On a day of driving that included Route 66 (“get your kicks”) and Highway 61 (“where you want this killin’ done?”), we visited Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. We started the morning in Winslow, Arizona (“standing on a corner in”) to make the musical trifecta.
Petrified Forest recently opened more “trails”, but it’s not a place for conventional dayhikes. Most park visitors do a scenic drive along one or both of its two roads, stopping at some of the noteworthy pullouts. The pullouts are mostly either scenic overlooks or access to self-contained walking areas that don’t connect to the rest of the park. We stopped at two of the most popular. It’s easy to do them both in the same day; you could even do more.
Blue Mesa is an area in the “painted desert” part of the park. It features badlands-type topography, with multicolored (bluish) layers of rock. The area is especially barren, with virtually no vegetation and only a little of the park’s namesake petrified wood visible. There is a blacktop-paved loop of almost a mile through the area, and you are encouraged to stay on it. To the side are signs saying “Area Beyond Sign Closed / DO NOT ENTER”. I’m not sure if it’s to protect a fragile landscape, or to prevent visitors from getting lost or hurt. Anyway, it’s a lovely walk which feels more curated than the usual wilderness experience.
Next we stopped at Jasper Forest, which contains some of the park’s (and probably world’s) greatest concentration of petrified wood. The wood is just lying around, in huge broken logs and little fragments. Look at the pebbles in the sand; a lot of them are pieces of former trees. Jasper Forest is an area, not a trail, and it doesn’t have the warnings against wandering. The only rule is you shouldn’t pick up rocks for souvenirs.
There are stores right outside the park entrance, and in the nearby town of Holbrook, where you can buy pieces in a wide range of sizes.