Located on both sides of I-40 between Gallup, New Mexico and Holbrook, Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is known for its spectacular petrified forests and sensational views of the Painted Desert. Less well known but equally impressive are the extensive fossil deposits from the Triassic period, including dinosaurs and the remains of prehistoric Anasazi pueblos.
At first glance, the Petrified Forest doesn’t look very promising: fossilized tree fragments lie scattered in a remote and intrinsically featureless stretch of the Arizona desert. Some visitors are disappointed because they expect forests with thick, upright trees. Still, these petrified giants have their appeal. Especially in the picturesque Painted Desert, they shimmer in unexpectedly bright shades of color. It’s definitely worth a visit for travelers on the east-west route I-40, as the park is easily accessible from the highway.
The Painted Desert
The patterns visible in the eroded soft sedimentary rocks are composed primarily of hematite (red), limonite (yellow), and gypsum (white). The colors are particularly striking at sunset. Park boundaries have been expanded here twice before, in 1932 and 1970, to include a large expanse of desert to the north. The main objective is the Black Forest, which has large amounts of dark colored petrified wood compared to other locations, including many complete trunks and eroded, very photogenic, rock formations. In this area is the Onyx Bridge, a 12 meter tall tree broken into several pieces spanning a dry hollow. The Painted Desert stretches approximately 150 miles (240 km) of northeastern Arizona, from the Petrified Forest toward the Little Colorado River, Tuba City, and beyond.
According to Transporthint, Petrified Wood is south of I-40. On the way there is an Indian ruin – Puerco Pueblo, originally a collection of 76 rooms that can be visited on a short circular route. This is just one of more than 500 archaeological sites within the park. Another is 1.5 miles (2.5 km) south at Newspaper Rock, a sandstone outcrop that has hundreds of petroglyphs dating from around 1000 to 1300 BC. finds. More petroglyphs are found along a short trail near the southern edge of the park. However, the main attraction in the southern part of the park is the petrified wood.
Petrified Forest National Park information
Location and Size
Petrified Forest National Park is a US national park in Navajo and Apache Counties in northeastern Arizona, located on both sides of I-40 between Gallup/New Mexico and Holbrook/Arizona. Named for the large deposits of petrified wood, the park covers 440 km² and includes a semi-desert with shrub-steppe.
Depending on where you are coming from in the Greater Phoenix Area , there are several ways to get to the park:
From the north and west sides of the Greater Phoenix Area, take I-17 North and I-40 East through Flagstaff (415 km, 259 miles).
From the east side of the Greater Phoenix Area, take Highway 87 north to Payson, 260 east to Heber, 377 north to Holbrook, and 180 south to the park (345 km, 215 miles).
From Albuquerque, travel 326 km (204 miles) west on Interstate I-40 to exit 311.
Petrified Forest National Park extends north and south of Interstate I-40 and Highway 180. There are two entrances to the park.
Westbound on I-40: From exit 31, 45 km (28 miles) through the park and onto Highway 180 at the south end. Then 30 km (19 miles) on Highway 180 North to return to I-40 via Holbrook.
Eastbound on I-40: From exit 285, go to Holbrook and take Highway 180 South 30 km (19 miles) to the park’s south entrance. Then 45 km (28 miles) north through the park to rejoin I-40.
Opening Hours and Seasons
The park is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (Mountain Standard Time – MST) year round except December 25th.
Center Painted Desert Visitor Center and Rainbow Forest Museum
Open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Location: Painted Desert Visitor Center and Park Headquarters (Latitude: 35.06543746738773, Longitude: -109.78153824806213);
Rainbow Forest Museum (Latitude: 34.81517743163217, Longitude: -109.86576497554779)
Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark
Open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Location: Latitude: 35.08343319608185; Longitude: -109.78861391544342
By Car USD 20 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. Hikers, cyclists USD 10 per person, motorcycle USD 15.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
The annual pass costs $80 and entitles you to visit over 2,000 US federal recreation areas and national parks for one year from the date of purchase. The entrance fee applies to the driver and all passengers of a private, non-commercial vehicle (or up to a maximum of 4 adults in total if per-person entrance fees are charged). Children under 16 are free. If you visit more than 4 national parks, it is usually worth buying the America the Beautiful Annual Pass.
The pass can be purchased at many stores across the US and is also available in advance from various tour operators.
To protect natural resources, there are no campgrounds in Petrified Forest National Park. For backpackers, there is a single campground in the park in the Painted Desert/Black Forest Wilderness area just north of the interstate. The closest options are off the I-40 exits at exits 303, 320, and 325.
to Stay There are about 10 hotels to choose from in nearby Holbrook – the best being the Holiday Inn Express Holbrook along Navajo Boulevard, just north of I-40 (exit 286), 40 km (25 miles) from the north national park entrance. The hotel has 59 rooms and is just a few minutes’ walk from the center of the small town of Holbrook, which has a good selection of restaurants and shops.
Temperatures in the Painted Desert can vary very quickly from very hot to very cold. Winds blow from the west or northwest for most of the year. In the summer months, the desert heats up much faster than the surrounding seas and water reservoirs. The temperature difference between sea and land changes the direction of the wind, resulting in the summer monsoon. Moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California flows into the Painted Desert and other parts of Arizona. The summer monsoon is characterized by heavy rain and frequent storms, especially in July and August. The summer monsoon season ends at the end of September, the winds change direction again and it becomes very dry again.
|Average temperatures in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona in °C|
Points of Interest
Tiponi, Tawa, Kachina, Chinde, Pintado, Nizhoni, Whipple, and Lacey Point
are viewpoints that offer panoramic views of the Painted Desert.
Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark , located at Kachina Point, once served as a rest stop for travelers along historic Route 66. The historic building offers a glimpse of the past.
Puerco Pueblo is a large archaeological site and was occupied over 600 years ago. The pueblo was partially excavated, some room foundations were stabilized. On the short trail you can see rock paintings.
Newspaper Rock has over 650 petroglyphs adorning boulders below the lookout. Due to the unstable slopes, the area below the cliff is closed. Free-to-use binoculars are available at the lookout.
Blue Mesa is ideal for hiking in a badlands landscape. The one-way street leads to the top of Table Mountain, where a 6.5 km loop trail begins. Numerous petrified trees can be seen from the lookouts as well as along the road.
Jasper Forest is home to one of the largest collections of petrified wood in the park .
Crystal Forest, Long Logs, Agate House and Giant Logs are hiking trails that show much of the Petrified Forest.
The Rainbow Forest Museum features petrified wood exhibits, fossils and displays of prehistoric animals. There is information here, books are sold and toilets are available. A free orientation film about the park is shown every half hour. There is a souvenir shop and a snack bar nearby.
If you have an hour:
- Stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center
- Drive through the park (45 km, 28 miles)
- Stop at Kachina Point
- Drive on Blue Mesa Road
- Stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum
If you have several hours to spare, you should also:
- Watch the park movie
- Stop at the Desert Inn Museum
- Walk the Puerco Pueblo Trail
- Walk the Giant Logs Trail
- Participate in a ranger program