Petrified Forest National Park

The Painted Desert is just one aspect of this amazing national park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

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Threads of the Late Triassic Period more than 200 million years ago run rampant through Petrified Forest National Park, and not just in the trunks of stone trees that dot this multi-hued landscape in northeastern Arizona.

Teasing those threads out, though, takes a keen eye, and time. Unfortunately, the park road runs just 28 miles through its 93,532 acres, so unless you exhibit some discipline you'll cruise down the pavement, stop momentarily at the 22 overlooks, and be gone in a very small number of hours.

But if you prepare for a visit by studying a primer on the Late Triassic Period and the ensuing 200+ million years, and familiarize yourself with what's to see and where to see it, you'll arrive not only with a rudimentary knowledge of the wonders that exist within Petrified Forest's borders, but also with a game plan for exploring this wondrous landscape.

Fortunately, there's no need to head to a library for this information. We'll lay down the basics in the accompanying chapters, and the park's website has a treasure trove of scientific papers that will further deepen your understanding of this landscape.

That there's petrified wood here is no surprise, and you won't have to strain your eyes to see it. But if you want to find the most colorful examples, do you head to the Jasper Forest, the Crystal Forest, or the Rainbow Forest? And what makes those stony slabs so colorful? That's all covered below.

Beyond the logs of stone, there are rich archaeological resources dating back at least 1,000 years that merit your attention, and they're on display in a few places accessible via that one road. Beyond that are the remains of giant reptiles that walked the earth 220 million years ago, and those are best seen in the Rainbow Forest Museum.

If you're determined to catch the color of this land with your camera, well, you're faced with an even greater dilemma: timing your stops so you catch the best light for your shots. After all, what's best for the Painted Desert might not be best for the Crystal Forest or Giant Logs or Agate House. We'll try to help you with that dilemma.

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Minerals are responsible for the colorful slabs of stone in the park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

There are rich chapters of human history here, and not just those tied to Ancestral Puebloans who built their stone publeos on this landscape. Dating of arrowheads found here indicate human presence as long ago as 13,500 years. A bit more recently Spanish explorers passed through this parched landscape, and no doubt one of the strangest sights in the United States -- the U.S. Camel Corps -- came by in the late 1850s.

There's Civilian Conservation Corps history as well; just stop by the Painted Desert Inn for a tour to see some of the corps' handiworks, visit Agate House, or walk through the museum at the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center. Historic Route 66 blazed a path across the park's colorful landscape, too, carrying travelers west and east, and film buffs will be interested to know that those Easy Riders, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, cruised by as well.

But where do you start, and where do you end, to maximize your visit to Petrified Forest National Park? Spend a little time on these pages and we'll answer those and other questions.

Outwardly, Petrified Forest National Park might seem one-dimensional. But as you get to know it, and if you take your time passing through it, you'll come away impressed and understanding why it was designated as a national monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and upgraded to a national park in 1962.

Traveler's Choice For: Photography, geology lessons, kids, history.

Getting Around Petrified Forest National Park

Exploring Petrified Forest National Park by car is easy; there's only one road that cuts through the middle of the park.

Park History: Petrified Forest National Park

Though some might not be familiar with this park that is an open-air geologic textbook, it dates to 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt protected it by using the Antiquities Act to set aside 60,776 acres as a national monument.

Lodging at Petrified Forest National Park

Sadly, the Painted Forest Inn in the national park stopped renting out rooms long ago (in 1963). The nearest motel rooms to the park are in Holbrook, some 21 miles to the west along Interstate 40.

Camping and Backpacking at Petrified Forest National Park

Unfortunately, there are no front-country campgrounds at Petrified Forest National Park, so if you want to pitch a tent, you'll either have to head off into the wilderness backcountry, or look for the nearest private campground.

Hiking at Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is not the long-distance hiker's nirvana, as there are only a handful of short trails in the front-country and no marked trails winding through the backcountry.

The Geology of Petrified Forest National Park

Gazing out across Petrified Forest National Park, it's hard to believe that this view once was thick with vegetation, streams, and animals.

Horseback Opportunities In Petrified Forest National Park

If you have a horse, you're more than welcome to explore of the backcountry of Petrified Forest National Park, though you'll need to come prepared.

Photography At Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest just might be one of the most challenging national parks if you're looking to take home a great photograph.

Wildlife At Petrified Forest National Park

Ravens are the most visible wildlife you'll likely see during the day at Petrified Forest National Park, but they are definitely not the only animals that reside here.

Resources For Petrified Forest National Park

This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.

Petrified Forest National Park News

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Fossils large and small will be the stars of the National Park System next week when National Fossil Day is celebrated on Wednesday.

Exploring The Parks: Fossil Butte National Monument In Windswept Wyoming

Many national parks preserve aspects of the past, and in the case of Fossil Butte National Monument, that past goes back 55 million years ago, a time when the landscape of western Wyoming was very different from the windswept plains we see today.

Nearly 15,000 Acres Of Petrified Forest National Park Open For Backcountry Exploration

It took more than two decades, but a rugged, remote, and intriguing area of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is now open to backcountry travelers.

Petrified Forest National Park Images