Petrified Forest National Park.
On first impression, the Petrified Forest may not sound very appealing, stone log fragments scattered over a rather remote and otherwise featureless section of Arizona desert. Apparently it comes as a disappointment to some who expect the trees to be still standing in thick rocky groves instead of lying flat in sections as they are.
However, the petrified logs are extremely beautiful with most unexpectedly bright colours, and the Park is adjacent to the scenic Painted Desert so it is well worth a visit especially as it is quite easily reached, being close to the main east-west route interstate 40.
The North Approach:
A 27 mile road runs through the Park, from I-40 exit 311 to US 180; the closest town is Holbrook, 25 miles to the west. The visitor centre is at the north end and there is a small museum at the south entrance.
The first few miles of this road winds through the Painted Desert, north of the interstate, and has 9 viewpoints of the rolling multicoloured landscape. The patterns visible in the eroded soft sedimentary rocks are due mainly to hematite (red), limonite (yellow) and gypsum (white) - the colours are especially striking at sunset.
The park boundaries have been extended twice, in 1932 and 1970, to include a large area of the Desert to the north but there are no trails into this region although back-country camping is allowed. Several other sections of northeast Arizona are also known as the Painted Desert, including a large area around US 89 close to the Colorado River.
The park road turns due south, crosses the interstate and a branch of the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe railway, and passes through the petrified region. There are various features of interest - an Indian ruin, ancient petroglyphs and several geological formations - together with 4 main areas of petrifaction, listed below. VIEWPOINTS
Blue Mesa: reached by a short loop road, this has many logs lying around an area of undulating blue-grey mounds of clay. Often the logs lie partially buried in the clay, and erosion gradually but continuously exposes more of them. There are no trails in this region as the soils are delicate.
Jasper Forest: is a large expanse of logs scattered over a wide and rather desolate valley. There used to be a lot more, but this was one of the main locations for collecting by early prospectors who removed logs by the cartload. There is a good viewpoint but again no hiking opportunities. Opposite, a short road leads to agate bridge, a long complete unbroken log lying over a stream bed. The bridge was reinforced by concrete early this century but it is of course forbidden to walk across.
Crystal Forest: Further south, a short trail passes through Crystal Forest. This was once strewn with especially beautiful logs, which had crevices containing clear quartz and purple amethyst crystals, but all the best specimens were removed by souvenir hunters long ago. It was this theft that prompted local citizens to petition for the creation of the then National Monument, which was established in 1906 - National Park status was not achieved until 1962. A few small crystalline specimens can still be seen, amongst other more typical logs.
Rainbow Forest: The area with the most densely-scattered petrified wood is Rainbow Forest, near the south park entrance. There is a museum, which amongst other exhibits has a large collection of apologetic letters sent by visitors who have taken rock samples and later regretted their actions. Hundreds of pieces of petrified wood are returned each year. Through the museum, a short foot trail winds through the Giant Forest area which has some of the biggest logs in the park. Nearby, the Long Logs trail gives perhaps the most impressive views - the path passes hundreds of large beautifully coloured examples, often several metres in length. There is also an old hut, Agate House, constructed entirely of petrified wood by Indians in the 16th century.