Subscribe!Get all the best of On Walkabout by subscribing.

On Walkabout At: The Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Basic Information

Narrative

After visiting the Painted Desert and Puerco Pueblo sections of the Petrified Forest National Park my family and I continued to drive south towards the actual Petrified Forest area of the park.  Before reaching this area we made one more stop to check out some Native-American petroglyphs.  The petroglyphs were located on the side of rocks that descended from the plateau that the road was on:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

These petroglyph site is called Newspaper Rock and supposedly over 650 images have been carved into the rocks below:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Due to past vandalism the rocks are now off limits to visitors, but spotting scopes are available on the bluff to look down at the petroglyphs:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

I was able to use the zoom feature on my camera to take a look at some of the petroglyphs down below:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

When I look at a petroglyph site like this it makes me wonder why they drew petroglyphs here?  There was no village here so there had to be some reason these early Americans came here to carve these images?  The area was very similar to the Rinconada Canyon petroglyph site outside of Albuquerque which made me think that maybe people sat on the bluff as a way to spot wildlife to hunt and while waiting they may have carved these images to pass the time.

After spending a few minutes at Newspaper Rock we then continued our drive deeper into the Petrified Forest.  Something I was pretty surprised about while driving into the Petrified Forest was the amount of unusual and colorful rock formations that can be seen in the park:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

I had never seen such colorful rock formations before and it really did give this section of the park an otherworldly feel to it:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

According to the National Park website this area is known as the Blue Mesa region and these rock formations consist of thick deposits of grey, blue, purple, and green mudstones and minor sandstone beds that are approximately 220-225 million years old:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Besides the colorful buttes and plateaus the desert also had sections of vast grasslands which is what caused this park to once be prime grazing land for livestock before being protected:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

As fascinating as this desert landscape was we had yet to see one petrified tree.  That would change when stopped to see the Agate Bridge:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

The 110 foot petrified log became a defacto bridge when flood waters below it carved out the ditch.  Conservationists in the past created the concrete structure below the log to preserve the bridge however visitors are not allowed to cross the bridge:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

After Agate Bridge we then stopped to see the Jasper Forest:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Here at Jasper Forest we could see a lot of petrified trees lying below the bluff:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

These petrified trees are over 200 million years old which means that they were alive during the Triassic Period which is known as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” since it was just before the Jurassic Period when the dinosaurs came to dominate the Earth.  After the trees died and were buried in dirt and mud they became fossilized in the ground.  As the area dried up and became a desert the natural erosion uncovered the fossilized trees.  As they were uncovered from the side of the mesa the trees would roll down into the valley below.  What this means is that below our feet were many more fossilized trees just waiting for Mother Nature to continue to erode the mesa so they can roll into the valley as well:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

In the late 1800’s as the railroad brought visitor access to this once remote area tourists began to take some of the wood as souvenirs and then other began to cart the wood out by wagon to sell to people in the cities.  The removal of the petrified trees is what led to the establishment of the Petrified Forest as a National Monument in 1906.  It became an official National Park on December 9, 1962:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Visitors are not allowed to walk down into Jasper Forest, but on the top of the mesa the National Park Service has put out a few petrified logs on display for visitors to check out:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

After checking out the Jasper Forest we continued down the road to our next destination the Crystal Forest:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

There is a short .75 mile loop trail around the Crystal Forest that allows visitors to see quite a large number of petrified trees:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Looking at all the small logs lying around it was easy to see how the Crystal Forest received its name due to all the crystals that could be seen within the petrified trees:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Most of the petrified logs on display in the Crystal Forest were smaller ones like those pictured below:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

I am not sure if geological forces are what has caused the majority of these logs to crack into smaller sections or if they were intentionally broken by prospectors many years ago looking for crystals:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Despite the theft of a large number of petrified trees over the decades there is still a lot of trees to be seen at the Crystal Forest:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

I can’t help, but think what this place must have looked like before so many trees were stolen.  There must have been an amazing amount of petrified trees lying around compared to today:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Fortunately there are still plenty of trees for visitors to see at the park.  After completing the loop around the Crystal Forest we continued our drive south through the park which featured less dramatic desert scenery than what we saw earlier in the park:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Regardless the scenery was still nice to check out:

Picture from Petrified Forest National Park

Conclusion

There was a few more areas to check out trees to include at the large visitor center at the southern entrance to the park.  However, my kids were already pretty wore out from spending most of the day at the park and were ready to go to the hotel we had reservations for in nearby Holbrook for the night.  So we did not stop to check out these other sites.  As we drove out of the park we noticed that the southern Visitor Center was packed so there must be some interesting things to see inside.  All in all we had a great time visiting the Petrified Forest National Park and it was actually much more than we expected.  We just thought we would see some petrified trees lying in the desert, but also discovered that the park has some incredible desert scenery as well as sites that let visitors learn more about the early Americans that once called this area their home.  I definitely recommend stopping at the park during any trip across I-40.

Next Posting: Meteor Crater, Arizona

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *