When my parents told me that we would try to visit the Petrified Forest when I was a kid, I imagined huge trees clustered together, like a grand redwood forest, crystallized and magnificent. While my expectations were a bit incongruous with reality, I was finally able to visit the national park this summer to see the wood for myself.
The wood itself is scattered about the park in large clusters: You have to drive through the park on a long loop in order to get from place to place. There are pockets all around with grand names, each portion telling you about when the topography looked like. Many had signs that addressed my childhood vision: Yes, it isn’t really a forest. It’s a desert. Many thousands of years ago, however, they think it looked more like a rain forest. Through the wonders of time, geology, and pressure, the wood took a new shape with the new climate. There’s a great post about the exact science of how the wood forms that you should definitely check out!
The Painted Desert
On the northern end of the park, well past Newspaper Rock, you can see the painted desert in all of its technicolor glory. Each layer stands distinct from the last, giving your eyes a candy-like vista to gaze upon. Up near the painted desert is also the historic Painted Desert Inn, a small shack built on an unsteady foundation with less-than-excellent structural integrity. It is undergoing a process of modernization, however, fixing what is called “floating roofs,” cracks, and unsteady walls. When we went inside, there were a couple of Native American artisans, weaving and selling jewelry quietly in one of the side rooms. There’s a bit of a museum inside, describing both the history of the structure and of the Native American artists from the region.
When we spoke to the park ranger, he said that the total loop would take about an hour to drive without stops. We stopped a lot, in spite of the relentless Arizona heat, but we didn’t see everything the park had to offer. Regardless, it was a great trip through vast, eye-catching landscapes that I would recommend to anyone passing through Eastern Arizona.