For our second visit to Petrified Forest NP, we drove 25 miles east on I-40 and entered the park through the north entrance where the Painted Desert section is located. The Painted Desert is a large area of badlands that runs across northern Arizona from the Grand Canyon on the west to the Petrified Forest on the east. The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors.
We stopped briefly at the visitor center before continuing a short distance into the park to the Painted Desert Inn.
The Painted Desert Inn is the location of two trailheads. One is the Rim Trail, a half-mile paved trail that runs along the mesa rim overlooking the Painted Desert. The other trailhead is for the Onyx Bridge Trail, a 2.5 mile hike to the Onyx Bridge.
After enjoying the view from the inn we set out on the Onyx Bridge Trail. The first few feet are paved but the trail then turns to dirt as it quickly drops about 300 feet into the desert.
Once on the desert floor the trail winds its way through hills of bentonite clay.
The defined trail continues through the hills for about a quarter mile before ending in the flat desert wilderness. From there you choose your own way north through the desert until you reach a wide wash.
The Lithodendron Wash winds its way through the wilderness. It is mostly dry but wet spots and puddles show that it flowed with water recently.
We followed the wash north until we came to a second pronounced bend to the east. From the bend we turned west and followed a small drainage until it split. Following the right side until it split again, we came to an area called the Black Forest, named after the numerous large black pieces of petrified logs.
Just past the Black Forest we climbed a steep rock fall leading up to the top of a mesa.
At the top we turned to the right and came to the Onyx Bridge. The exposed portion of fossilized log which is the Onyx Bridge is approximately 30 feet long and is about 210 million years old.
Looking back to the south we could see the Painted Desert Inn on top of the mesa in the distance.
Once back up at the top we spent a few minutes exploring the Painted Desert Inn. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation completed by the CCC. The area around one of the lower entrances was left uncovered during the renovation, and you can see the original petrified wood. Although it once served as a six room overnight facility, it functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation or food service. Displays inside highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and the CCC.
Hopi artist Fred Kabotie was engaged to paint murals inside the Inn as part of the 1947–48 renovations. Kabotie’s work depicts aspects of Hopi life, including a journey through the Painted Desert to collect salt.
We left the Inn and drove about six miles further into the park to where the old Route 66 at one time crossed through the park. Nothing remains of the old cross country highway, but the park service marks the location with a couple of “automotive” displays.
As we headed out of the park we stopped a couple of times to enjoy some great views.
That concludes day two of our visit to Petrified Forest National Park. We have one more day of exploration before we move on. More on that later . . .