Last month I spent some time in Arizona. I managed to do some short hikes near Phoenix and Sedona. I also made a return trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon (see elk video) and my first visit to Petrified Forest National Park (#32 of 62). When I texted my siblings my location, they rushed to get their puns in.
D: Are you scared?
M: So scared you turned to stone?
J: Would you say that’s the “hardest” park to visit?
D: Those memories will be etched in stone.
J: Don’t get stuck between a rock and a hard place.
V: Are you all stoned?
Sorry about that. No more rock puns.
Bad puns aside, Petrified Forest NP is really three parks in one and you can see it in a day. Visitor centers lie at the north and south entrances to the park, connected by a 26 mile road the splits the park. You can drive this road in a few hours or spend all day, stopping at all of the sights and getting in a few miles of hiking. To do it right though, you should do some guided backcountry hikes, or go on an overnighter on your own (no trails!).
Outside the south entrance and near the town of Holbrook, there is no shortage of petrified souvenirs. The Rainbow Forest area of the south contained plenty of petrified logs on the Giants Logs Trail and the Long Logs Trail, which also included the Agate House. Trees that had once toppled were covered by water and sediment and protected from decay. Then the tree’s organic material was slowly replaced with calcites, pyrites and silicas.
Moving north the landscape changes from wide open desert to eroded spires and buttes. This area reminded me in many ways to Badlands National Park, minus the prairie grasses. The highlight of these badlands is perhaps the Blue Mesa and Blue Forest area which contained a mile long paved walking path that takes you to another planet.
Passing The Tepees, the badlands give way once again to flatter, open views as you approach the Puerto River. Here Newspaper Rock and Puerco Pueblo highlight some of the many petroglyphs in the area. Puerco Pueblo also holds the remains of a small Indian community.
The Painted Desert in the north side of the park contains dramatic overlooks, as well as the historic Painted Desert Inn with the lion petroglyph. The visitors center located at the north entrance also has the only restaurant to be found in the park.
For most visitors this is a driving park, with many stops along the park’s only road for short hikes or interesting historical sites. Had I been on the trip alone I would have packed into the backcountry for a couple nights to sleep among the rocks. The rocks on the other hand, like to sleep in bedrocks.
Sorry, I promised no more bad rock puns. But maybe a good one? Give me a moment and I’ll dig something up.
And if you are still reading this, you know you’ve really hit rock bottom.