Captivating Colors

Desolate beauty is projected from each end of the Petrified Forest National Park, from the buttes ringed with blue hues in the badlands and the orange vistas of the Painted Desert.
These geologic wonders were crafted by water and wind over millions of years. Deposits of sand, ash and numerous minerals were left behind and display varying colors of the rainbow.
The namesake feature of the park is the petrified logs uncovered throughout the area. These prehistoric remnants are fossilized trees from the Triassic Period that had been buried in volcanic ash. Over millions of years, the wood soaked up water and silica from the ash and became crystallized. Erosion has uncovered some of these trunks, which are now hardened quartz in sparkling shades of red, yellow, black and white.
The greatest concentration of petrified logs is found at the southern end of the park. There are a few trails around the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center and Museum at the south entrance that show off these stunning fossils in large quantities. The Giant Logs Trail is a .4-mile loop located behind the museum that features an impressive section of large and colorful trunks. The Long Logs trailhead also begins at the south entrance and leads to a “Triassic Period logjam” with some of the longest trees in the park along the 1.6-mile loop. For a longer hike, head to the Agate House, which is a seven-room structure made from petrified logs.
You can watch a film, check out museum exhibits, purchase a souvenir, use the restroom and pick up a snack at the Rainbow Visitor Center before heading up into the park if you choose to begin at this end.
Traveling north, the first viewpoint is Crystal Forest on the left-hand side. There is a short trail to walk through some colorful petrified trunks. Next up is the Jasper Forest on the right, which is just another spot where there is a high concentration of visible trunks, but there is no trail here.
Agate Bridge is just on the other side of the road, and features a 110-foot long petrified log bridge. You can’t walk on the bridge, nor is it colorful, so this may be a stop to skip if you are on a tight schedule.
Blue Mesa, coming up next on the left side, is the must-see viewpoint. There are several pulloffs to stop and get pictures of this rugged landscape, which is dotted with a few pieces of petrified wood.
The Blue Mesa Trail is absolutely worth the time. It begins with a steep descent, taking travelers down into the depths of the blue badlands. These hills and buttes have exposed layers of several different sediments, such as sandstone, mudstone and ash that create a palette of pastel blues, purples and pinks.
Walking along the base of these immense ancient formations feels almost as if you’ve been transported to a different time and place. Each turn along the mile-long loop offers a new hue painted across the hillside and there are petrified stumps strewn across the land.
The Teepees are the next stop on the left-hand side of the road. These colorful mounds display similar bands of blue mudstone against red sandstone. Capture a quick picture at this stop before heading to the petroglyph sites.
Newspaper Rock on the left and Puerco Pueblo on the right show the most visible remnants of prehistoric people. Both areas feature petroglyphs on the rocks and the remains of an ancient pueblo also can be seen at Puerco Pueblo. It is difficult to find the petroglyphs through the binoculars at Newspaper Rock, so Puerco Pueblo is the favorable stop to see them up close.
These are the last viewpoints before crossing over the interstate to the northern section of the park — the Painted Desert.
There is a quick stop on the left side with an old automobile marking where Route 66 used to cross the park. Next, there are three pulloffs in a row on the left side — Lacey Point, Whipple Point and Nizhoni Point — which all give fairly similar views of the Painted Desert below. This landscape is a mix of sedimentary rocks left behind from the Triassic Period, and a newer basalt layer formed by a volcanic eruption. Not to worry, there is no longer any volcanic activity in the area.
Pintado Point and Chinde Point are next along the route on the left side and offer a panoramic view of formations such as the Pinnacles, Pilot Rock and Chinde Mesa.
Kachina Point is the next overlook, and the site of the Painted Desert Inn, which is currently closed. You can start the Painted Desert Trail from this viewpoint, which is a .5-mile dirt trail along the rim of the Painted Desert, ending at Tawa Point. You must walk back the way you came to return to your car. Likewise, you can begin the walk from Tawa Point, heading northwest to Kachina Point and turn around there for a total 1-mile walk.
Tiponi Point is the last overlook before reaching the Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance to the park. There’s another chance for souvenirs, snacks and restrooms at this visitor center.
Both visitor centers and park entrances are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The cost is $25 per vehicle to enter the park.
The north entrance is located off of Interstate 40 about 26 miles northeast of Holbrook, Arizona. The south entrance is found off of Highway 180 about 20 miles southeast of Holbrook. The drive from one end of the park to the other is about 28 miles.
If you’re looking for a piece of petrified wood to take home with you, be aware that collecting the fossils from the park is prohibited and violators will be fined. There is a large gift shop at the south end before entering the park called Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. that has a huge selection of not only petrified wood, but many other stones, fossils and jewelry.