Petrified Forest National Park is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover. For a place so barren and empty for miles and miles, one has to know the story to fall in love.

Why is this desert highland called a forest? Because a long, long time ago, it truly was.

About 225 million years ago, this part of the then super-continent Pangaea near the equator, was sub-tropical. This place was rich with life, full of forests roamed with dinosaurs, and there were rivers abundant with fish. What is now Arizona had swamps where logs and other plants and animals were washed unto a rich-filled ancient river system and were buried quickly and deeply with sediments that oxygen was suddenly cut off. Without oxygen, the process of decay was delayed for centuries, long enough that minerals like silica were already absorbed into the fibers of the wood, plants, and animals. After thousands of years, the organic structure was already replaced by the absorbed minerals and have all fossilized. Gradual process of erosion exposed the fossilized animals and plants, especially logs.

In geology, petrification is the process where organic material becomes a fossil through the replacement of the original material and the filling of the original pore spaces with minerals. To put it simply, the ancient forest was petrified! Hence, the name.

Petrified Forest was a national monument until in December 1962, it was established as a National Park by US Congress. And like any national parks, it is illegal to remove or damage any specimen. When we left the park, we were asked if we have petrified wood in our possession. Park rangers are legally empowered to search vehicles. A violator is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment.  Any legal purchases of any petrified specimens at a gift shop  is advisable to have a receipt.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

GIANT LOGS

Petrified Forest National Park covers about 230 square miles. While there are hiking trails available around the park, there are also overlook points that are conveniently on the side of the road accessible by car. Giant logs was our first trail since it is easily located at the back of Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center. Giant logs trail is only a half-mile loop that showcases the colorful petrified giant logs as the name suggests.

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A polished petrified wood display at Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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One of the reconstructed skeletons of prehistoric animals found at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Some of the reconstructed skeletons of prehistoric animals found at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Some of the reconstructed skeletons of prehistoric animals found at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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The Giant Logs trail at Petrified Forest National Park is an easy, half-mile loop. Petrified logs are conveniently on the side of the trail allowing a close up view of the fossils.
Visitors can get up close and personal to the fossilized giant logs at Giant Logs trail in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Visitors can get up close and personal to the fossilized giant logs at Giant Logs trail in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Petrified Forest National Park covers about 230 square miles making it an adventure to scout for petrified specimens.
Petrified Forest National Park covers about 230 square miles making it an adventure to scout for petrified specimens.
Early spring at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and the park is almost all to ourselves.
Early spring at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and the park is almost all to ourselves.
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Some parts of the Giant Logs Trail loop has stairs.
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Close up of the colorful petrified logs at Giant Logs trail in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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Petrified logs at Giant Logs trail loop in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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What looks like random pieces of wood are actually petrified specimens containing thousands and thousands of years of history.
In geology, petrification is the process where organic material becomes a fossil through the replacement of the original material and the filling of the original pore spaces with minerals.
In geology, petrification is the process where organic material becomes a fossil through the replacement of the original material and the filling of the original pore spaces with minerals.
Every piece of petrified specimen at Petrified Forest National Park is protected by law. Removal or damage of a specimen is punishable by law.
Every piece of petrified specimen at Petrified Forest National Park is protected by law. Removal or damage of a specimen is punishable by law.
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The crystal nature of petrified logs created clean fractures making it look like it has been cut by a modern chainsaw.
The barren Petrified Forest National Park is actually rich in history. To the naked eye, these logs look nothing. But under a microscope, they reveal a past that can be traced thousands of years ago.
The barren Petrified Forest National Park is actually rich in history. To the naked eye, these logs look nothing. But under a microscope, they reveal a past that can be traced thousands of years ago.
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Giant petrified logs at Giant Logs trail in Petrified Forest National Park.
Fossilized tree at Giant Logs trail at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Fossilized tree at Giant Logs trail at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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Random petrified tree at Giant Logs trail in Petrified Forest National Park that is about a third of my size.
Beautiful chunk of a fossilized wood along the Giant Logs Trail at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Beautiful chunk of a fossilized wood along the Giant Logs Trail at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Petrified logs have been undisturbed for a long time. This photo shows the crack of a petrified wood that happened naturally through time.
Petrified logs have been undisturbed for a long time. This photo shows the crack of a petrified wood that happened naturally through time.
The Petrified Forest is a result of a process that took thousands of years. Erosion exposed these vast land of petrified plants and animals, but this one of the logs along the Giant Logs trail that still needs more time and more erosion.
The Petrified Forest is a result of a process that took thousands of years. Erosion exposed these vast land of petrified plants and animals, but this one of the logs along the Giant Logs trail that still needs more time and more erosion.
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Giant Logs Trail is conveniently located behind Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

JASPER FOREST

Jasper Forest road is a 2.5 mi (4 km) round trip hike around a petrified garden. The National Park Service’s website says that this area was originally called First Forest because it was the first collection of petrified wood travelers encountered when they came by wagon from the Adamana train station one hundred years ago. We did not hike. We only parked the car and walked towards the lookout view which was still memorable.

