Petrified Forest National Park

Holbrook, AZ

Our next move was a short one, only about 30 miles from Winslow to Holbrook, AZ.  But since we planned to make a couple of visits to Petrified Forest National Park before continuing east, it made more since to move closer to the park.  Based on Jodee’s recommendation (On the Road Abode) we are staying in OK RV Park.  It’s one of those parks where you park next to your neighbors, who pull through in the opposite direction.  We don’t usually like this kind of situation but the sites are so long that your neighbor is  a comfortable distance behind you.

After setting up we took a five minute tour of the town of Holbrook.  It only took that long because the town is small and there is little to see.  The next morning we headed east about 30 miles for our first visit to Petrified Forest NP.

The park is accessed and explored by a 28 mile long road that runs north/south, with entrances at either end.  We drove southeast of Holbrook on US-180 and entered the park through the south gate.  Just inside the gate is the Rainbow Forest Museum/Visitor Center where we watched a well-done 18 minute video that explained the process of petrification of wood and the evolution of the landscape of the park.  Right behind the museum is a short series of trails through an area called Giant Logs.  The area is filled with pieces of petrified wood of various sizes and lengths.

Giant Logs Trail area

Highest point on the Giant Logs Trail

We left the Jeep in the museum parking lot and walked about a quarter mile up the road to the beginning of the Long Logs and Agate House Trail.

This 2.6 mile trail goes through an area of long petrified logs and a pueblo constructed of petrified wood.

View from the Long Logs area

One of the numerous “long logs” in the area

The Agate House Pueblo in the distance

The eight room pueblo, built entirely of petrified wood, has been dated to approximately the year 900 and occupied through 1200. The agatized wood (wood petrified with agate) was laid in a clay mortar, instead of the more usual sandstone-and-mortar masonry of the area.  The ruins of Agate House were reconstructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933-34.

We returned to the Jeep and continued driving north through the park.  Our next stop was for a look at the Agate Bridge, located just a few feet from the park road.  Centuries of scouring floodwaters washed out a gully beneath this 110-foot long petrified log and formed a natural bridge. The petrified log, harder than the sandstone around it, resisted erosion and remained suspended as the softer rock beneath it washed away.

Early visitors to the park felt the bridge needed architectural support and in 1911 erected masonry pillars beneath the log.  In 1917 the present concrete span replaced the masonry work.  Current National Park Service philosophy allows the natural forces that create unusual features to continue, so if discovered today Agate Bridge would be left in its natural state.

Our next stop was to an area called Blue Mesa.  From a parking area on top of the mesa a one mile trail drops steeply down and makes a loop through badland hills of bluish bentonite clay and pieces of petrified wood.

Looking down from the mesa (trail is on the right)

Heading steeply down

Hiking the loop at the bottom

The same trail is steeper on the way back up!

Back on top of the mesa there is a viewing area where you can look down to the loop trail.  A display board there has an interesting story that caught our attention.  It describes a man who visited the spot as a boy, then returned to the same place 50 years later with his grandchildren.

He had a photo taken by his parents on his first visit.  Using the photo, he was able to find the same exact spot and had a new photo taken, 50 years later!

Our final stop of the day was at the Puerco Pueblo.  A paved walk takes you through the remains of a hundred room pueblo occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago.

The short, paved trail loops around the ruins and along the edge overlooking a dry wash.  The rocks below are filled with Indian artwork.  One display board shows a picture of a White Faced Ibis with a rock carving below it.

There are a number of different explanations as to what the bird is holding but the most logical is that it is a frog, since an Ibis eats frogs.

Contemporary indigenous people have identified the stairs-like symbol below as a migratory image.

The images below depict circular faces on a dark rock surface.  Modern groups identify these as Kachinas, or spirit beings in Pueblo religion and cosmology.

Throughout the Southwest, some petroglyphs (images carved into a rock surface) and pictographs (images painted onto a rock surface) have been found to mark astronomical events during the year, such as the summer solstice, winter solstice, and both spring and fall equinoxes. One such petroglyph can be easily viewed at Puerco Pueblo. For about two weeks around June 21, an interaction of light and shadow passes across the rings of this small, circular design as the sun rises.

Summer has arrived

The circle without a beam of light

There are more interesting places to explore in this park, so we’ll return tomorrow entering from the north.  More on that later . . .

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35 Responses to Petrified Forest National Park

  1. geogypsy2u says:

    40 years since I visited the Petrified Forest and am still in awe of the colors. Plus I remember that concrete supported bridge. Would rather see things go natural.

  2. Thanks for the tour! You captured the colors of the petrified wood beautifully! I remember that log bridge from when I visited there as a kid.

  3. Suzanne says:

    I really enjoyed this park, much more than I had anticipated. That Blue Mesa trail loop through the blue badlands was memorable, as I felt like I was on the surface of another planet!

