We spent a couple days visiting Petrified Forest National Park. We camped for free at a dry campground at the Crystal Forest Gift Shop just outside the south entrance of the park.
The park has two main attractions. The first is one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world, which is mainly at the south end of the park.
The second is the ‘painted desert’ at the north end of the park which is a vibrantly colored area of badland hills.
The wood here is from the Triassic Period, 225 million years ago. Fallen logs were washed downstream and buried by sediment. They soaked up silica from volcanic ash and other minerals and crystallized into quartz. Eventually techtonics and erosion uncovered the petrified wood. It seems like such an unlikely series of events that created this phenomenon. There are also many other fossils here, as well as evidence of prehistoric people who lived here and left the area around 1380.
There are a number of pretty short paved trails, showing off areas of large quantities of petrified wood. My favorite was Crystal Gardens, because the petrified wood was the most vibrantly colored and even sparkly here!
The park only has about 6 miles of official hiking trails, but they also have “off the beaten path hikes”, which aren’t really a trail, it’s more of a suggested route. When we asked a ranger about hiking he asked us “Do you like Petroglyphs?” Of course I do, doesn’t everyone?! We decided to do one called “Martha’s Butte”, which was about one mile each way to a rock formation known as Martha’s Butte, where there are petroglyphs. It was a nice enough hike out, and we only took one wrong turn. The petroglyphs on the butte were really cool!
Then on the way back we got lost! I really shouldn’t let Brian lead, especially when there’s no trail. He stays calmer than me when he’s lost, I think because he’s so used to it. We were trudging through sand, ending up high in the plateau when we should’ve been down at the road… I think our two mile hike turned into about four miles! I think we need to get a gps for hiking before we do anything else “off the beaten path”!
The park also crosses historic Route 66, and has this cool old car near the crossing!
All the gawking at petrified wood really made us want to go shopping! While all the petrified wood in the park is obviously protected, that’s only about 20% of the petrified wood in the area, and the wood found on private land can be sold. There are many gift shop/rock shops in the area, so we checked out the biggest one, Jim Grey’s Petrified Wood in Holbrook, AZ. This place is ridiculous! Inside they have beautiful polished pieces of petrified wood, ready to be made into tables. They also have lots of other rocks and fossils. Outside there are piles and piles of rocks sold by the pound.
After we left, I realized I lost one of my favorite earrings. I’ve worn them non-stop for six months on this trip, and had them for about a decade, ever since I got them for Christmas from my parents. It could be anywhere, but I feel like it is probably lost in the sand “off the beaten path”! I’m trying not to be too bummed, I knew this was a risk when I brought the earrings, but this is why I’m not wearing my wedding ring on this trip!
Day 197 | Mile 20,191