Once upon a time, this entire region was a floodplain. Giants of the forest slithered through the swamps, while others skulked amongst the huge ferns, waiting to nab unsuspecting herbivores as they passed by. Layers and layers of volcanic ash, river silt, and water rich with silica and other minerals gradually covered the remains of the prehistoric flora & fauna.
This site is about 30 miles form Petrified Forest. It is not a National Park Service site and open for tours. A home tour of the stone Hubbell home is $2 and on the hour. The main attraction is the gift shop trading store that is the same one used since 1878. Fred Hubbell rested here to start the store trade, and Navajo INdians were his main customers for the first decade or more. They had returned form a tragic incarceration at For Sumner for 10 years and came back to the home reservation in 1867. They began farming and grazing sheep. The gist shop has daily necessities and Indian goods and also jewelery, baskets, flour, coffee, etc.
This is a working ranch/farm and has some animals like cattle, chickens and other barnyard critters. You can walk around on self guided tour.
A zoomed view...
Hoodoos are irregular rock figures, formed by the action of the wind & water on sedimentary rocks that alternate in layers of both soft & hard rock. This gives them a unique and uneven appearance (as opposed to spires, which are more uniform and smooth).
The spirits of hoodoos are apparent when the wind sings & howls around them, and the heat shimmers on them, bringing these strange forms to life with an eerie presence.
This sleepy town was once more vibrant when mining took place around here. Now the population continues to diminish, and went down at under 4,000 in the last 5 years from 5,000. There are at least 4-5 rock shops in town, and 2 convenience stores for gas and beer. This was a anchor point for the railroad, and the town was named after an engineer in 1881.
This is an eerie land, full of wind-sculpted hoodoos and strange spirits. Keep to the trail, please don't venture off. Desert life is very fragile, and can take a long time to recover if damaged.
Take no souvenirs, leave no footprints...
If you venture off the road to check out some petrified wood, be careful.
The Ranger said there are a lot of rattle snakes in the area. Above all, don't lift up rocks because there could be a scorpion or rattle snake under the rock!
On the North side of the Petrified Forest you will find the Painted Desert.
Depending on the lighting and time of day, you will find a vast array of colors and landscape.
There are a couple of pull offs. My son and I stopped and it is amazing how far you can see. The Ranger we spoke to said he takes scientists by mule into the Painted Desert so they can do research.
Now we can explore the fossils they left behind as they gradually emerge from the windblown sedimentary mesas.
The Blue Mesa trail offers a closer look at all of this, winding for about a mile down into the valley, and then back up.
Holbrook is located in north-eastern Arizona's Navajo County on the banks of the Little Colorado River and along Interstate 40. In 1881 railroad tracks were laid and a railway station was built. The community was then named Holbrook, in honor or the first chief engineer of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.
The railroad is now BNSF and Holbrook is still an important transportation hub for north-eastern Arizona.
Nowadays Holbrook is surrounded by the plains - with desert scrub and grasslands - of Arizona’s high plateau country, which are not very inviting for visitors. The town, with about 5000 inhabitants, still has some western/frontier style with some older buildings. When we arrived and left we were amazed by the wide empty roads lined with shops, businesses, motels and gas stations, all with garish (neon) lights.
Holbrook has just a couple of things to offer:
- the Historic Navajo County Courthouse (built in 1898), which now houses a small museum. When we arrived it was already closed.
- Old Route 66 (Hopi Drive and Navajo Boulevard)
- Wigwam Motel (along Route 66), although we were happy not sleeping there so close to the noisy railroad.
But the main reason for tourists to stop and stay overnight in Holbrook is the vicinity of Petrified Forest National Park, which is just 19 miles east to the south entrance. The town is the gateway to this national park; for us also the only reason to visit Holbrook.
Address: Holbrook, Arizona
Directions: About 185 miles northeast of Phoenix; west of Petrified Forest NP, south entrance 19 miles along Highway 180 or north entrance 24 miles along Interstate 40
Ganado is about halfway between Petrified Forest National Park and Chinle (our next that day) and having some spare time we decided to visit the Hubbell Trading Post just outside this Navajo village.
When entering the homestead it is just like stepping back in time (just these modern cars should get another car park). The main building with its long stone walls looks exactly as in the past (saw some old pictures) and I think the old wooden floor of the shop (or bullpen as it is called) creaks as much as it did in the older days when Navajos were negotiating with one of the Hubbell family. Even nowadays this trading post is still active and trading traditions are maintained by the Western National Parks Association.
In the middle of the ‘bullpen’ stands an ‘old fashioned’ stove, which is surrounded by massive counters and shelves filled with coffee, flour, sugar, candy, blankets, tobacco, calico, pocket knives, energy drinks, canned goods and much more. Hardware, harnesses and baskets are hanging from the ceiling.
On the right hand side is a small room with wonderful Navajo rugs, pottery and (silver) jewelry: a special place for buying an original Navajo souvenir.
We walked around the grounds of the homestead and saw some of the old buildings, like barns, the bunkhouse, a guest ‘hogan’, but also historic farm equipment and even a Civil War ambulance wagon.
Strolling around we met a Dutch woman, who started working as a volunteer nine years ago and now is married and living in one of the houses of the homestead. Nice to talk a little while in our own language so far away from home.
Address: Ganado, Arizona
Directions: Just 1 mile west of Ganado along Highway 264.
Accessible along Highway 190 from the south (Chambers / Petrified Forest National Park) and north (Chinle).
Opening hours: 8 am till 6 pm (winter 5 pm); closed Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year's Day
Admission fee: free of charge, just the guided Hubbell Home Tours are USD 2,- pp (ask at the Visitor Center).