It's the heart of summer, the hottest time to visit Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy the Long Logs and Agate House trails near the park's south entrance. You just have to be strategic in planning when to do these companion hikes.
Together the two trails wind fewer than 4 miles through the petrified wood-littered landscape that's surrounded by gray-white badlands. There are reddish and cinnamon-hued long logs -- hence the name of the one trail -- and slabs that might have been sliced with a laser so clean are the cuts. And there's a pueblo recreated from petrified wood slabs similar to what ancestral puebloans might have used to build their homes seven-10 centuries ago.
Not only are these good, but short, leg stretchers, but wandering through this landscape really brings home why it was protected as a national park.
In spring, fall, and winter you might take these hikes any time of day. But with the hot sun overhead baking this landscape and anyone out in it during the middle of the day during the summer months, it makes sense to plan on an early morning (6 a.m. wouldn't be too early, but unfortunately the park gates don't open until 7 a.m.) or late afternoon hike (you have to be off the trail before they close the park gates; 8 p.m. through July 28, 7:30 p.m. through August 25, 7 p.m. through September 22).
Trail access for both is from the Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot. A short walk across a bridge that spans the Jim Camp Wash takes you to the trailhead. From there it's 1 mile to Agate House.
After leaving the trailhead you come almost immediately to a trail junction; go left to cruise the Long Logs trail, or right to go directly to Agate House. But these hikes are so short, and the two landscapes so captivating with their petrified wood and the Agate House itself, that it makes sense to spend the time to negotiate both trails. And unlike the Blue Mesa Trail, there's no great elevation change on either of these trails.
Going left along the Long Logs Trail, you'll find petrified logs running right up to the sides of the trail; in some places the trail actually goes over logs. You come upon logs, stumps, and slabs of petrified wood. (According to park geologists, the sheared off log slabs are the result of petrified logs fracturing "after they were buried and the petrification process was complete. Composed of quartz, petrified logs are hard and brittle, breaking easily when subjected to stress.")
When I made the hike back in March sections of the trail were falling apart and work was under way to repair those areas.
The Long Logs Trail loops around to a shade shelter where you can get in out of the blazing sun if you find yourself out during the middle part of the day. After taking a break there, you can continue on up a paved path to 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 recreated and is not necessarily accurate, according to the Park Service.
If You Go
Long Logs Trail
Trailhead parking: Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot
Trail Length: 1.6 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy, aside from the summer heat.
Payoff: Lots of petrified wood in all shapes and lengths. Park officials say this area contains "one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the park."
Cautions: Though short, aside from the shade shelter along the route there is no shade. Bring at least a quart of water per person. You can fill up at the museum.
Trailhead parking: Rainbow Forest Museum parking area.
Trail length: 2 miles roundtrip
Payoff: A pueblo recreated from petrified wood.
Cautions: Though short, aside from the sun shade along the route there is no shade. Bring at least a quart of water per person. You can fill up at the museum.