Once upon a time, in the middle of a very long drive from Salt Lake to Phoenix, I took myself on a little detour to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. It was a park I’d never visited, was literally right off my route (which was already a detour to include stops at Four Corners and Shiprock, NM), and I figured a quick stop to check it out would be a good way to stretch my legs. It was….well, it as nothing like I expected, and not in a very good way. I mean, the stripey desert was gorgeous, with layers of red and white and purple and green on the dunes and hills glowing in the late afternoon sun. It was too warm for me to really enjoy a little hike (when I’d left that morning it was in the low 30’s, the weather in Petrified Forest NP was in the 80’s with no shade and very few substantial clouds), and I had been subsisting off gas station snacks for a day and a half already.
So, instead of hiking down among the hills, I wandered around the look out places, and then drove to the next, and the next, and the next. Petrified Forest NP isn’t large, and there is a 20-ish mile loop that takes you through the most popular parts of the park. After an hour of driving and wandering and driving and wandering I still hadn’t seen any actual trees petrified into rocks, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but, I don’t know, maybe a few rocky stumps here or there?
Nope, just more striped hills. Pretty, stunning even, but for me this part was not As Advertised, and that usually leads to disappointment.
Towards the end of my drive through the park I pulled over to view Newspaper Rock, which is best seen with binoculars (or the zoom function of your best camera lens), humans aren’t allowed anywhere near the engravings, probably with good reason; time and time again humans in the general public have shown they are the worst for taking care of ancient spaces. That being said, I do wish I would have been able to get a closer look at these drawings, don’t they look so cool!?
As I headed out of the park the red striped hills gave way to gray and blue and green striped hills, they look a lot more like The Badlands in South Dakota than anything I’ve seen in Red Rock Country. And then, my camera battery died. I did see a few rocky stumps and sections of fallen trees before I exited the park, but most of my little adventure was striped and petrified desert. Again, that kind of geology is pretty cool, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.
The town of Holbrook, Arizona is just a few miles from Petrified Forest National Park (population: 5,000), they have petrified logs lined up like vehicles at a car lot, hundreds of them for sale, giant ones, medium-sized ones, smaller ones. So, if petrified logs is what you are hoping to see, you will probably have a better shot of seeing them in town than in the park–although it kills me a little to actually type those words out.
Have you been to the Petrified Forest? Have you ever been disappointed in a National Park? Do you pack extra camera batteries, prepared like a girl scout, to avoid lack-of-battery predicaments!?