  4. You guys did a great job of capturing the texture and colors of the petrified wood!

  5. pmbweaver says:

    We hate that type of set up, unless, of course, y’all were our neighbors.
    The historic Courthouse in Holbrook was pretty cool.

    The Petrified Forest is a “must see” for any one looking for beauty. The Agate House is just amazing to me. Your photos of Blue Mesa is outstanding. I remember seeing it for the first time…it just about took my breath away!

    Cool photo of 50 years later. Ruth and Kevin are doing lots of those photos in Europe.

  6. Jim and Barb says:

    Definitely worth the trip out there. Aren’t those petrified logs amazing? Incredible to thing how old they are!

  7. Gay says:

    Awesome post John! Very informative and full of beautiful pictures that spark my interest to want a visit there. The colors in the petrified wood is amazing!

  8. colibabas says:

    Looks like an awesome area that’s now on our to do list. Thanks for the tour!

  9. Sue says:

    I never thought much about petrified wood before visiting the park. Now I’m insane about the variety of colors and the forces that caused ordinary wood to turn to stone. I wouldn’t have liked that rv park, I really can’t stand that kind of hook up, opening my door right onto someone else…… I didn’t realize that the agate house was a “rebuilt” attraction, dulls the excitement a bit but seeing that many slices of “wood” in one place would be interesting.

    • placestheygo says:

      I, too, am fascinated with the colors in the petrified wood. The park movie did an excellent job demonstrating why there is so much petrified wood in this area and why so many colors. The RV Park really isn’t too bad. Your neighbor is not next to you but behind you because of how long each site is. Our site is so long that there is room for another RV behind our car.

  10. Gerri & Mike says:

    Great post!! We have a trip planned for this area this fall. It will be our first time….can’t wait!! Great photos!!

  11. Love, love, love the petrified wood! The colors are stunning.

    Looks like a fabulous place to visit. I love that the guy had such wonderful memories of this place over many decades!

    • placestheygo says:

      You and Hans would enjoy visiting this park. Besides the trails we did that John mentioned in the post, there are several Wilderness hikes that take you out into the areas the basic tourist doesn’t visit. The colors are beautiful!

  12. Jeff says:

    Beautiful pictures showing the colors of the petrified wood. The petrogylphs are always a special find. I’ve seen pictures of the petrogylphs at Rock Art Ranch near Holbrook, and would like to add that to a future trip also.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Jeff! The colors in the petrified logs behind the VC were so bright it was hard to not get a great photo. I did look at Rock Art Ranch, Jeff, but it was quite pricey ($40 a person) for the tour which only takes place once a day at 10:00 AM. There are petroglyphs so many other places for free.

  13. Ingrid says:

    I had very low expectations for our visit there last fall, and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. I really wanted to hike that Blue Mesa trail, but a nasty weather front was blowing through. So thanks for taking me there.

    • placestheygo says:

      I have been wanting to visit for awhile after seeing beautiful photos others had posted. We planned extra days here (and even extended) because we knew the weather could be iffy this time of year. We were able to get enough good days to see and do everything I wanted to. Glad we could take you below the rim of the Blue Mesa.

  14. Laurel says:

    Thanks for the great tour of the park—you saw many more things than we had time for in our half-day visit last year. We didn’t realize just how interesting the park would be and didn’t allow enough time. Next trip through, we’re definitely staying longer! Aren’t the colors of the petrified wood amazing? Love the ibis and frog petroglyph!

    • placestheygo says:

      You certainly can do a drive through the park and see almost everything briefly in a half day, but yes, you should return and do some of the Wilderness hiking below the rim.

  15. Im so glad you are taking two days to explore this colorful area. Not only you are bringing back memories but I learned something new that we may have missed or simply overlooked. Those logs are pretty amazing!
    That summer solstice marker is fascinating, I always believe the people before us are pretty smart.

    • placestheygo says:

      I am glad we planned for several days here so we are able to do some of the Wilderness hikes off the beaten path. You have think that the early people must have had some way to keep track of time so they knew when to plant.

  16. Sherry says:

    We were there in 2011 and found it fabulous. Stayed in the same park. Your post brings back happy memories. Love your “highest point” shot. Aren’t the colors in the “logs” amazing?? Those badlands are also incredible. Your pictures are really excellent. LOL at your caption “the same trail is steeper on the way up”. So true! Very interesting story of the 50 year photograph, I don’t remember that. Boggles the mind that indigenous people’s marked the Earth’s movement but we pretty much do mot. Great post.

  17. LuAnn says:

    We didn’t have as much time to explore this park as we would have liked. The petrified wood is really fascinating.

  18. regularguyadventures says:

    I was there last summer and have some of those same pictures framed in my house. Great post.

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