It's summer, shade is not something you find in abundance at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and you don't want to head out on a long hike with the mercury peaking above 100 degrees.
So where do you go? To the Giant Logs Trail.
This is a perfect hike for young and old. It's less than a half-mile in length and is right behind the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center, so you can quickly get in out of the heat and cool off while checking out the exhibits, picking up some souvenirs, or stamping your Passport to Your National Parks.
The main attraction of the trail is "Old Faithful." Yes, Old Faithful. No, Yellowstone's famous geyser didn't move south. This is a massive petrified log that was given its nickname by the wife of the park's first superintendent.
Before you head up the trail, pick up the trail brochure in the visitor center. It provides a stop-by-stop narrative of what you'll see along the way, and explains how this landscape came to be.
Along the way not only will you learn about the geology of Petrified Forest National Park, but you'll see a plaque honoring Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. (These bronze markers with his profile were created after Mather's death. Similar ones can be found elsewhere in the National Park System, but you need a sharp eye to spy them.)
Stop No. 8 is where you'll find Old Faithful. This behemoth is 35 feet long, has a base about 10 feet across, and weighs an estimated 44 tons. Back on June 29, 1962, it was struck by a bolt of lightning at 2:05 p.m., a direct hit that caused substantial damage. At the time, the staff rebuilt the log, and added some concrete for stability.
Though just four-tenths of a mile long, take your time to enjoy this trail that winds through piles of colorful petrified rock. The slightly elevated hillside also offers some nice panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Across the park road you can see the trailhead to the Long Logs and Agate House trails, two paths definitely worth taking...either very early in the morning or early in the evening to escape the summer heat.
Spending a little time inside the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center also is worthwhile, and not only to cool off and get a drink. Here you'll find some nice exhibits on some of the area's former residents, such as "Rauisuchians," a reptilian predator from the late Triassic Period that could grow up to 20 feet in length and which tore into its prey with 3-inch-long serrated teeth.