Petrified Forest National Park is located in the northeastern corner of Arizona, United States. The park covers an area of 229.6 square miles (594.6 sq km).
The park is renowned for the comprehensive collection of petrified trees. These are some of the most fascinating facets of nature found anywhere in the United States. However, the park offers so much more than encounters with these solidified trees.
The park is comprised of badlands, buttes, fossils, mesas, petroglyphs, wildflowers, and wildlife. Although much of the park can be seen from the scenic drive and short vista hikes off the main roads, there is so much to discover and explore once you exit the comforts of the car and main road.
The park sits at an average elevation of 5,400 feet (1,600 m) featuring over 400 species of vegetation. Grasslands comprised of blue grama, bunchgrass, and sacaton are some the most prevalent of the 100 plus species of grasses.
The grasslands give way to a number of wildlife species. Pronghorns are one of the most commonly seen with hopeful predator sightings including bobcats and coyotes. There are over 200 species of migratory and resident species of birds for the birdwatchers who visit the park. The golden eagle is probably the most exciting bird species.
The main attraction of the park is the fossils from the Late Triassic Epoch period. The majority of fossils are the petrified trees that are scattered across the landscape.
Most visitors come to capture glimpses of the terrain and see the abundant landscapes that feature petrified forests. The petrified trees are certainly a highlight of the park.
The Painted Desert extends beyond the boundaries of the Petrified Forest, but the national park boundaries do include a good portion of the painted desert. The desert is comprised of layers of mudstone, shale, and siltstone. The sediments are rich in iron and manganese which account for the variation of colors across the hills.
The whole desert is about 120 miles (190 km) long and 60 miles (100 km) wide. Only a portion of the desert is in the national park, but a visit to Petrified Forest allows you to experience facets of the painted desert as well. The varying colors and rolling hills and mesas create magnificent landscapes.
Petrified Forest National Park Trails
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the park and the best way to experience much of what the park has to offer. Although there are lookouts along the scenic drive through the park that provides panoramic views of the area, hiking is the more meaningful way to engage the wilderness.
The park has seven maintained trails that vary in length from under half a mile (0.8 km) to around 3-miles (4.8 km). Backpackers can secure a permit for remote wilderness hiking and overnight stays in the park.
Crystal Forest Trail
This is a short ¾ mile (1.2 km) paved trail with a few steeper elevation changes. It gives a nice glimpse into the petrified trees of the area.
Giant Logs Trail
This short 0.4-mile (0.6 km) trail provides views of some of the largest of the petrified forest remains. It is a must for those who want to see the petrified trees.
Long Logs Trail
This is a 0.5-mile (0.8 km) roundtrip trail that is rated it easy. It features the longest petrified tree in the park at 116-feet (35.3 m). It rests right alongside the trail which also provides views of the picturesque badlands.
Blue Mesa Trail
This is a 1-mile (1.6 km) roundtrip trail with a moderate rating. The trail makes a fairly steep descent down into the badlands below the Blue Mesa. It provides views of the mesa and striations and colors of the hillside.
Painted Desert Wilderness Trail
This is a more strenuous trail with switchbacks and elevation changes as you explore the badlands, grasslands, and portions of the Painted Desert. This also requires navigational skills and the ability to retrace your steps back.
Petrified Forest Highlights
- Rainbow colored petrified trees
- Painted Desert
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- National Park Service, Petrified Forest, https://www.nps.gov/pefo/index.htm, retrieved June 2020.
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