My wife keeps a checklist of all the national parks she’s visited, but there was one glaring hole in her explorations, Arizona’s own Petrified Forest. So, to close the gap, we decided to spend a few nights at the wonderful La Posada resort in Winslow and spend a day at the park. It was such a good day I can’t believe we’ve never done it before.
Oddly enough, Interstate 40 slices directly through the park, cutting the Petrified Forest section in the south from the Painted Desert section in the north.
The northern entrance to the park is off I-40, but we chose to enter the park at the extreme southern section, which is off Highway 180. It was a miscalculation on our part, because by the time we got to Blue Mesa — where there’s a great 1-mile hike — it was about 2 p.m. and the heat was too intense to tackle the short but steep mountainous trail.
Knowing very little about how rocks are formed and having never been to the park, I simply assumed the petrified lumber was caused by volcanic eruptions, but I was not even close to the truth.
Long ago, the high, arid grasslands of the park were once a thriving tropical forest slaked with swamps and rivers. When the trees of the forest collapsed, they sunk into the wet lands. Then silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs, replacing the original wood tissues with silica, which petrified the logs.
The Petrified Forest is one of just a handful of places in the world where there is such an abundance of rocks that were once full trees. Clusters of petrified trees abound, although they are scattered across a large landscape.
The Painted Desert Visitor Center is at the northern end of the park. Along the park’s main road, one can find a number of stops and overlooks. The best are the Crystal Forest Trail, which runs 0.8 mile across a landscape of colorful petrified logs; Newspaper Rock, an overlook above boulders scratched with hundreds of petroglyphs; and Puerco Pueblo, which are the remains of an ancient village. At the southern entrance you’ll find the small, informative Rainbow Forest Museum, which sits near two of the park highlights: Long Logs and Agate House. Although most of the walks are short, take along plenty of water, as with almost any outdoor activity in Arizona. Both sections of the park can be done in a full day.
More information and maps are available at nps.gov.
• Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer based in Mesa, and the author of “The Death of Johnny Ace” and “Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis.” Reach him at Redroom.com/Stevebergsman or firstname.lastname@example.org.