Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best places in the world to see
the fossil record, especially fallen trees, from the Late Triassic Period, about
225 million years ago. Petrified Forest National Park contains a wealth of
scenic, scientific, and historical values in addition to the petrified wood that
the original monument was designated to protect. Throughout the park there
is also abundant evidence of human inhabitants who arrived at least 8,000 years
Getting there ...
Woanyu and I decided to take a short trip since neither Linus nor Iris will
come home for this Thanksgiving break. We had an early 6AM flight to
Phoenix on the Thanksgiving Day. It's about 3.5 hours driving from Phoenix
to the southern part of the park, where we started at the Rainbow Forest Museum
and Visitor Center.
- Giant Logs
The Giant Logs Trail is an easy 0.4-mile loop starting
behind the Rainbow Forest Museum. It has some of the largest petrified
logs in the park including "Old Faithful" -- almost 10 feet across its base
at the top of the trail, and it is a good first stop to give us a quick view
of colorful petrified wood.
- Agate House & Long Logs
The Long Logs trail and Agate House trail can
be combined as a 2.6-mile hike through the petrified wood-littered landscape
that's surrounded by gray-white badlands. Agate House, a structure
archaeologists believe was part of a pueblo occupied about 700 years ago by
"seasonal farmers or traders." The structure, one of at least eight
structures that once stood on this slight hill, was constructed of petrified
wood and recreated by the Park Service (but is not necessarily accurate
according to the Park Service).
- Blue Mesa
Descending from the mesa, this alternately paved and gravel
trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among badland hills of
bluish bentonite clay as well as petrified wood. However, we decided not to
hike down the trail today as the sun was low and hidden from the cloud from
time to time, and the lighting at the bottom of the trail would not be too
good at this moment. We stopped at a few view points along the loop
drive for a few quick pictures before sunset.
- Sunset at Newspaper Rock
One unique rule in the Petrified Forest
National Park is that the park will be closed at night (from sunset to
sunrise). During our visit in winter season, the park is open only
from 8AM to 5PM. When we left Newspaper Rock (which displays more than
650 petroglyphs, some over 2000 years ago), it was already about 5:20PM.
On the way to the southern park entrance, we were stopped by a park ranger
and asked to turn around to exit from the northern entrance.
Day 2 ...
Since the park is not open until 8AM, I just took a few sunrise photos
(at 7:10AM) right outside our hotel room.
- Painted Desert
From the park northern entrance, we passed by several Painted Desert
overlooks which show vivid color of the desert under the early morning
The Painted Desert is a desert of badlands in the Four
Corners area running from near the east end of Grand Canyon National
Park and southeast into Petrified Forest National Park.
- Blue Mesa
We went back to Blue Mesa as the early morning sun is
good to bring the color out of the beautiful scenery. A 1-mile trail
(steep but short at the beginning of the trail) enters the vibrant badlands
with equally colorful petrified wood. At the bottom of valley
floor, you will be surrounded by towering hills banded with colorful layers
of silts, sands, and gravels left behind by massive Triassic-age river
systems more than 200 million years ago.
- Painted Desert Wilderness & Onyx Bridge
Besides the maintained trails
in the park (most of them are short and paved), there are a few "off
the beaten path" routes which wander through the wilderness without
marked trails. We decided to try the
Hike which starts from the Painted Desert Inn. I have studied the
instruction from the NPS and the satellite view on Google Map with the given
GPS coordinate. After the steep descend into the desert floor, it
became an easy walk as long as we identified a landmark for our direction.
After following the Lithodendron Wash for a while, we went west to follow a
small drainage with many fallen petrified logs. All of a sudden, the
Onyx Bridge (approximately 30 ft (9m) long and 210 million years old)
appeared before us when we climbed up a small canyon.
Day 3 ...
- Crystal Forest
Crystal Forest is a paved 0.75-mile loop trail through
a badlands landscape with many intact petrified logs. The early
morning temperature was below freezing although the sun was quickly heating
- Agate Bridge
Agate Bridge features sweeping views and a 110-foot long
petrified log bridge, which has some reinforcement beneath it. There
are some old photos showing people standing on the bridge in early 20th
century, but now it is off the limit to protect the bridge (and for your own
- Jasper Forest & First Forest Wilderness
Jasper Forest (aka
First Forest in the old days) has a panoramic view of an area with high
concentration of petrified wood. We signed up a guided backcountry
hike (led by park volunteers Gary and Connie) to the
Forest Point. This hike takes you from the Jasper Forest
overlook parking lot south along the bluffs, then west through a portion of
the Jasper Forest petrified wood deposit, and across a branch of Dry Wash.
At the bottom of the bluff, there is
petrified wood almost all the way to the wash. On the other side of the
wash, it climbs a gentle slope onto the prominent mesa directly west of
Jasper Forest with a good view of the surrounding countryside.
Going Home ...
We returned to the trailhead at about 2PM and ready to head back to Phoenix
to catch our late evening flight. It was a short trip and the first
Thanksgiving without any kids together with us. Although we missed Linus
and Iris, it was not bad at all for Woanyu and I to spend a few days to enjoy a
little nature gem.
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