Petrified Forest National Park

Scenic Driving
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Petrified Forest is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park is located in northeast Arizona and features one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood. Also included in the park's 93,533 acres are the multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, archaeological sites and displays of 225-million-year-old fossils.

The 43-kilometer (27-mile) scenic drive through the park has frequent pullouts. Points of interest are described below from north to south.

Eight overlooks along the rim give sweeping views of portions of the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert Inn Museum at Kachina Point was built in the 1920s and was rebuilt by Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s. In 1987, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Access to the Painted Desert Wilderness is behind the inn; wilderness camping begins beyond the washes. Chinde Point picnic area has water, and restrooms in warmer months. The park road winds through 9.5 kilometers (6 miles) of high desert and crosses over Interstate 40, the Santa Fe Railroad tracks, and the Puerco River to arrive at the Puerco Indian Ruins. The ruins are silent testimony to human life here before 1400 A.D. A few rooms are excavated and partially restored. (Restrooms and water in warmer months.) An overlook permits views of Newspaper Rock, a huge sandstone block covered with petroglyphs.

The Tepees are badlands erosional formations colored by iron, manganese, and other minerals. A 5-kilometer (3-mile) spur road climbs Blue Mesa, where pedestal logs abound. The hard logs act as capstones to soft clays beneath. Eventually the pedestal erodes, the log falls, and the cycle begins anew.

The Jasper Forest Overlook shows the area's topography, with petrified logs strewn below. Logs with root systems show some of the trees grew nearby. Fossil destruction in the Crystal Forest area by souvenir hunters and gem collectors prompted Arizona Territory citizens to petition Congress to preserve the petrified wood sites. Cracks and hollows in logs here once held beautiful clear quartz and amethyst crystals. The Flattops are massive remnants of a once continuous layer of sandstone capping parts of this area. The remaining capstone protects layered deposits long eroded from other parts of the park. Flattops wilderness campers park here. Camping limits begin 0.8 kilometers (0.5 miles) from the road. The Long Logs and Agate House trails explore part of Rainbow Forest. Iron, manganese, carbon, and other minerals lend bright colors to the petrified wood. Agate House is a partially restored pueblo.

The trail through Giant Logs behind the Rainbow Forest Museum follows up and down the slopes. The fence serves as a constant reminder that the petrified wood and all natural and historic objects in the park are preserved and protected by law. From the Rainbow Forest Museum, the park road continues 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) south to the park boundary and Highway 180.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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