We’ve heard polarizing opinions about the Petrified Forest National Park. Some warning it’s a complete waste of time and fuel to get to, and others claiming it’s the most interesting landscapes you’ll see in the USA.
For those that said it was a waste of time, you obviously didn’t see what we did.
Drive past the ranger station, park at the Rainbow Forest Museum and you end up at the first hiking loop named Giant Logs (how creative). The loop boasts more petrified wood in one single area than you’ll see most anywhere in the world. It also hosts one of the largest petrified trees in the world “Old Faithful” not to be confused with the geyser in Yellowstone. We walked around for a bit, freezing our butts off (breezy and 20 degrees F) and sure the petrified wood is neat, however at this point we’re feeling a little like siding with the naysayers about this National Park.
Just across the street is the next major loop called Long Logs and Agate House. You’ll see some grass, some random pieces of petrified wood strewn about, and a few interesting mounds of grey/black dirt. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be fortunate to spot some of the most beautiful pieces of petrified wood in the forest, the colors are literally unbelievable.
It’s a long flat loop with only a few highlights, not exactly what you want to hike in sub-freezing temperatures. However, at the end of the trail we’re rewarded with an awesome sight.
The Agate House is the only structure in the park built from petrified wood and possibly the only one in the world. A tall hand carved ladder extends through the roof and the sun drops down creating some beautiful reflections in the wood. Success! This is why we visit national parks: to see life preserved.
Feeling a little more excited from our visit to the Agate House, we decided to hit the Blue Mesa Loop. I could go into details about how amazing this hike through the bluish badlands is….but I’ll simply let the images tell the story. Welcome to the land of the Dinosaurs!
This petrified wood is mostly from the Late Triassic period, about 225 million years ago. That means some of these trees were around before the time of Dionosuars…And I thought my grandmother was old.
Should you decide to visit the Petrified Forest make sure you leave every piece of this beautiful park behind for others to enjoy. We asked a ranger why some of the trails have such wonderful names but weren’t that interesting to look at….a simple answer: 12 Tons of Petrified Wood is taken from the park each year. Hikes like Crystal Forest Loop used to be littered with billions of pieces of shiny petrified wood and now the beauty has been ripped from park leaving behind a less spectacular place for future generations to enjoy. If you can’t go home without that little souvenir wait till you get to the gift shop and purchase a piece from outside the park.
A few final thoughts… It’s worth a visit. The hikes are not very challenging, the trails don’t often get you near enough to sights, and you’re really not supposed to leave the trails at this park….but we have not seen a landscape that is similar to the Blue Mesa Loop in all our travels…it’s simply spectacular. Also driving through the park is diverse beyond imagination from the plains, to the badlands, to the iconic route 66 kitsch, and of course the Painted Desert at sunset. Our only regret….we didn’t have enough time to drive north to Canyon de Chelly, Window Rock, and Monument Valley! I guess there’s always next time….Till then, safe travels!