If you have done any traveling outside of the Phoenix area, chances are you have taken a ride on I-40 between Flagstaff and Albuquerque and traveled past the Petrified Forest National Park.
Though we have done that trip many times, we only recently took the time to stop at the Petrified Forest on our cross country road trip.
If anything, it’s a great opportunity for the kids to stretch their legs, the baby to visit the milk bar and an even better opportunity for us to open up the cooler and enjoy a quick sandwich to curb hunger.
The Petrified Forest is one of the world’s largest assemblies of petrified wood – historic structures, and archaeological site. The area, once covered in vegetation and trees, was much similar to the surrounding area of Northeastern Arizona, that is until volcanic lava came in and swept away the vegetation and dropped its remains.
Shortly after,erosion wore away the area and revealed the now petrified remains of what once was rich vegetation – with petrified wood made [mostly] of quartz.
The park also contains a rich amount of archaeological history including remnants of Puerco Pueblo (an 800 year old dwelling) and remnants of the old, historic Route 66.
Puerco Pueblo – an 800 year old archaeological ruins that still stands today (remains of course). The peak of this site was around 1300, when the ancestral Pueblo people lived. The 200 people that made their home there did so as the area established a trade route and and communities flourished with the onset of a water source.
The Pueblo is a wonderful place to visit for all ages (our kids had a wonderful time there) – the walk to the Pueblo was rather short but it was very very hot (so make sure you bring water!)
Rainbow Forest Museum and Park – provides a pre-historic view of the area the park is in, and how the park turned into what it is today. The museum is the beginning of the Giant Logs trail – if you don’t have the time to drive out to the Crystal Forest, then take this trail to check out a better look at the petrified wood. Pick up a trail guide at the museum and don’t forget to check out “Old Faithful” – a 10′ petrified log.
The museum is the last place to stock up on water before you get to the Painted Desert Inn (25 miles north) – plan accordingly for restrooms, too, especially if you have kids.
Painted Desert Inn – desert, park and architecture, located just off I-40 and US Route 66. The painted desert contains remnants of Navajo culture, a gift store and more.
The Inn is one of the only remaining Harvey House hotels located along the Santa Fe Railroad during the age of rail way travel. A park ranger will give you a guided tour of the Inn and allow you to see some of the areas you might not see if you are traveling on your own.
The Inn is the only trailhead down to the Painted Desert… and the trail is rather steep so be careful. Bring lots of water, and be sure to use the restrooms before you continue on your trip.
To get to the Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is in the area of northeastern Arizona .. 50 miles shy of the New Mexico border, and off the interstate there are two park entrances.
Going West: Take exit 311, drive just shy of 30 miles through the park and then connect with Hwy 180 at the park’s south end. Go another 20 miles north to return to 1-40.
Going East: Take exit 285 to Holbrook, then 20 miles to the park entrance. Drive just shy of 30 miles through the park back to 1-40.
The Petrified Forest National Park is a wonderful place to visit on or around the same time as you visit the Painted Desert. If you visit in the summer, make The Petrified Forest a full day trip (especially for little kids) and The Painted Desert.
Starting your trip
The best place to start your trip is at the Visitor Center – right off I-40 where you can pick up a map, and get information on the area – fees, gift shop, vantage points, and driving/hiking route. Kids can take a look at the history of the Petrified Forest National Park in the cool air conditioning.
Entrance fees to the park can vary from $10 (motorcycle/bike) per person or, $20 for a 7-day pass. You can pick up a discounted or FREE National Park Pass if you are disabled, military or a senior (read more here). Or pay $30 for an annual pass.
Look for FEE FREE days throughout the year, too.