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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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!
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!