Imagine seeing a fallen tree whose insides have turned into a rainbow. Purple, blue, orange, red and yellow fill the entire inside of the tree with bark still on the outside. The tree has turned to stone, cell by cell the wood was replaced by silica, manganese dioxide, iron, and other minerals. This place was once a lush swamp, 200+ million years ago. Now it is a desert that sits around 5,000 feet above sea level. They say it is the largest collection in the world of petrified trees.
The day we chose to go to the Petrified Forest turned out to be a very windy one, 50mph gusts! We chose the Petrified Forest for this day because it was mostly driving and we had a puppy that was not feeling well so we didn't want anything that would require a lot of walking. Tripp hurt his back and needed rest so he spent the day lounging in a dog bed on my lap while Dom drove Togo. The views were amazing!
We drove through from south to north starting from the Rainbow Forest Museum. We missed the short hiking trails that we wanted to take as they were right at the museum and we thought they were farther up. Figuring that it was for the best since we were trying to avoid a lot of walking, we continued on. We marveled at the colorful sand, rock, and log pieces along the way. The day was perfectly clear and sunny to show off this beautiful scenery. But, oh the wind!
Our first stop was the Crystal Forest. We parked and looked around from the car. Ultimately we decided that the wind was very strong, the hike was longer than we had wanted to take the dogs on when they weren't feeling 100%, and that we could see most of the hiking trail from where we were and could see many of the petrified logs. We would see what the next stop brought and if it fit our plan for the day, even better.
The next stop was Jasper Forest. We all got out for this one. I carried Tripp in his bed and Dom walked Drac. We had Dom's mom and her dog Taco with us too and they got out as well to walk the short walkway to see what the sign said was the largest collection of Petrified trees in the world! This was a good stop. There were so many tree logs on the ground to look at.
The Agate Bridge was our next stop. This feature also had a short walk from the parking lot to see the tree that fell 217 million years ago into what used to be a swamp filled with silica heavy volcanic ash. Over time the silica molecules replaced the wood molecules one by one until what was left, while still looking very much like a tree on the outside, was essentially a giant quarts log! When the park was first protected and before it was a national park in the early 1900s, people could walk across the downed tree as a bridge over a dry creek bed. Since then there has been a concrete support structure added and the bridge was ultimately closed to public crossing to preserve it. You can view it from the platform and read about its history on the sign. This feature, like every one that we visited, is handicap accessible and the park is pet friendly everywhere except inside buildings.
Next up was an area we were advised not to skip by a local shop woman, Blue Mesa. She described it as otherworldly. She was not exaggerating. This a 3.5 mile driving loop with a 1 mile hiking trail. We didn't hike it but the views from the car were stunning. Hills with bands of all colors of the rainbow greeted us around every corner. Rocks perched precariously atop sand dunes threatened to fall and change the landscape for the next viewer. Dry creek beds shone white with silica. We were stunned to silence which was only broken by the words "look at that" and a pointed finger at increasingly beautiful sites. When you get here, do not miss this turn off. It would be worth it even if it couldn't be driven.
Newspaper Rock was our next must see stop. This is a few giant slabs of rock with 250 petroglyphs etched onto them. While they can be seen from the platform with the naked eye, look at the dark area towards the bottom of each slab, I highly recommend that you see them through the microscopes. We saw so many amazing images painstakingly made by people who lived in the area long ago. Animals, celestial symbols, people, and many more.
The next site we saw was the intersection of old route 66 marked by a 1932 Studebaker. The road is closed now but you can still walk a portion of it or keep driving to reach our next stop, the Painted Desert Inn National Historical Landmark. This inn is built out of petrified wood and in Pueblo Revival style. It was registered as a business in 1924 by Herbert Lore and provided rest and relaxation for many visitors to the area for forty years. The inn was purchased by the Petrified Forest National Monument on February 29, 1936. It was remodeled from 1937-1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. On April 16, 1963 the Inn was closed due to structural problems and has remained closed ever since. On May 28, 1987 the Painted Desert Inn was upgraded to a National Historic Landmark to ensure that it is protected forever for everyone to see.
Our last stop was the Painted Desert Visitor Center for some snacks, souvenirs and a bathroom break for everyone. They have a Cafe, gift shop, visitor center with rangers to answer questions, and restrooms. It was a great end to a wonderful day admiring nature's painstakingly crafted beauty. If you are in the area, this is a great drive-thru attraction. Just remember to leave no trace as you enjoy the scenery.