact logs already, we didn’t do this particular hike.
Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor’s Center
After Crystal Forest, you’ll find yourself at Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor’s Center. (On our first day, we passed it on our way out. On the second day, we stopped here as we entered the park from this direction.)
Behind this visitor’s center, you can take a short trail to get close to some petrified wood before you ever really get started in the park. Plus, you’ll have to get a shot with the large log.
This national park is definitely a must-do. I’m glad I got to explore this park and make memories with my family. I liked the ease of exploring this park; you can drive from point to point and experience the park which is especially nice if you’re not into more extreme hiking trails. If you do enjoy more challenging hikes, those are available, too.
Be sure to put Petrified National Forest on your list of nations parks to visit!