Petrified Forest National Park Things to Do

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    by Yaqui
  • Things to Do
    by Yaqui
  • Things to Do
    by Yaqui

Best Rated Things to Do in Petrified Forest National Park

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    The Painted Desert

    by catalysta Updated May 12, 2004

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    The Painted Desert

    Your day trip begins at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, by the northern entrance of the park. Ask at the desk for one of the free park brochures. Included is a map of the park, with brief descriptions of all the turnouts and trails, and a key to locate restrooms, emergency phones, etc.

    By the way, the Painted Desert Inn Museum here at the North entrance is a National Historic Landmark, having once been a hostelry on the famous Route 66. From there, you can walk a short trail down into the blistering bowl of the desert to Kachina Point.

    The park's loop drive will take you first past some spectacular overlooks of the Painted Desert, vast badlands that stetch for 160 miles from the Hopi mesas north of the Grand Canyon to the Little Colorado River in the south.

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    Puerco Pueblo & Petroglyphs

    by catalysta Updated May 12, 2004

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    Puerco Pueblo, the

    It's a short and easy stroll from the parking area down the trail to the ruins of Puerco Pueblo, the first park turnout south of I-40. Walk to the overlooks and scrutinize the rocks below, you'll be treated to a bevy of petroglyphs hiding in the shadows. (See my Petroglyphs travelogue for a random sampling.)
    See if you can find the Sun Calendar petroglyph.

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    The Agate Bridge

    by catalysta Updated May 13, 2004

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    Agate Bridge

    This petrified log is about 110 ft. long, suspended in the air over an arroyo. The soft sedimentary soils around it were worn away over the years, leaving it exposed as a natural bridge.
    In 1911, conservationists decided it needed help to keep from collapsing, and they constructed architectural supports. Later in 1917, the supports were replaced by the current concrete span, to minimalize the appearance of the supportwork.
    Contemporary conservation philosophy would have us leave it alone to erode and eventually collapse naturally, so we are lucky it's still there for us to see.

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    The Jasper Forest

    by catalysta Updated May 12, 2004

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    Scattered Logs, Jasper Forest

    Of all the stops along this route, I'd say the Jasper Forest is the one you could most easily afford to miss. Evidently this area used to have a very thick scattering of logs and chunks, but it was a favorite spot for rock hounds to harvest the petrified wood.
    Now you can still see what's left scattered below, but it's just an overlook, so you can't even get up close to see. Interesting, but not compelling.

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    The South Entrance to the Park

    by catalysta Updated May 13, 2004

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    The Agate House

    Down by the South Entrance is the Rainbow Forest Museum, and a couple of short walking trails, Long Logs / Agate House, and Giant Logs.
    The Giant Logs trail boasts the largest logs in the park, and the Long Logs has - you guessed it! - the longest specimens. both are interesting and worth seeing, but I think the most fascinating stop at this end is the Agate House.
    Evidently it was not uncommon for the Anasazi who inhabited the region 2 millenia ago to construct homes from petrified wood sealed with a mud mortar. The Agate House we see now is a reconstruction done on the site of some ruins that are assumed to date from about 1050A.D.
    Since no underground kiva exists at this site, archaelogists surmise the site was only occupied briefly.

    The trail to the Agate House is approximately .9 miles, an easy paved walk.

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    Next Stop, Newspaper Rock

    by catalysta Written May 8, 2004

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    Newpaper Rock

    This is a simple overlook, with a rock below that is covered with petroglyphs detailing all sorts of valuable information for prehistoric travelers and hunters in the region. There are telescopes at the overlook for spotting markings on the rocks, since we are no longer allowed to hike down to it.
    (FYI, I have a 10X zoom on my camera, so I was able to get some fairly closeup photos.)

