National Park #7 and we almost didn’t even get to enjoy it. As you may remember, the government shut down in mid-January and we were sweating out how this would affect our trip. I had spent months planning every detail of our road trip and was so nervous that we were going to get turned away at the gates. And then right on cue, hours before our flight out: shutdown. We had a 6am flight and I still stayed up all night trying to find information on whether or not the parks would be open. The general consensus was that they would be, but with no visitor centers or bathroom facilities, etc. Fine. I could live with that as long as we could get in. I was feeling pretty alright.
I cannot stress how much we lucked out on this trip. Since we were traveling through Navajo land and state parks the first few days of our trip, the shutdown didn’t affect us at all except for a few closed bathroom facilities. And then it was reopened literally on the day I had scheduled our first national park visit. We then found out from one of the private vendors just outside the gates of Petrified Forest that the park was in fact closed during the shutdown. The gates were closed and the road through it was inaccessible. She had encountered many tourists from all over the world (even Australia!) who had come so far to enjoy our country’s beautiful national parks and had to be turned away. The woman was very sweet and had printed out a list of other attractions (state parks, etc) in the area that were open, but still. What a horrible thing to lock away our country’s most beautiful areas because our government is incompetent.
Anyway, rant over. On to our journey to Petrified Forest National Park. Of course along the way we had to make a pitstop.
In my defense, we were driving through Winslow anyway, but I may have altered our road trip slightly to ensure a pit stop. And I paid for it greatly because the Eagles were stuck in my head for 5 days straight. I would feel bad for the city of Winslow for being pigeonholed into this one defining thing, but they have dived head first into it. Our only interaction was with the Econo Lodge, but literally anywhere the word “easy” was written it was in bolds and italics. I was eye rolling so hard. But it was still cool to be there.
From there we rolled on over to Petrified Forest National Park. The one James was most excited for!
We entered from the South and started at the Rainbow Forest Museum and visitor center. Fun fact: petrified wood is technically stone. It’s basically a 3D fossil that still looks exactly like it’s original form. It’s a result of a tree being downed and floating away down a river where it eventually gets stuck in the bed and buried with sediment for millions of years. Eventually the pressure of the earth above it causes the tree to naturally crack in half in the perfect cracks that allow us to see the beautiful quartz and colors on the inside. It takes man even with the most advanced machinery several days to cut a petrified tree in half. Nature’s pretty cool.
James geeked out over all the info about the petrified wood, dinosaurs, fossils, etc. He even got to dig up his own fossils! Good thing the park was basically empty so he didn’t have to fight off any kids.
We crossed the street from the visitor center and did the easy hike out to the Agate House and around the Long Logs trail.
Pictures really did not do this park justice. It’s hard to capture how cool the petrified wood is and the badlands didn’t come out very well and it makes me sad. But it’s more incentive for you to go visit it for yourself!
It was very sunny and I thought my sunglasses would be enough, but the winter sun would not stop blinding me so I had to improvise a little. Oh well, we were literally the only people on the entire 2.6 mile trail so no one bore witness to my dorkiness.
The Agate House was wicked cool. It was part of an old settlement of a couple hundred people most likely between 1050-1300 AD. And they just built their houses out of these beautiful pieces of petrified wood because there was just so much of it.
Seriously, everywhere you looked there was just thousands of chunks of petrified wood scattered as far as the eye can see. It’s amazing how well the NPS was able to preserve this land. There’s a hefty fine for taking any wood, but it’s still incredible how much is still there untouched after all these years.
And a lot of them are still almost completely in tact.
From there we basically just followed the map up and stopped at nearly every turnout. There were about three cars that we would run into at each spot, but other than that the park was mostly empty.
Don’t get me wrong, the park was beautiful, but it did get a bit repetitive. We skipped Jasper Forest and then even Crystal Forest was basically just the same views we had already seen on Long Logs. They’re all short hikes so you should still check them out, but it was a lot of the same. (Don’t tell James I said anything negative about this park!)
The Agate Bridge kind of surprised me. Every now and then a petrified tree would get caught just right to make a natural bridge. They never last too long (in the grand scheme of their life span) because other elements like wind and water would knock it down, but back in the 50s the NPS decided to try to support this one with cement to make it last longer. I feel like they would never do that sort of thing nowadays. It also really took away from the overall look of it and made it look fake.
One of my favorite parts of the entire park was our next stop in Blue Mesa.
The Badlands were absolutely beautiful.
The Blue Forest Trail goes down into the badlands. It’s a short hike, but I was being lazy and we still had a 3 hour drive to Albuquerque afterword so we skipped it this time, but I would love to go back and do it. You can see the trail winding around the rocks in the picture below.
We of course checked out the Teepees.
And then headed over to Newspaper Rock and Puerco Pueblo. I’d heard that you HAVE to go to Newspaper Rock and I was super pumped about the petroglyphs, but honestly…meh. I didn’t even really get a good picture. I didn’t realize you were that far away. There are binoculars so you can see them closer, and it is still really cool BUT Puerco Pueblo was so much better!
Luckily, the park map had a description about Puerco Pueblo and I saw that that too had petroglyphs so we made the stop. Not only can you see the bases of many of the houses in this ancient village, there were petroglyphs galore and you can get so much closer to them!
The stork below was my favorite.
At the summer solstice, the spiral to the left of the footprint below was used as a marker for them. At the solstice, the suns rays go just right through the cracks in the rock to shine right into the middle of the spiral. This obviously wasn’t the case in January, but it’s cool to see how they kept track of time back in the day.
As you cross over interstate 40 to enter the North side of the park, you also cross the original location of historic Route 66.
We followed Route 66 all the way from Flagstaff to Albuquerque, but I really liked this section in the park because they left the old, original telephone poles up so you can see where the road actually was.
If you look closely in the above picture, you can see the big trucks going by on the interstate in the background and then the telephone poles to nothing about a hundred yards closer where the historic road use to run.
And of course, you can pretend to drive this awesome Studebaker.
Next you come around a bend in the road and are transported into a different world: the Painted Desert.
I feel like I say this a lot regarding this trip, but pictures realllllly don’t do the painted desert justice. It’s so big and goes on forever, my wee iPhone just couldn’t capture it. I couldn’t get over how close this amazing world was to the interstate. But you could drive by a million times and never know what’s just a couple miles away.
There wasn’t really anybody there when we visited because of the temperature, but there are signs everywhere about backcountry hiking and camping in the painted desert and I am so in love with that idea! Just to head out and get lost in the sea of rolling red hills? Yes, please! We will definitely be back to explore this area more.
Thanks for the memories Petrified Forest. I am so glad you opened your gates just in time for us to explore!
Three Things You Can’t Miss:
- Blue Mesa and the Blue Forest
- Long Logs Trail
- Hiking the backcountry in the Painted Desert