April 2017 – One of the highlights on Route 66 is the Petrified Forest National Park where the enormous trunks of 200 million year old trees have turned to stone.
We have been to Petrified Forest National Park twice before, but it was on this trip that we finally found the true magic there.
We knew that the best way to see Petrified Forest National Park, like all the National Parks, is to get out on the hiking trails away from the crowds.
But it wasn’t until this visit that we discovered which hiking trails are the most stunning.
On our first foray into the Park on this trip we explored the area called Crystal Forest.
In every direction we saw the enormous trunks of trees that had been growing millions of years ago.
These trees had toppled over during torrential rains millenia ago, and had floated downstream only to end up in a deep and muddy logjam where they slowly and very gradually crystallized.
Over time, the pressure of moisture and ice within the logs broke them into segments.
Out on the vast treeless plain, we saw countless tree trunks that looked like a lumberjack had just sliced them up with a chainsaw in preparation for splitting them into firewood!
Here and there, the stump of a tree trunk stuck up from the ground and looked for all the world like the tree had just been felled.
All the tree rings were perfectly visible in a rainbow of crystalline colors.
The logs lay scattered all over the place, and in between were beautiful shards of petrified wood.
Some logs had been split so the tree rings were visible while others had been severed lengthwise showing vertical striations from the interior of the log.
In one area the shards that surrounded the logs look like woodchips. It was as if the lumberjack had just laid down his ax! These pale wood chips were very thin, just like ordinary wood chips, but these slivers of rock tinkled like a bell when dropped on each other!
We had wandered out at the “golden hour” about an hour before sunset, and as the sun sank below the horizon we were blessed with a beautiful sunset over these exotic rocks.
Even better than Crystal Forest, however, is Jasper Forest which is just a little further north. The overlook takes in a sweeping view.
In the distance, far below the Jasper Forest overlook, boulders and petrified logs intermingled.
When we stopped at the Visitors Center to find out where the best collections of petrified wood were in the Park, the ranger took out a large 3-ring binder labeled “Off The Beaten Path Trails.” He took out the trail directions, complete with photos, for a few trails and handed them to us. One set was for Jasper Forest.
The trail directions were a bit confusing, but they are actually very easy:
- Go to the north end of the Jasper Overlook parking lot and look for a narrow trail heading north from the last parking space in the lot.
- Follow this trail north and then west onto the wide plain that stretches out below the Jasper Forest overlook.
From there you can go in any direction you want, and we quickly ran off in opposite directions!
We were there in the harsh light of noon, so even though the rock logs were mind boggling, we knew they would be even more beautiful in the rich light of late afternoon.
So, we returned a little later with our cameras, and suddenly the logs came alive in vivid shades.
The skies were darkly overcast but the sun snuck through underneath and cast a brilliant light on all the stone tree logs.
As the sun sank towards the horizon, we were in awe of the beauty around us. We were also frantically running around trying to capture it as best we could while the sun teased us mercilessly!
At one moment the sun would pierce through the clouds and light everything up in bright orange and yellow, and at the next moment it would disappear all together behind the clouds!
The clouds were flying across the sky, making an ideal opportunity to use long shutter speeds to make them blur dramatically just as the sun set in a starburst.
Petrified Forest National Park is a great place to go with an RV, and it is surrounded by many of the most spectacular natural wonders of America’s southwest.
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More info about Petrified Forest National Park:
- Petrified Forest National Park – Official Website
- How Does Petrified Wood Form? – Geology.com
- OK RV Park – A spacious and friendly RV park in nearby Holbrook AZ
- Location of Petrified Forest National Park, Crystal Forest and Jasper Forest – Interactive Google Maps
Other blog posts from our travels in Northeastern Arizona:
- Navajo Bridge, Arizona — A Scenic Roadside Attraction in Red Rock Country
- Canyon Country Highlights – Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend & More!
- Canyon de Chelly – Breathtaking Views Under Vibrant Skies
- Blue Mesa Trail – Lavender Beauty in Petrified Forest National Park
- Getting Our Kicks on Route 66 by RV in AZ – Cool Springs, Winslow & Holbrook
- “Cliff Dwellers” on Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs Scenic Drive – A Fun Stop!
- Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley and Bears Ears
- Lees Ferry & Marble Canyon AZ + Pretty Paria River Hike
- Horseshoe Bend Overlook – Page, Arizona – Stunning!
- A Glimpse of the Navajo (or “Diné” as they call themselves)
- Mysteries in the Navajo Nation, Arizona
- Wire Pass Trail – Slot Canyon Hiking!
- Canyon de Chelly, AZ – A Canyon of Indian Cliff Dwellings
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