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    Blue Mesa

    by catalysta Updated May 12, 2004

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    Blue Mesa

    The Blue Mesa overlook has a great view of this area, with the blue-grey striations for which it was named. But you need to walk down the trail to get the real feeling of what it's all about up close (see my Off The Beaten Path tips for a bit more detail).
    The trail is approximately 1 mile, but don't be fooled - it's arid in the extreme, so take a water bottle, and take your time walking back up!

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    The Crystal Forest

    by catalysta Written May 12, 2004

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    Closeup of petrified wood

    This is another short trail, with a few nice specimens of logs that contain some crystal & amethyst in them. But hereagain, the souvenir hunters of yore took all the best ones way before I got there to see them.
    So part of the Crystal Forest's importance is the impact it had historically - in 1906 the local citizens successfully petitioned to have the area set aside as a national monument (it was subsequently upgraded to a national park in 1962). Now it is a Federal crime to remove any rocks or fossils at all from this park.

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    Petroglyphs and Newspaper Rock

    by Basaic Written Jul 30, 2007

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    Newspaper Rock
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    Most petroglyph sites in the park were made between about 1000-1350 A.D. The petroglyphs are primarily geometric designs with several basic design elements like spirals and circles the most frequent. The petroglyphs were made by chipping away the dark surface of the rock to reveal the lighter underlying surface. There are several examples of ancient writings, called petroglyphs, carved into the rock in the park. The most impressive opetroglyphs are called Newspaper Rock. Newspaper Rock is a simple overlook, with a rock below that is covered with petroglyphs. Are the petroglyphs a story, directions for ancient hunter/gatherers, or is it in fact an ancient newspaper? There are telescopes at the overlook to give you a better view of the markings on the rocks, because you cannot walk down there for a closer look.

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    The Painted Desert

    by toonsarah Written Mar 2, 2010

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    Painted Desert landscape
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    The Painted Desert forms the northernmost part of the Petrified Forest National Park and is separated from it by Hwy 40, although those driving the park road will find themselves looping over that road to tour the various Painted Desert viewpoints. The park encloses just a small part of these vast badlands that stretch for 160 miles from north of the Grand Canyon south to the Little Colorado River. The Painted Desert derives its name for the multitude of colours ranging from lavenders to shades of gray with bands of red, orange and pink. It is a barren, austere, and, for all its bleakness, a beautiful landscape.

    This landscape was created over millions of years by the instability of the earth’s crust. As the area shifted from heated volcanic activity, through earthquake, to damp forests and even complete inundation by fresh and sea waters, so layer upon layer of different sediments, clay and sandstone, stained with iron and manganese, were stacked one above the other. Erosion then took over, carving the land into buttes and outcrops that expose these layers to our awed gaze today.

    This is a particularly great area for photography, and even if you are only driving through you should make the time to pull over, perhaps at one of the picnic areas on Hwy 40, to take a few photos of the colourful Painted Desert. Even the most cursory of glances will show you how it got its name, but it surely deserves just a little more of your attention than that!

    The road passes eight viewpoints, each with an information board to explain the sights. There is a visitor centre near the entrance (or exit if like us you have driven north through the national park). As well as a shop selling souvenirs (including pieces of petrified wood), there is a self-service cafeteria and, usefully in this remote area, a gas station.

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    Colorful Petrified Wood

    by Basaic Updated Nov 19, 2007

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    Petrified Log
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    Petrified wood forms through the process of petrification. This process turns the wood into quartz crystal, which is very brittle and shatters. Even though petrified wood is fragile, it is also harder than steel. Petrified wood has beautiful color and detail. Sometimes the petrified wood retains enough of the original cellular structure of the wood to show the grain of the wood. The process of petrification starts with three raw ingredients: wood, water and mud. Petrification of the wood found in the Petrified Forest began during the Triassic Period when the primitive conifers fell to the ground and into the waterways. The logs were then swept downstream with sediment and other debris. The logs in the Petried Forest were deposited in the plain by rivers that originated from the Mogollon Highland volcanic mountain range. That layer of sediment is known today as the Chinle Formation. As the logs were deposited in the plain they were buried with mud and debris, beginning the petrification process. The mud that covered the logs contained volcanic ash, another key ingredient in the petrification process. When the volcanic ash began to decompose it released chemicals into the water and mud. As the water seeped into the wood the chemicals from the volcanic ash reacted to the wood and formed into quartz crystals. As the crystals grew over time, the wood became encased in the crystals which, over millions of years, turned the wood into stone. The best place to see petrified wood is in the Petrified Forest National Park. Take a stroll along the walkways.

