At first, it was afraid it was petrified… ok, we’ll stop there. But seriously, the Petrified Forest is an astonishing and in-tree-guing place. Sorry, sorry couldn’t help ourselves, who doesn’t love a good pun!
Moving on… compared to the lush green forests and dramatic landscapes of what many of us think of when we think of America’s National Parks the Petrified Forest is a rather barren and stark place, but it wasn’t always that way. 225 million years ago, what is now dry and arid desert was once a lush tropical rainforest that would have looked much like parts of Costa Rica today. Dinosaurs roamed alongside crocodilian ancestors the size of modern pick up trucks and towering stands of coniferous trees made up the forest canopy. This lush tropical forest wasn’t meant to last however, as the towering trees died and fell into the rich soils of the swamp beds slowly over time their organic matter was replaced with quartz building minerals, and these forest giants were magically preserved with stunning colors underneath the desert mesas and teepees. Wind and water are powerful forces, over time they slowly revealed these magical pieces of natural art for us to enjoy and stare at in wonder today.
The bad news is this park is slowly disappearing. There are tales of early Western explorers stumbling upon the Petrified Forest and filling their saddlebags with the brightly colored bits of log, unfortunately, visitors today are still doing the same.
It seems everyone wants to take a part of this beautiful park home with them. Recent studies conducted on sample tracts of land have shown that certain areas can be almost completely cleared of petrified wood in less than a week during the park’s peak season. The problem is so extreme that there are vehicle inspection checkpoints for visitor’s to drive through when exiting the park to ensure you haven’t walked away with any of the park’s valuable resources. It’s a staggering and humbling thought to imagine that this beautiful and unique place is disappearing because people want a souvenir.
Please keep in mind when visiting the Petrified Forest that removal of natural and cultural resources from any site is a federal crime, and comes with the possibility of hefty fees or even jail time. Take as many pictures as you want but leave the trees for everyone to enjoy!
The good news is if you’re dead set on walking away with a piece of petrified wood to call your own, the gift shop at the Northern entrance of the park sells pieces as do many of the local shops.
Exploring The Park
Unlike many other parks in the National Park’s System, trails are limited here. One day is more than enough time to fully explore and experience the Petrified Forest and the beauty of the Painted Desert.
You can enter the park from either the North or the South entrance. There is only one road through the park, the 28 mile long road meanders through the desert, with several stop offs and short hikes that take you past stunning examples of the petrified trees, the painted desert, and Pueblan ruins and petroglyphs dating back to 13 AD.
We entered the park from the Southern entrance, and as always started at the visitor’s center.
The Painted Desert Visitor’s Center at the Northern entrance to the park is located at: 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
The Visitor’s Center at the Southern End of the park also known as the Rainbow Forest Museum is located at: 6618 Petrified Forest Road, Holbrook, AZ
Where We Stayed
Homolovi State Park
This quaint little park is about a 30-minute drive outside of The Petrified Forest, but sits just outside Winslow Arizona, making it the perfect base camp for exploring the area. Sites are cheap, can accommodate large rigs, and the onsite Pueblan era ruins make a perfect evening stroll through the desert!
The Petrified Forest was unlike any National Park we’ve ever visited before. It’s a staggering and humbling thought to ponder that because of the impacts of people who visit today, it may not be around for others to enjoy tomorrow. Have you ever visited a place like this before? Have thoughts about this or other travel related impacts? Let us know in the comments!