Just a few short miles from the town of Holbrook, AZ is the entry to The Petrified Forest and The Painted Desert. This desert area hosts a wide variety of succulent plants such as Hedgehog Cactus, Yucca, and many flowers with which I am unfamiliar.
This area is the only place in all of our travels where we have seen jackrabbits. Prior to this visit I thought they were a myth. They are hares with tall ears like those of a donkey. The sign I read stated that the ears are erect in warm weather, helping to keep the body cool, and lay flat during the frigid winter months to help keep in the hare’s body heat.
The drive from the Holbrook side takes the traveler through the Petrified Forest first. The gift shop on the left provides spaces for paid RV parking. The parking lot is lined with stumps of petrified trees and there are several more leading up to the gift shop. They offer free samples but the samples are a single tiny shard glued to a piece of paper. For the rockhounder, you may be able to find some small pieces of petrified wood in the parking lot. Those are recognizable as petrified wood.
The Petrified Forest is filled with fields where giant trees once stood that now lay prone on the ground, turned to amazing marbled colors and hues on the inside that are as hard as agate and as colorful as a box of gel markers. My curiosity was piqued as I wondered what would have killed them, seemingly all at once, and why are there so few petrified forests in the U.S.?
Sunset over the Petrified Forest
Petrified tree stumps and a Native American house built of the same material. I wonder why there are not more petrified forests in this country, why this is such an isolated place, and what caused the trees to die and become petrified? It’s a shame the colors were muted by the brightness of the hazy sky.
The Rainbow Forest and the Petrified Forest both have hiking trails. The minerals in the rock and sand have left cone-shaped peaks and meandering valleys that left me awestruck. One of the trails is one mile round trip but starts off rather steep as it leads to a close-up view of those amazing colors, which are best seen in the early morning. Hues of lavender, rose, and the lightest shade of blue decorate the peaks and hills. They appear to be made of soft sand but upon closer inspection the texture is similar to that of coarse cement that had too much water to set properly.
The Rainbow Forest has colorful peaks displaying stripes of rose, purple and light blue. One area is called the Blue Mesa. Again, the haziness of the sky prevented the colors from showing well, but if you get the opportunity to visit on your own you won’t be sorry. Here are a few of the many photos we took showing the splendor of the area. There are also ruins of pueblos. Due to space and time constrictions those photos will not be posted here, nor the petroglyphs, but they will delight your senses if you visit the area.
We saw a herd of antelope just after sunrise as we entered The Painted Desert one morning. (We spent a week there.) When they saw the Jeep coming they ran for cover although there is no road that would allow a vehicle near them.
The parks allow backpacking and tent camping within the park, but no RV parking within the park.
If you plan a visit, please take a trash bag with you to put your trash in so as not to detract from the beauty of the park itself. Please respect the natural beauty. There are picnic areas with receptacles. The picnic area closest to the ruins near the Visitor Center has recycle containers also.
Another tip: Some wild animals don’t get a lot of water to drink, so eating things like crackers, potato chips and bread may cause their stomachs to swell and kill them. Can you find the jack rabbit in the above picture?
The black birds that inhabit the western desert areas are ravens. They are slightly larger than crows; their tails are shaped differently than crows; their cries are more throaty, and once in flight they soar rather than flap their wings to keep going.
We hope you enjoy your visit as much as we did. Please leave a comment and any helpful suggestions you may have. Blessings.