While perfectly able to host a multi-day adventure, the Petrified Forest National Park’s relatively small size and prime location smack in the middle between Interstate 40 and Highway 180 in Arizona makes it the perfect drive through park. A straight drive through the park takes about an hour, end to end, but obviously stopping points need to be considered!
We were only able to squeeze this park in as a happy accident, and stopped immediately at the South side’s Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center to collect some maps and some advice. There was a short .4mile loop behind the Visitor Center where we were able to get a look at some of these beautiful petrified pieces up close!
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting all too much from a bunch of old pieces of wood so I was completely caught off guard at how gorgeous these petrified logs were! 200 some-odd million years ago, when the living trees died and fell into water, they were infused with trace elements of different minerals that bonded with the wood and preserved it in perfect, colorful detail. Iron elements turned into yellows, oranges and reds; Manganese lent itself to blues and purples- coming together to create a kaleidoscope’s idea of a tree trunk.
It was spectacularly windy on our visit- one of the problems with all the trees turning into rocks is that there’s nothing to break the wind! That short Giant Logs trail behind the Visitor Center ended up being the only hike we managed on our visit. We attempted to hike the Crystal Forest trail, but I nearly got blown away! Instead, we stopped at every possible viewpoint, snapped a ton of pictures and hopped right back into the car.
While the Giant Logs trail ended up being our best opportunity to actually see any petrified wood, my absolute favorite viewpoints of the park was the rapid 1-2-3 punch of the stunningly pink Lacy, Whipple, and Nizhoni viewpoints as well as absolutely every stop along the Blue Mesa Loop. Don’t bypass Blue Mesa just because its a little way off of the main road!
We also saw this very confused gopher snake! The extreme wind disoriented the poor thing and we ended up pulling over to shoo it across the busy road.