Petrified Forest National Park – November 2018

Hannah – 5 years old – National Park #6

The drive to the Painted Desert Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park was only about an hour and a half from Chinle.  It was Thanksgiving Day, and the park was busier than I had expected for the holiday.  The weather was cold, cloudy, and windy, and to be honest, Hannah and I were both a little “parked out” at this point in the trip.  Nevertheless, we persisted and enjoyed learning about the petrified wood, but I did not push her on any long hikes and all of our stops were relatively short.

The road through the park is one long road that has a visitor center on each end.  If I recall correctly, it’s about a 45 minute drive without stops from one end to the other.  We first stopped at the Painted Desert Visitor Center off of I-40, got a park map and had a ranger circle about six stops that were worthwhile along the park road.  Map of Petrified Forest National Park

What is Petrified Wood?

First, the question everyone is probably thinking… what is petrified wood?  I am going to give you a very basic overview of my understanding.  Millions of years ago, logs were carried down a river and buried deep under the sediment.  Oxygen was quickly cut off from the logs which started a fossilization process.  Over time, minerals were absorbed into the wood and crystallized, forming the solid quartz petrified wood we can see today in the park. 

Jasper Forest
Petrified log at Jasper Forest

Drive, Stop, Drive, Stop…

  • Painted Desert Inn – Our first stop was the Painted Desert Inn, a historic building from the 1920s that was originally built out of petrified wood, but not long after was renovated with an adobe façade.  There is an impressive view of the odd terrain from the rim.
painted desert inn
Hannah hanging out at the Painted Desert Inn
  • Chinde Point – Another overlook similar to the view at Painted Desert Inn.  We did not stay long here as it was windy and cold, and Hannah and I were both excited to see the petrified wood closer up
  • Pronghorns! At some point along the drive, we saw an entire herd of pronghorns grazing, which were beautiful animals and fun to see an animal we had never seen before. 
  • Puerco Pueblo – A short walk leads you around the ruins of a Pueblo village and we saw some very old hieroglyphics.
  • Blue Mesa Loop – A short loop drive off the main road where the coloring in the rock appears to be a tint of blue instead of the reds and oranges as typically seen in the park.
  • Agate Bridge – The bridge, a petrified log that creates a bridge because the ground below it has washed out from flood waters, is literally steps from the parking lot.  Today it is reinforced with concrete to preserve it.  There was an interesting saying that I liked posted near the bridge: “In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water.  Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it.”  ~Lao Tzu
Agate Bridge
Agate Bridge
  • Jasper Forest – Finally, we were walking amongst the HUGE petrified wood and it was so impressive.  Both of us kept picking up the wood/rocks and being amazed at how it felt, how it looked, and how smooth it was.  We took a bit of a longer walk at Jasper Forest and sat out on the rocks talking for probably an hour. 
Jasper Forest
Jasper Forest
  • Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center – Hannah is a sucker for the park museums and found the archeological digging site they had at this one for kids to be a blast.  She would go in the next room and make me hide the bones in the sand, and then she would come back and use the tools available to locate the bones I hid, being careful not to damage them.  We must have done this at least five times.
  • Giant Logs – There was a short trail right outside the visitor center with a ton of giant petrified logs.  If you have very little time to explore the park and want to see what it is best known for, this short little trail would be a great place to start.  If my memory is correct, at least some of the trail is paved for accessibility and strollers!

Lesson Learned

When you as an adult are tired and a little sick of sight-seeing, your kids probably are too.  There is no harm in skipping a few stops or just seeing what you can from the car.  When something is really interesting (like wood turned to glittery quartz), trust me, those kids will find their energy again!  And hopefully you can locate yours somewhere too!

Canyon de Chelly National Monument – November 2018

Canyon de Chelly was not initially on my radar for this trip, as it’s not a National Park, it’s a National Monument.  I honestly cannot remember how I heard about it, but it happened to be right on our route from Mesa Verde National Park to Petrified Forest National Park, so I decided to add it to our itinerary and I am so glad I did.  Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “Canyon de SHAY”) is located in the remote city of Chinle, AZ, with 90+% of its residents being Navajo Native American. 

Spider Rock

We arrived in the afternoon and went to the Visitors Center to learn more about the canyon and what we should do there.  With only a few hours, they suggested we visit the six popular stops along the southern side of the Canyon.  Canyon de Chelly Map

We drove all the way to the end first as we were told that Spider Rock is what the canyon is most famous for, and we were not sure if we’d have enough time to stop at all six stops.  The hike out to the Spider Rock overlook was short but beautiful.  There are two large rock structures that stand up in the middle of the valley that are amazing.  We happen to be there on a nice fall day, with blue skies and a sunset that was making the rock of the canyon a deep set of reds and oranges.

Spider Rock

We met a couple at the overlook whose daughter had just accepted a job as a doctor at the hospital on the reservation.  They were out visiting her for the first time and were as in awe at the view as I was.


Each of the stops had a different view of the valley.  You could see homes down in the valley with farms that were currently being lived in and farmed by the Navajo.  There were also a lot of fun rocks for Hannah to climb on and around. 

View of the canyon, a small farmhouse and farm at the bottom right of the photo.
This coyote was about 10 feet from our car.

We were just pulling into a stop when we saw a coyote about 10 feet from our car.  I was glad we were in the car, but that encounter also made me a little more alert for wildlife on the rest of our stops.  Being the day before Thanksgiving, the stops were not busy at all.  We saw very few other cars, but we did see some men on horseback, which was our only other animal encounter.  We managed to visit and do short hikes at each of the six stops noted by the park ranger along the south side of the canyon.  The sun had set by the time we got back into our car after the last stop, so it was time to check into our hotel.

Good Local Eats at the Holiday Inn

The Holiday Inn was one of the only hotels in town, and it was located right outside of the park.  Their outdoor pool was not open, but Hannah made sure we walked by it just to be sure.  It was late, and the restaurant selection was limited in Chinle, so we decided to eat at the onsite restaurant at the Holiday Inn.  I was pleasantly surprised that they offered some traditional Navajo selections!  The Navajo waiter we had was great and even sat down and talked a little bit about the food and the history of the canyon and the Navajo who farmed it.  He offered to set us up on a horseback ride through the canyon the following day, however, we had one more park to visit so we had to decline.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes the smaller, lesser known sites and stops are the most beautiful.  I was very happy with our decision to add Canyon de Chelly to our itinerary and impressed with what we all learned about the Najavo during our short time there.

Hiking around at one of the overviews