Before our RV sabbatical, I never thought a lot about national parks. I had visited a few growing up but didn't think much about them. However, after 18 months on the road and visiting 21 national parks, I have a huge appreciation for them, especially when we stumble upon national parks that are under the radar. Last year when we were driving from Phoenix to Albuquerque for the balloon fiesta, we passed signs along I-40 for the Petrified Forest National Park and I made a note to check it out.
During our weekend explorations in Flagstaff, we took the opportunity to head out for the day to do just that. And we got rewarded big time as I can honestly say it is now one of my favorites!
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The park has 2 entrances, we arrived through the north entrance closest to the Rainbow Forest Museum where we spent some time checking out the smaller visitor center and chatting with a few rangers. Behind the building is a little trail that is a great appetizer for what you will see in the park. This national park is known for its petrified logs, but you will also find desert steppe, painted desert and badland landscapes plus a little piece of Route 66, as the mother road runs partially through the park.
I was fascinated with the beauty of the fallen logs, I wish I had a traveling microscope (is that a thing?) to further study the intricate layers of color and shapes in the petrified wood. But as we had the entire park to get through, we had to keep moving.
We did the loop trail through the Crystal Forest trail, it is a little less than a mile and full of well, crystals! While Mr. Misadventures photographed like a pro, I was using my iPhone to take photos up close. Look at the blue and orange in this log!
And when the sun hit this particular log, the crystals were brilliant, I'm pretty sure jewelry designers would have a field day here (although of course, you can't remove anything from the national park of course!).
I know it looks like a giant lumberjack walked through and left a mess, but these logs fell like this, it has something to do with how the silica/quartz breaks when the pressure snaps them into perfect slices, supposedly if you drop a piece of chalk it does the same. I found this great scientific explanation in an article from Arizona Highways.
These logs are so realistic that you think can just walk up to touch them and you'll get splinters, but nothing could be further from reality! They are as smooth as a baby's bottom (if that is smooth…I really don't know!).
And the logs are not all identical, there are different colors, sizes, and shapes. I'd like this top ring for a table!
The trail has beautiful views of the hills with benches strategically placed for waiting for your photographer husband to take all his shots, or to enjoy the landscape, depending on the situation. You can also leave the backside of the Crystal Forest trail to access some of the hiking areas east of the trail. One of the things I really liked about the park is the ability to go off-trail. You can't always do that in every national park, so it is a nice benefit of this one.
Our next stop was Jasper Forest which used to be known as the First Forest because it was the first area of petrified wood that visitors encountered in the 1900s. We stayed at the overlook, where Mr. Misadventures took this shot, but there is also a 2.5-mile trail along a road that was created in 1930 that is supposed to have nice views and large deposits of petrified logs. We will have to hit that trail on our next visit!
We spent most of our time on the Blue Mesa trail. The trail itself is only 1 mile, however, it is a bit steep at the beginning. There is so much to see on and off the trail, we stayed in this section for a couple of hours. We went off trail seeking an arch that Mr. Misadventures had researched, but after a while, we had to give up. We are hoping to come back to Petrified Forest National Park to camp and do a sunrise shot here because it is stunning!
This is from the top of the trail before heading down.
The trail is pretty straightforward, a paved path loop to follow, however, as I said we wandered off of it.
The little hills totally reminded me of the Bentonite Hills in Capitol Reef National Park.
The logs are so fascinating!
You have to keep your wits about you while going off-trail, the hills can all start to look the same. We used a wash as a guide while hunting down that elusive arch.
After visiting Blue Mesa, we did a quick stop at Newspaper Rock which will be forever known as the place I lost my Oscars baseball cap. Despite being bright and sunny, it was cold and windy, so I had my Patagonia ski cap on when we were outside. When we got back in the car, it was too hot, so I slipped on my baseball hat. I switched hats one time too many because somewhere along the way, I lost my beloved hat. It was Oscars Sunday, and you know how I love my Oscars! Thankfully, I have 2. Yes, I bought 2 when I was working on the Oscars, maybe it was foreshadowing!
We made a few quick stops heading towards the main entrance on the south side where the park crosses Highway 180. That included additional points and lookouts and a marker for Route 66. When we got to the Painted Desert Visitor Center we stopped in a little shop to see if I could find a new baseball hat, as I was roasting and picked up my new favorite.
After that, we headed back into the park to try some afternoon shots at some of the lookouts.
The one downside of the park is that it is only open from 8-5. I cannot tell you how many photographers I observed looking out onto the expansive desert views with dazed looks in their eyes, knowing they would never, ever be able to take a sunrise or sunset shot in the park. In my mind, it is absolutely ridiculous to close the park only allowing super rough overnight camping in one area, when these landscapes beg to be photographed!
We had a great time, we didn't see everything, but we will be back and camping as that will be the only way to get the type of shot Mr. Misadventures will like.
Website for the Petrified Forest National Park.
The park is 1 hour and 45 minutes from Flagstaff.
The park is 3 and 1/2 hours from Phoenix.
How about you? Have you been to Petrified Forest National Park?
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