The Hidden National Park

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." - Confucius

 

The title of this blog reflects the natural markers of this National Park. Driving on I-40 in northeastern Arizona, you see a landscape of high desert with subtle tones of gray-green and brown desert foliage. You don't see high mountains, tall trees, deep canyons, massive dunes, or huge signs letting you know you're approaching a national park. You do see a medium-sized brown and white sign reading Petrified Forest National Park.

 

We were on our spring road trip, and our plans included stops at Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Cottonwood, Arizona (near Sedona). While in Chinle, AZ outside Canyon de Chelly we were planning the route we would take to Cottonwood, AZ. In looking at the road we would take I noticed a green spot on Google Maps, so I zoomed in to find Petrified Forest National Park. The driving time to Cottonwood from Chinle is about 4 hours, which gave us around 5 to 6 hours to see the Petrified Forest and get to Cottonwood in the late afternoon. We agreed to add Petrified Forest National Park to our stops.

 

Leaving Chinle very early in the morning we made our way to the Petrified Forest, arriving at the park around 9:00 am. We stopped at the visitors center to take a break and do some planning. We went to the information desk, told the ranger we were driving through and had about 4 to 5 hours to see the park. The ranger was very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. He gave us a map and told us about the park highlights ... with the first being the Painted Desert Inn. After talking to the ranger, we were happy that not only would we see the Petrified Forest, but the Painted Desert too.

 

 Painted Desert Inn and Exposed Petrified Wood Wall

Painted Desert Inn and Exposed Petrified Wood Wall

Painted Desert Inn

The main lodge, now called the Painted Desert Inn, was a renovation of the 1920s Stone Tree House that used the local petrified wood for its construction. The remodeling was completed in 1940, with some additional revisions made post-war in 1947. It was added as a National Historic Landmark in 1987 in order to preserve the building and its history. It is a beautiful pueblo style building with two levels. The upper level is a museum showing its 1940s configuration, with a soda fountain and restaurant. The lower level has restrooms and a snack room. The exterior frame of the door exiting the snack room has the stucco removed, revealing the petrified wood used in the construction of the original Stone Tree House.

 

 Painted Desert

Painted Desert

The Painted Desert

Outside the Painted Desert Inn is the Painted Desert, with a sea of unusual weather-carved mounds stretching out as far as the eye can see. The air was cool, and the sun illuminated the area making it come alive with vibrant hues ... and off in the far distance small puffy clouds dotted the sky. After making several stops at points overlooking the Painted Desert, we moved on to Route 66.

 

 Route 66 Marker a 1932 Studebaker

Route 66 Marker a 1932 Studebaker

Route 66

The famous highway Route 66 cut through the Petrified Forest National Park, making it the only national park that the "Mother Road" went through. Today the location of the highway is marked by a 1932 Studebaker that sits where Route 66 passed through the park. Off in the distance, I-40 can be seen and heard as it now carries all the traffic. Standing at this location, I started singing "Route 66" ... with the memorable refrain "Get Your Kicks on Route 66." I didn't sing that well, but it was a nostalgic location and worth the stop.

 

 Puerco Pueblo

Puerco Pueblo

Puerco Pueblo

These are ancestral Puebloan homes, with a recreated home to show how they once looked when with the original houses were occupied in the years 1250-1380. A short trail circles the area, with stops along the way pointing out petroglyphs carved in the rocks.

 

 Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock

Like the much lighter and more portable newspapers of today, this huge rock has hundreds of petroglyphs that told the news to all who passed. Just looking at the foundation with all of its detail you start to imagine the stories hidden in the symbols.

 

 Blue Mesa

Blue Mesa

Blue Mesa

This stop combines the shades of blue on the mesa with petrified wood exposed as the plateau washes away. A steep one-mile trail winds through the hill, providing a close view of the mesa walls and petrified wood.

 

 Jasper Forest and Petrified Logs

Jasper Forest and Petrified Logs

 Crystal Forest and Petrified Log Cross-section

Crystal Forest and Petrified Log Cross-section

Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest

One would think that forest would have trees standing together covering a sizable portion of land, but not in the petrified forest. These areas have a high density of petrified wood lying about here and there. Jasper Forest, viewed from an overlook, has many chunks of petrified wood scattered around the area. Crystal Forest is accessible by foot, with a trail passing through the logs.

 

Conclusion

This is a national park I would like to return to and photograph during the early morning, when the light rakes across the painted desert; and later in the day at Blue Mesa, when the low sun accents the detail of the mesa cliffs. I'd like have more time to walk on the trail through the Mesa. For now, these are a few of my memories of the Petrified Forest National Park.

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Thank you for reading my blog on "The Hidden National Park"!

* Quote by Confucius from A-Z Quotes