Most tourists who visit Arizona are there to see the Grand Canyon, which while spectacular, is just one of the many National and State Parks that Arizona has to offer. One national park that our family recently enjoyed seeing was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park, some 90 miles east of Flagstaff. While the Petrified Forest NP doesn’t have the whoomph of the Grand Canyon, it still is a beautiful place to visit. And best of all, the trails and observation points are relatively uncrowded.
So what is there to see at the Petrified Forest National Park? You’ll be surprised.
Painted Desert Vistas
The northern part of the park takes in some pretty amazing views of the Painted Desert, a section of badlands that stretch from the Grand Canyon to the park. Unlike what most people would think of a desert (i.e. lots of white sand), thousands of years of erosion has exposed brightly colored layers of rock which give the area its name.
Painted Desert Inn
Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp from 1937-1940, this former Harvey House was built in the Spanish Pueblo Revival Style and is now used as a museum. Visitors ambitious enough to go inside the inn will discover hand crafted wooden furniture, murals, painted skylights, tin fixtures and other architectural details that are a delight to see.
The Petrified Forest NP is the only national park that has a section of Route 66 within its boundaries. While the concrete road has been removed, you can still see telltale marks in the landscape where the route passed through.
In the southern half of the park can be found the remains of a 100-room village that was occupied nearly 600 years ago. Known as the Puercas Pueblos, there is an easy .3 mile loop that takes visitors through the site where they can get a close up look at the ruins and petroglyphs. On the other side of the highway is even a larger collection of petroglyphs which can be viewed through telescopes.
Of course, the big attraction is all those chunks of petrified wood, and yes, they are everywhere. We recommend getting out of the car and actually walking some of the trails that lead you to the largest clusters. The trails are not too strenuous (nor at all crowded) and are the best way to see these amazing chunks of rock.
Wrapping up the list of things to see at the Petrified Forest National Park are two Visitors Centers, a museum, and an awesome museum shop all which are very worthwhile. We found a number of high quality and locally made Navajo bowls and other gifts here that we knew our family back home would enjoy.
Even though the Petrified Forest National Park is only about 28 miles long, there is enough here to keep your family busy for the better part of a day. And for families like ours that hate the longs lines and crowds found at the Grand Canyon, you’ll find this park a nice change of pace.
More by this contributor:
How much time to you need to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park?
How to dress for trail walking in Arizona’s National Parks
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