Petrified Forest National Park: It looks like a wood, but it is not

You can find Petrified wood in many places. But to see the largest collection of stone logs in the world, come with us for a visit to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Here the ancient forest of colourful semi-precious stone stumps lying all over the place is a spectacular sight.

Petrified Forest National Park visitor centre

If you have not noticed petrified wood lying on the streets in nearby towns or the numerous ‘rock shops’ along the way to the national park, your first petrified stumps lie immediately at the national park entry sign.

Your first stop inside the park is the visitor centre. Numerous info panels present lots of information on the history and the geology of the area. Threre is an explanation on how the petrified wood came to be over the last hundreds of millions of years. Also, a great hit with our dinosaur-loving son, is a room full of prehistoric skeletons.

Giant and Long Log walks

The best of the short walks start right near the visitor centre.

The Giant Logs walk is a 0.4mi/0.6 km loop right behind the visitor centre. Its most impressive feature is the ‘Old Faithful’, a massive log of almost 10 feet / 3 meters across at the base.

To get to the Long Logs walk, you cross the bridge over the river next to the gift shop. The 1.6mi / 2.5 km loop is the ‘site of a Triassic log jam’, an area covered in especially long petrified tree trunks.

Crystal Forest walk

After you have seen all there is around the visitor centre, it is time to jump in the car. Our next stop is the Crystal Forest walk. Along the 0.75mi/1.2 km loop we explore the scattering of colourful stumps and more fine examples of entire massive petrified logs.

Jasper Forest and Agate Bridge

The next two short stops are only a bit further up the road where we will find the Jasper Forest loop provides a panoramic view over many scattered petrified stumps. Across the road, Agate Bridge is a 110 ft / 34 m long petrified log spanning a gully. An interesting ‘feature’ is the ugly block of concrete supporting the log. Apparently, this is an 1917 effort to prevent the log bridge from collapsing – something that would not be done today.

Blue Mesa

For a bit of a change, drive the 3.5 mi / 5.6 km Blue Mesa loop drive. While you can still see many petrified logs here, the main feature here are the coloured layers of ancient mud, eroded into some spectacular and bizarre formations.

Newspaper Rock and Puerco Pueblo

Our next two stops provide lessons about more recent human history. Fist at Newspaper Rock, you look down at a rock carved with over 600 petroglyphs, some as old as 2000 years. Then along the 0.3 mi /0.5 km long loop walk at Puerco Pueblo, you will see excavations of ancient Puebloan homes, as well as some of the fine rock carvings.

Route 66 Alignment

Near where the park road crosses Interstate 40, a rusty 1932 Studebaker marks where Historic Route 66 once cut through the Petrified Forest National Park.

Painted Desert and the historical Inn

Several lookouts over the Painted Desert, an area of colourful layered hills, are the last few points of interest along the park scenic drive. A lookout right next to historic Painted Desert Inn offers some of the best views.

These days a museum, the Painted Desert Inn was built in the 1920’s using local petrified wood stumps as a building material. In 1936 National Parks Service remodeled the inn into it’s current Pueblo style form. However, some of the original tree stumps were left exposed around the rear entrance. The interior walls have lovely murals painted by a renowned Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Practical information for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park official website has a map of the park drive described above.

Petrified Forest National Park does not have any campsites. However, two privately owned gift shops at the junction of the park road and Highway 180 allow overnight parking and camping in their parking lots. For more details, visit ‘Camping’ in the planning section of the park website.

Leave a comment