Millions of years ago the Petrified Forest was a lush living forest. Then at some point the trees fell. They were carried away by water and the trees were covered in silt. Today the area doesn’t resemble the forest of two million years ago.
You won’t see a lush forest or really any forest at all. The silica from the water changed the wood’s molecules and we now have fossilized trees with beautiful quartz. If you enjoy rocks and minerals you will love exploring this national park.
We started our road trip in Phoenix and started our journey through the south end of the park to the north end. Driving the entire length of the park will take you about an hour if you do not stop anywhere. It took us the entire day.
Stop 1: Giant Logs and Petrified Forest Visitor Center Museum
To get your bearings the Visitor Center museum is a good first stop. It is also where you can see the largest fossilized trees in the park. This area was actually my favorite spot in the park because the trails give you a close up look at so many pretty pieces of fossilized wood.
Stop 2: Crystal Forest
The Crystal Forest has some great desert trails through land littered with fossilized trees. You can view three colors of fossilized trees: iron oxidized, manganese oxidized, and white quartz. Most of the trees in the this national park look like they have been cut into small pieces. The weight of the heavy Quartz caused cracks. and eventually broke the fallen trees into pieces.
This area of the park is another great spot to see some of the fossilized wood up close. We had fun looking fro the three different colors of fossilized trees.
Stop 3: Jasper Forest
Jasper Forest’s claim to fame is being home to one of the largest collection of fossilized wood in the world. In the early 1900’s it was the first petrified forest stop that rail travelers could visit.
Stop 4: Agate House and Bridge in the Petrified Forest
The Agate House is the first thing you will see at this stop. The house’s breezeway design helps to cool off visitors. In the 1930’s the house was a rest stop. The bridge is A fallen fossilized log serves as a bridge. Water carved out the rock around the fallen log. In an attempt to preserve it, a concrete span was built underneath the log in 1917.
Stop 5: Blue Mesa
Next to stop 1 at the visitor center, the Blue Mesa Scenic Loop was my favorite part of the park. The drive is under five miles round trip from the main road. The loop has seven pull off areas to view the stunning mesas. There is also a trailhead off of the loop. It was extremely windy when we visited as a storm was coming in, so we didn’t hike the trail, but the overlooks were very pretty.
Stop 6: The Tepees
You are a short drive from the tepee shaped rocks once you return to the main road.
Stop 7: Newspaper Rock
You will find hundreds of petroglyphs on the rocks located at the Newspaper Rock stop. It is a short hike from the parking lot to an overlook with spotting scopes. You cannot get up close to the petroglyphs, but you can see them through the scopes.
From here you’ll cross Interstate 40 and a section of Arizona’s original Route 66. On the other side you’ll enter the Painted Desert portion of the park.
Stop 8: The Painted Desert
By the time we reached the Painted Desert the rain started falling, so we had to pick up the pace and skipped several of the scenic overlooks. The Painted Desert is Arizona’s badlands. The sweeping views of colorful mesas and buttes. The bands of color around the rocks are even more striking in person.