Petrified Forest National Park

Go for the Fossils. Stay for the Scenery.

Petrified Forest National Park

Of all the places we’ve visited in our more than two years of continuous travel, Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park has to be the most under-sold. We arrived there expecting to see 225 million year old wood. What we found were some of the most magnificent badland vistas of our trip.

That’s not to say Petrified Forest doesn’t live up to its namesake, too. It does. The place is lousy with fossilized trees. And unlike other fossils, these aren’t impressions of once living creatures in stone. These once living organisms are stone.

Long ago, buried beneath a layer of ash, the cells of these felled trees gradually filled with dissolved silica. Over time those minerals solidified into quartz crystal, creating rock in place of the tree. Traces of iron oxide and other substances give these fossils remarkable colors that the plants never knew in life. It’s truly amazing and beautiful stuff.

Petrified Wood, Petrified Forest National Park

But what we enjoyed most about Petrified Forest is its surrounding badlands (not to mention a solar eclipse ordered up just for our visit). While not as large as Badlands National Park in South Dakota, we found incredible diversity in this bite-sized park. Our favorite area is reached by a single mile loop trail. The climb down into the Blue Mesa valley is a little steep but well worth the effort.

Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park

A short drive away, the blue bentonite clay hills disappear into the rolling red velvet carpet of the Painted Desert.

Within a four-hour drive from Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest gets a mere one-seventh of the visitors of its better known sibling. Maybe if they changed the name to something equally fitting, like Rainbow Vistas National Park, it would draw more interest.

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park

While we’re happy to have wonderful places like this mostly to ourselves, folks who venture all the way out here to see the Canyon should schedule some time to see this very special park as well.


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23 Comments on “Petrified Forest National Park”

  1. Ingrid July 6, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    As many times as Al and I drive back and forth to Phoenix, we have yet to stop at the Petrified Forest NP. Thanks for the post, I think we’ll make it a priority this winter.


    • Brian July 6, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      It’s a super easy stop off of I-40. You can get off the highway at the north end of the park, do a short loop and pick up I-40 again in Holbrook a couple of hours later.


  2. Stephen July 6, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    it’s been awhile since I commented – glad to see you got to Petrified too – an amazing place – like you, thought I was there by myself most of the time – most folks wiz by it on I – 40 and never realize the colors and landscape they’re missing – enjoyed your post on the place – safe travels


    • Brian July 6, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      Thanks, and welcome back.


  3. Lynda & Howard July 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Thanks for sharing one of our favorite NPs, though our visit was several years ago. It’s now been added to the list of places to be re-visited on our fall return from UT/NM.


    • Brian July 6, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

      It’s definitely a place we’ll return to.


  4. Gunta July 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I totally agree. This spot is worth a visit. I first saw it in the early 70s. Almost had the park all to myself. I’m not sure why it doesn’t get more notice, but then it’s rather nice to keep some of the treasures from being overwhelmed with tourists. 😉


    • Brian July 6, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Some places get overlooked because they’re out of the way (like Theodore Roosevelt in ND). But it’s not that far from Phoenix or Grand Canyon. I think this place just has an unfortunate name. “Petrified Forest National Park” sounds more like somewhere you’d go on a school field trip than a great vacation destination.


  5. theplaceswevebeen July 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Very interesting. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this place before. Great photos!


    • Brian July 6, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      It really is amazing how many great places their are right in our back yard. I’m loving the opportunity we have to seek them out.


  6. gacochran July 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Thanks for liking my “Wagon Wheel” post. Also means I get to learn about your journey! Hope all is well!


  7. travelingmarla July 6, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    One of our favorites too. Great post and photos!


  8. Fae's Twist & Tango July 7, 2012 at 4:28 am #

    I hope you are cool with ‘Awards’ because you have been nominated (by me) for ‘One Lovely Blog Award’ !!!


  9. Pioneer Mama July 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    We LOVED this park! I particularly enjoyed the notes in the visitor’s center sharing the bad luck they had when they took a piece of a petrified wood home with them. Very interesting, old letters.


  10. OpsRenegade July 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Oh, brings back tons of memories. My dad – a nature enthusiast – loved taking me and my siblings out to the national parks, especially across the Western and Southwestern states. Back then, it felt so gosh-darned corny, but thinking back, those summers represented the very best of family time, particularly after my parents divorced. During our road trip to the Grand Canyon, my then four-year-old brother thought it was “just a big hole.” To this day, I cannot forget the expression on his face – and his speechlessness – when we finally arrived. (Thanks so much, Teddy Roosevelt!!!)


  11. fulltimeusa July 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    This is such a beautiful place. Be well and safe travels.


  12. hilmo1122 July 8, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    I love this idea for a blog!!! My husband and I LOVE traveling as well, and would love to do it for a living. It’s so exciting and encouraging to know that you figured out a way to do it. I can’t wait to read more about your adventures.


    • Brian July 9, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. Check out our “How to Section” for our ideas on how to pursue your own dreams. Good luck and happy travels!


  13. gottagetbaked July 9, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    I never would have thought to visit this place but it’s hauntingfly beautiful. Sounds like you had a wonderful time!


  14. jessicadevocht July 16, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    Hi Brian, just read your blog, and really liked it. I think it’s so valuable to do the ‘thing’ in life you really want to do deep down inside. And it takes courage and carefully planning to step out of the ‘rat-race’. That’s inspirational for me. You and Shannon really seem to enjoy your travels and experiences, lovely to read that. Great Canyon-pictures in that desert-landscape. Makes you feel so small, I can imagine:-). Enjoy the rest of your exploring travels! Jessica


  15. BagspackedI'moff July 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    Stunning!! Another place to add to my must visit list:-)



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