Fun and Exciting Things to Do Petrified Forest National Park
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The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona isn’t the only place where petrified trees can be found. There are several places throughout the United States where petrified forests still exist. Over half a million people visit The Petrified Forest National Park in any given year, to see the petrified trees which have evolved over millions of years.
Although the trees are no longer standing and most are lying on the ground in sections, the colors the trees have obtained throughout the centuries are spectacular. Red, yellow, white, black, and blue is typical of the colors of the trees.
Fossils of dinosaurs, plants, and other animals have been found there, telling partial stories about what used to be and what is now. About 225 million years ago, the land was flooded with freshwater sediments and after thousands of years, the area was then raised above sea level with the wind, and water washed away the sediments, leaving the logs as you see them today. Because of these changes, colorful logs lay strewn around the area, taking on the resemblance and feel of rock.
There are different viewpoints at The Petrified Forest, including the Blue Mesa which has hundreds of logs lying in mounds of steel blue clay. There are no available trails in this area for hiking. Jasper Forest is another place where the logs can be glimpsed.
Settlers and prospectors long ago removed most of the best log specimens, but hundreds of the petrified trees still remain today. The Jasper Forest area is also excluded from hiking trails. Crystal Forest used to contain especially beautiful logs with crevices that contained quartz and purple amethyst crystals but these were removed by souvenir hunters over the years before the area became a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962.
The area with the most petrified wood for sightseeing is Rainbow Forest, near the south park entrance. Here you can visit the museum, see rock samples, and read apology letters from people who stole petrified wood pieces but now regret doing so. Each year, hundreds of pieces of wood are returned either anonymously or accompanied by a letter of apology.
From the museum, you can go down a small trail to the Giant Forest which has some of the largest logs in the park. Close to the Giant Forest is the Long Log trail with perfect views of hundreds of large, beautiful petrified wood. Be sure and also visit the Agate House which was built entirely out of petrified wood in the 16th century by Indians.
One of the most interesting things about the park is the petroglyphs or rock carvings, pictographs, and rock paintings, dating back from 1000 to 1350, A.D. It is said that these were made as some sort of calendar to mark the summer and winter solstices by the Pueblos.
It is thought that The Petrified Forest contains the largest concentration of these calendars known to man, about 16. Although natural forces of nature, such as wind and rain have obscured partial drawings, you can still see outlines of humans, and animals such as lizards, rabbits, coyotes, and snakes carved into or drawn onto the stones. You can even see human hand and feet prints, bear paw prints, and bird tracks.
Other things to see nearby are the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly national monument, The Painted Dessert, where The Petrified Forest is located, Lake Mead, and Sunset Crater. Available in the area are hiking, fishing, camping, and guided tours. Visiting the southwest will be a vacation you’ll never forget.
Petrified Forest National Park is a small park as national parks go, but it is chock full of great sights that we can see nowhere else in the county. You can’t camp in the park, but there are plenty of places nearby to set up a tent. Get set up, drive to the visitor center, pick up a brochure and then plan your hikes.
First, let’s have a look at what is here. Petrified wood. There it is, lying about. Huge logs on the ground that look like logs and were once, but are now stone made that way by the desert climate. The desert is so many colors it is called “Painted,” because it looks like different colors of paint were poured on it in some designs known only to the artists. The Park is full of Native American historical treasures dating back to the 9th century and archeological ones 200 million years old.
Trails in the park range from easy to hard, from flat to steep and they are all magnificent. No matter the park, the best way to see it is on foot. So get out of your car and walk some trails.
The Painted Desert Rim Trail is a 1-mile round trip easy hike in the woods. Plan to see a desert ecosystem millions of years old and holding. The Painted Desert is incomparable, so do not miss this hike.
Find the Puerco Pueblo .3 mile loop trailhead in the Puerco Pueblo parking lot. Walk through a hundred-room pueblo that was lived somewhere between 1200 and 1700 years ago. Don’t miss the petroglyphs at the south end of the trail.
Blue Mesa in Petrified Forest National Park
Blue Mesa is not an easy hike like the first two. The one-mile loop is moderately strenuous and starts at the Blue Mesa sun shelter. Start by walking downhill through blue clay and petrified wood. Do not pick up pieces of the petrified wood to take home. If we all took a little piece, there would soon be none left for others to see. While you are walking down, remember, you must climb back up again to return to the beginning of the loop.
Crystal Forest is a 3/4 mile loop starting in the Crystal Forest Parking lot. Crystals can be found in the petrified logs of the forest. Walk slowly and take notes. Take pictures as well because no one will believe there are crystals in petrified wood.
Giant Logs Trail
Do not miss the Giant Logs Trail, a .4-mile loop behind the Rainbow Forest Museum. The trail lives up to its name with a ten-foot wide petrified log at the top of the trail. Be ready to climb some stairs when navigating this short hike.
Long Logs and Agate House Trails can be combined for a total of 2.6 miles round trip. See below for individual trail descriptions.
Long Logs Trail and Agate House Trails both leave from the Museum Parking lot and travel through lots of petrified wood. Long Log is a 1.6-mile loop and Agate House is 2 miles to an ancient pueblo that was most likely used as a temporary home by traders nearly 700 years ago.
The trails of the Petrified Forest are enchanting and most of them are relatively easy. Because of stairs and gravel areas, they are not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers, but on some, you can go part of the way and turn back when you see the stairs.
And no matter what, do not take any souvenirs. Pack out what you pack in, take plenty of water, stay on the trails so you do not destroy the fragile ecosystems, and do not forget your camera.