Petrified Forest National Park
The park backcountry includes 50,260 acres of established wilderness in two units: Painted Desert, and Rainbow Forest. Day hikes are the most popular way to explore the backcountry. Many features can be reached in a one day trip, most lying within a few miles of the park road. There are few developed trails in Petrified Forest so most hiking is cross-country style. Clear air, a lack of heavy vegetation, and a variety of landmarks combine to make conditions excellent for this type of hike. Since water and shade are not available hikers should carry their own. A wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt will provide good sun protection.
The Painted Desert Wilderness consists of 43,020 acres of colorful mesas, buttes and badlands with scattered areas of grassland. Significant features include the Black Forest (petrified wood deposits), Chinde Mesa, and Pilot Rock. Parking for the trailhead is at Painted Desert Inn parking area, located at Kachina Point. You must hike into the wilderness area (north of the Lithodendron Wash) to camp.
The Rainbow Forest Wilderness consists of 7,240 acres of grassland and scattered badlands formations. There are several areas of petrified wood deposits within the wilderness. The trailhead and parking area are at the Flattops pullout. You must hike one mile from the trailhead into the wilderness area before setting up camp.
Selected Hiking Trails
Painted Desert Rim Trail (1.2 miles round-trip) An unpaved but easy trail winds along the Painted Desert rim between Tawa and Kachina Points. This is a land of contrasts. Stretching beyond the rim is the Painted Desert—brightly colored with banded hues of red, orange, pink and gray. Only a scant amount of vegetation grows among the deeply eroded soft clay hills. In contrast, vegetation flourishes in the volcanic soils on the rim. Juniper, cliffrose, and wild tea are a few of the plants that brighten the rim with their leaves and blossoms.
Puerco Indian Ruins and Petroglyphs (0.5-mile loop) Here, near the Puerco River, the Anasazi built a 76-room pueblo. Sections of the pueblo and a kiva have been partially excavated. A short paved trail leads from the parking lot to the ruins and petroglyphs.
Blue Mesa (1-mile loop) A steep paved trail leads from the top of the mesa down into the blue badlandsan amazing and beautiful area of banded, cone-shaped hills. The hills are composed of bentonite, a soft, porous clay, which is very susceptible to erosion. Rainwater racing down the hillsides creates intricate patterns and miniature ravines. The bands of color represent different layers that were deposited under water. The blue-gray layers were deposited under a lake, while the pale red layers were deposited under a slow river. Manganese and iron oxides are responsible for these colors. The Blue Mesa area is rich with plant and animal fossils. Look for the fossils while hiking. Study the fossils, but please don't remove or disturb them.
Crystal Forest (0.8-mile loop) The trees of Crystal Forest once hid large amounts of beautiful quartz, clear quartz, and purple amethyst crystals. These semi-precious gems developed in the hollows of the logs as the trees petrified. In the late 1800's, before the establishment of Petrified Forest National Monument, profit seekers dynamited many logs in search of these gems. Massive petrified trees were reduced to the small chips you see scattered about today. Hike the paved loop trail and look for the quartz crystals still found in a few logs along the trail. Admire the colorful "desert pavement"a stony carpet of gravel, petrified wood chips, and other rock fragments. Imagine this area if exploitation had been allowed to continue.
Long Logs (0.6-mile loop) This paved loop trail leads through the largest concentration of petrified wood in the park. The logs here lie crisscrossed on top of each other in log-jam formation. Most of the logs are the petrified remains of extinct conifers. While at the north end of the loop, look for some of the park's longest intact logs. The exposed portions of one long log directly adjacent to the trail measures 116 feet.
Agate House (0.9-mile round-trip) This paved trail leads through petrified wood and ends at a reconstructed Anasazi Indian Pueblo. The eight-room pueblo sites on a knoll, 50 feet above the surrounding area. The walls of this unique ruin are built entirely of colorful petrified wood sealed with adobe. Archaeologists believe the pueblo was only occupied for a short period between 1100 and 1300 AD. It may have been used as a temporary home for wandering Anasazi farmers.
Giant Logs (0.4-mile loop) Follow this paved loop past some of the park's most massive petrified logs. The largest log, known as "Old Faithful," measures 9'9" at the base. Conditions had to be near perfect to create this wonder!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication