Sometimes, over millions of years of being exposed to the elements, wood eventually turns to something like stone. That obscure fact of chemistry takes on a whole new dimension in the Petrified National Park in Arizona. Here, visitors can find some of nature’s most beautiful colors, along with its most fascinating ancient sights.
The Badlands in South Dakota houses fossils from the Oligocene period, 20-35 million years ago. The Petrified Forest has it beat by about 200 million more years. The Late Triassic period, during which the dinosaurs developed, far pre-dates the Jurassic Period when they roamed widely. There are many active excavation sites in which their remains are still being found.
Though less common because of their softer structure, many plants fossilize, too. The results are easy to find here, though. Some of the ancient tree-like growths that once dominated the area are still around. Some of the logs measure nearly 200 feet long. Clam fossils found among them provide evidence of prehistoric waterways that wound through the land.
The Painted Desert section offers scenery that seems to have been intentionally colored by some abstract artist. Shifting sand dunes dotted by ancient geology provide the canvas. Decoration is enhanced by tumbling scrub brush and stationary cactus. The whole scene resembles an old western, stylized to suit the drama.
One of the highlights of any visit to the Petrified Forest National Park would have to be the 27-mile scenic drive. It provides over 20 stopping points that give ample opportunity to a million visitors per year to have a good look.
On the way, tourists can find ruined pueblos, along with the art left by some of their inhabitants. Petroglyphs, an ancient form of painting or carving on rocks, are not hard to spot here. The panoramic views along one of the many mesas only adds to the thrill of exploring the area.
For those who prefer to see the land on foot, the park provides an endless array of hiking opportunities. In this desert landscape there’s no need for trails and no chance of getting lost. You can see for miles in every direction.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to sights like Pilot Rock and Devil’s Playground. Follow the 1.2 miles Painted Desert Rim Trail for a special treat as you wind through brightly colored vegetation, an unusual sight in this spare landscape of subtle grays and dull oranges. The rich volcanic ash in the soil provides an excellent medium for these well-adapted plants and they’re as amazing as anything you’ll find in a forest.
Stop at the Painted Desert Inn Museum at Kachina Point and find out all about the park. Visit the excavations of the Puerco Indian Ruins, worked by natives in the 1400s. Newspaper Rock is an especially fascinating sight with its dozens of petroglyphs. Or wander over the Blue Mesa Trail and see why it has truly earned its name. There are over 93,000 acres to explore and every one holds a new adventure.