Before I arrived in Petrified Forest National Park, I expected to find an isolated cove of trees that had been hanging out in the desert so long that it had turned to rock. To say that I really had no idea what I’d find in the forest is an understatement. Yes, there was a forest in this part of the country once, but now, as expected, the Petrified Forest is right in the middle of the Painted Desert in Arizona, and the only remnants of this great forest is the occasional fallen tree now chopped into pieces and turned into stone.
If people had lived thousands of years ago, they could have rested beneath the shade of these trees, but a change of weather patterns eventually capped the growth of this forest. Today people seek out Petrified Forest to marvel at the wood-turned-stone, which, when petrified, turns every shade of the rainbow. These stones are absolutely stunning—huge agates in violent purples and sea greens.
Unfortunately, this beautiful rock has lured looters for years, and people have dug the colorful chunks out as souvenirs. Even though the effects of this looting can be seen today—the number of petrified logs is pitifully small considering the size of the park—people continue to pocket pieces, and, on average, 2,000 pounds of petrified rock are lifted from the park every month.
As a result, there is one route through Petrified Forest National Park. You can drive north to south or south to north, but regardless, visitors need to go through a checkpoint going in and are subject to search on the way out.
It doesn’t matter which direction you travel through the park, but give yourself a good portion of the day to enjoy it. We traveled north to south, so we started our day with the film at the visitors center and then enjoyed the vistas over the Painted Desert—the badlands of the South. From there we wandered into the Painted Desert and then drove south into the heart of Petrified Forest National Park.
If you would also like to visit the park, here are my tips for making your trip easier and more enjoyable:
- Get an early start on the day, especially if you plan to do any hiking. This allows you to catch the coolest part of the day. Plus, the park is huge! If you want to spend time doing more than just checking out the overlooks, you’ll need at least four to six hours in the park.
- There is wilderness camping in the park but no standard campgrounds. The closest town with substantial accommodations is Holbrook, Arizona, about 15 minutes from the southern entrance of the park.
- If you’re into hiking, ask for directions to hike into the wilderness area. These trails aren’t publicly marked on the park brochure, but you’re welcome to use them without any special permits.
- Drink lots of water. It’s a desert out there!
- Wear lots of sunscreen. The sun is intense.
- The state of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Be mindful of this when you enter Arizona from a bordering state.
- Finally, please, for the love of all that’s good and evil, don’t remove anything from Petrified Forest National Park. Just don’t do it.