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    What Caused the Painted Desert?

    by Basaic Updated Jul 30, 2007

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    Painted Desert

    The whole Painted Desert actually covers almost 95,000 acres from the Grand Canyon to the part you see in the Petrified Forest National Park. The area was formed by the Chinle Formation, a very soft layer of earth consisting mainly of mud, sandstone, and volcanic ash. The softness of the soil allows for fantastic erosion effects as well as colorful staining by mineralized water flows and mineral deposits over the eons. Various combinations of minerals and decayed plant and animal matter contribute to the various colors seen through the park. The park is continually changing as water and wind erode the area and shift the sediment causing lower layers of fossil and petrified wood to surface. A 10 mile paved road runs throughout the park providing quite a few pull off points with plaques explaining the geology and coloration within the park.

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    Painted Desert

    by Paulie_D Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Your drive through the Petrified Forest National Park should include a stop to view the Painted Desert.

    [The following information was obtained from the National Park Service website]

    What is the Painted Desert?

    The Painted Desert is an expanse of badland hills, flat-topped mesas and buttes. It is an arid land, sparsely vegetated and heavily eroded. The name Painted Desert refers to the rainbow of colorful sedimentary layers exposed in the austere landscape. It is represented by outcroppings of the Late Triassic Period Chinle Formation.

    Where is the Painted Desert?

    The Painted Desert is a narrow, crescent shaped arc, about 160 miles long which begins about 30 miles north of Cameron near Grand Canyon, and swings southeast just beyond Petrified Forest National Park. This arc varies in width from 10 miles wide in the Cameron area to about 35 miles wide at Petrified Forest. The Little Colorado River cradles the southern edge and the tableland of Hopi Mesas and buttes make up the northern boundary.

    What Caused the Colors?

    The landforms of the Painted Desert have been described as a multicolored layer cake. The variety of hues in the sandstone and mudstone layers of the Chinle Formation is the result of the varying mineral content in the sediments and the rate at which the sediments were laid down. When sediments are deposited slowly, oxides of iron and (hematite) aluminum become concentrated in the soil. These concentrations create the red, orange, and pink colors you see at the north end of the park. During a rapid sediment buildup such as a flooding event, oxygen is removed from the soil forming the blue, gray, and lavender layers. You will see these colors as you travel through the southern portion of the park.

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    The Agate House

    by toonsarah Written Mar 2, 2010

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    Agate House, Petrified Forest

    The Pueblo people who once lived here used the petrified wood as all ancient peoples used stone: not only for tools such as arrowheads, knives and scrapers, but also as a building material. The so-called Agate House is a small, eight-room pueblo which archaeologists believe was built between A.D. 1050 and 1300. It was partially reconstructed in the 1930s and shows the how such buildings were constructed using blocks of the petrified wood sealed with a clay mortar. You can’t go inside but it is well worth taking the one mile trail to get a close look at the building. My photo shows the one fully-reconstructed room and the walls of another in front on the right.

    This trail can be combined with the Longs Logs Trail for a 2.5 mile roundtrip hike, but we had already done the Great Logs Trail on the other side of the road (see separate tip) so gave that a miss.

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    AGATE HOUSE

    by mtncorg Written Nov 21, 2003

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    Anasazi Agate House still standing on mute desert

    Close to the south entrance, there are several short trails: Giant Logs, Long Logs and Agate House. Agate House is a partially restored pueblo that was constructed of petrified logs. That is an expensive, but sturdy building material.

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