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Overlooking the Jasper Forest at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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Thousands of years ago, this dry desert part of the world used to be a swamp abundant with life.
It is hard to believe that this desert used to be filled with water and bountiful of life like dinosaurs thousands of years ago.
It is hard to believe that this desert used to be filled with water and bountiful of life like dinosaurs thousands of years ago.
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Petrified Forest National Park covers about 230 square miles.
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“In 1883, photographer Ben Wittick extensively photographed petrified wood deposits in this area. Amazingly, more than 130 years later the landscape remains almost completely unaltered.”
Overlooking the Jasper Forest at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Overlooking the Jasper Forest at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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Looking out the Jasper Forest at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The landscape has remained undisturbed for a long time, except by a gradual process of erosion.
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At Jasper Forest overlook at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

AGATE BRIDGE

Agate Bridge is only a short drive north from Jasper Forest. This “bridge” was created as softer rocks eroded around a large petrified log. To help prevent the bridge from collapsing, the early park service built several stone for support.

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Agate Bridge at Petrified Forest National Park was created as softer rocks eroded around a large petrified log.
The Agate Bridge at Petrified Forest National Park is only a short drive north from Jasper Forest.
The Agate Bridge at Petrified Forest National Park is only a short drive north from Jasper Forest.

BLUE MESA

The Blue Mesa is a landscape of bluish bentonite clay as well as petrified wood.

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The Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park is a bluish bentonite clay.
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The Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park showcases different layers of colors of soil that tells a geological story.
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At the Blue Mesa overlook in Petrified Forest National Park. Can you spot the petrified log in the photo?
Time and erosion as agents of change. Some petrified logs, like the one in the photo, naturally broke off.
Time and erosion as agents of change. Some petrified logs, like the one in the photo, naturally broke off.
The Blue Mesa trail is one mile loop.
The Blue Mesa trail is one mile loop.
The beautiful badlands of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
The beautiful badlands of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
The gorgeous badlands of Petrified Forest National Park.
The gorgeous badlands of Petrified Forest National Park.
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The breathtaking sight at Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park looks out of this world.
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The white and bluish stripes of Blue Mesa is one of the main attractions at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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The Blue Mesa trail is visible from the lookout point.
At Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
At Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

THE TEEPEES

Natural formation of colorful mounds called the Teepees at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. This was taken on the side of a road.
Natural formation of colorful mounds called the Teepees at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. This was taken on the side of a road.

PAINTED DESERT

Perhaps the most photographed part of Petrified Forest National Park, Painted Desert as its name clearly suggests, is like a watercolor art that has come to life. The beautiful mix of red, white, and brown stripes on every mound, a little touch of green desert vegetation in early spring, and the sunset in the horizon highlighting the vast badlands, is fantastic! My legs were starting to feel exhausted from all our hikes for the day, but I did not want to leave this gorgeous landscape.

The Painted Desert as seen from Lacey Point in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

The gorgeous Painted Desert as seen from Pintado Point in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
The gorgeous Painted Desert as seen from Pintado Point in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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The breathtaking Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
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The Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona looks out of this world.
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The Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona in sunset.
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This photo of Petrified Forest National Park’s Painted Desert would pass as a postcard.
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The Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park looks so surreal.
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The breathtaking Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park can be seen for miles and miles.
We could not resist a photo with the Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in our background.
We could not resist a photo with the Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in our background.
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The Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in our background.

KACHINA POINT / PAINTED DESERT INN

The Painted Desert Inn is a historic building list on the National Register of Historic Places that offers tremendous views and murals by noted Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Outside the Painted Desert Inn is a historic building list on the National Register of Historic Places that offers tremendous views and murals by noted Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
Outside the Painted Desert Inn is a historic building list on the National Register of Historic Places that offers tremendous views and murals by noted Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
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Outside the The Painted Desert Inn, a historic building at Petrified Forest National Park. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Final look of the Painted Desert at Painted Desert Inn before leaving Petrified Forest National Park.
Painted Desert Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park.
Despite living in a digital world, I asked my husband to buy me a National Geographic Road Atlas at Painted Desert Visitor Center in Petrified Forest National Park.

 

Petrified Forest stretches north and south between I-40 and Highway 180. Westbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 311, drive the 28 miles through the park and connect with Hwy 180 at the south end. Travel 19 miles on Hwy 180 North to return to Interstate 40 via Holbrook. Eastbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 285 into Holbrook then travel 19 miles on Hwy 180 South to the park’s south entrance. Drive the 28 miles north through the park to return to I-40. For more information, please visit https://www.nps.gov/pefo/index.htm.

I did warn you, Petrified Forest National Park is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover. :)

Almost midnight and we finally arrived in Albuquerque, happy and contented.
Almost midnight and we finally arrived in Albuquerque, happy and contented.

 

 

 

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