ATLANTA TO SEATTLE ROAD TRIP – DAY 5: Spectacular & Serene – Petrified Forest

With our hearts filled with love for New Mexico, we moved forward in our road trip towards Northern Arizona. Our first stop was Petrified Forest National Park. The north entrance to the park was just off the I-40 on exit 311.

Directions to Petrified Forest National Park in Northern Arizona from Albuquerque, NM
Directions to Petrified Forest National Park in Northern Arizona from Albuquerque, NM

The park had 28 miles of paved road that offers overlooks with vistas of Painted Desert, access to hiking trails and wilderness.

We parked our car at the Tiponi Point overlook, the first stop in the park from where we could admire the exceptional beauty of the painted desert. The tranquil views of colored lands and open sky made us forget the sadness in our hearts for leaving New Mexico and got us ready for enjoying our day in this 221,552 acres of vast, open and colored land of fossils in Arizona. We hiked down a small trail to the side of the overlook and found ourselves within the painted desert in just few steps.

Standing within the painted desert just off the Tiponi Point Overlook in Petrified Forest National Park
Standing within the painted desert just off the Tiponi Point Overlook in Petrified Forest National Park
Standing within the painted desert just off the Tiponi Point Overlook in Petrified Forest National Park
Standing within the painted desert just off the Tiponi Point Overlook in Petrified Forest National Park

Next we pulled our car to the Tawa Point overlook, within half a mile distance the scenery changed incredibly.

View from Tawa Point Overlook in Petrified Forest National Park
View from Tawa Point Overlook  of the Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park

At the Kachina Point overlook, stands the Painted Desert Inn, which boasts extensive views of the Painted Desert. At the overlook the description of the forest read this:

Get Lost - Landscape of the Petrified Forest is still within me and in my imagination
Get Lost – Landscape of the Petrified Forest is still within me and in my imagination

The unforgettable landscapes of the Petrified Forest that I experienced while sitting just in front of this description board are still within me and my imaginations. These badlands were so quiet and peaceful, that there was just the sense of oneness with the nature around. We sat there for more than half hour before it started to drizzle. That’s the uniqueness of the wild – weather changes frequently. The sunniest of the day can transform into cloudy stormy sky with a downpour in minutes.

Badlands of Painted Desert as seen from Kachina Point
Badlands of Painted Desert as seen from Kachina Point

Our next stop was Puerco Pueblo. I didn’t take many pictures of the pueblo remnant site, but at the parking lot, I was attracted to a small blue matador van, owned by a lady from Germany on tour with her dog. From the quick glimpse I got, it was a functioning RV with a personal touch.

After learning about the Puerco Pueblo’s history and spotting hundreds of Petroglyphs at the Newspaper Rock, we headed ahead to the Tepees.

The cone shaped Tepees, are layers of blue, purples and grays which were created by iron, carbon, manganese and other minerals.

While Aman went near to one of the Tepees – to experience this amazing geology more closely, I spent my time taking pictures of the Tepees from different angles.

A slightly closer look of the Tepees, juts off the park road
A slightly closer look of the Tepees, just off the park road.
The cone shaped formations, Tepees - as seen from the park road.
The cone shaped formations, Tepees – as seen from the park road.

We then entered the 3-mile loop road of the Blue Mesa. The road had views of badlands, log falls, and pedestal logs. We made stops at different points to take in the beauty of this extraordinary landscape. Within a span of 5-10 mins weather changed drastically from partly cloudy skies to thunderstorms. You can see in some of the pictures below, how the storm was about to hit the Blue Mesa (right frame of the images).

When we were at the trailhead of the Blue Mesa, about to go down to immerse ourselves in these unusual geological formations, a terrible storm (which was following us in the photos above) hit us and we returned back to our car after a few steps. I saw many other people who went down ahead of us coming back up, including few photographers.

It was a serious storm with no visibility ahead of us for 15-20 mins. So we sat in our car, relaxing, waiting for it to pass and get out of this place as soon as possible.

When the rain turned to drizzle, we moved our car ahead and halted at an overlook. I took few photos of the beautiful Blue Mesa landscape with my Nexus 5.

Blue Mesa as seen from the overlook.
Blue Mesa as seen from the overlook.
Pano of the Blue Mesa with my Nexus 5
Pano of the Blue Mesa with my Nexus 5 taken from car

We then proceeded towards the end of the park road. Near the south entrance of the park is the Giant Logs trail, just behind the Rainbow Forest Museum. We walked the Giant Logs trail for about and hour and learned about the petrified wood. Looking at an amazing creativity of mother nature here made Aman and me both delighted. I have no words to express the joy we experienced here. It was just something out of this world for us. I will like to shout out to the readers and their friends and family to report and return any piece of petrified wood you find in someone’s possession.

Petrified wood literally means – wood turned into stone. You can learn more about the petrified wood at the link here: Petrified wood

After appreciating the beauty of petrified wood at Rainbow Forest, we went onto a mile and half long trail to see the Long Logs and Agate House. Agate House is an Indian pueblo built almost ten centuries ago. Its walls are built with petrified wood sealed with mud mortar. The site is not the original dwelling, but was reconstructed after its archaeological excavation in 1934.

Agate House - Indian Pueblo, reconstructed in 1934.
Agate House – Indian Pueblo, reconstructed in 1934.

Agate house was the last stop in the park. We now had a choice to either exit through park’s south exit and hit I-40, or go back to the north of the park and revisit some of the points and visit some overlooks which we missed earlier. We decided to stay till the park’s closing time, i.e. 7pm, and see the sunset surrounded with this peaceful landscape.

Before heading north, we wanted to see few more spots which we missed earlier because of heavy rain storm in that area. So we first halted at the Agate Bridge. This bridge is made of a large petrified log spanning a gully.

Agate Bridge - taken with Nexus 5
Agate Bridge – taken with Nexus 5

Near the Puerco Pueblo, park road crosses the Santa Fe railroad crossing. It was a busy railroad; every 2 minutes there was a train. When we were on the bridge just above the railroad crossing on our way back, I heard the sound of train coming. We parked our car in the middle of the road (there was not much traffic now) and I stepped out to take some photos of the train crossing through the park. To my luck, there were two trains crossing to each other and I took the opportunity to make this photo below.

Santa Fe railroad crossing
Santa Fe railroad crossing

Nowadays I-40 cuts through the park, but in yesteryears its predecessor, Route 66, used to cross from within the park. Down below is a shot of a 1932 Studebaker standing tall on a preserved segment of Route 66.

A 1932 Studebaker sits where Route 66 once cut through the park
A 1932 Studebaker sits where Route 66 once cut through the park

After the Route 66 alignment we started moving towards Painted Desert overlooks, as the sun was about to set.

We parked our car at the parking lot of Painted Desert Inn, and went down the trail which goes to the wilderness area of Painted Desert to be explored on its own. As we were moving down, sun was gradually setting down. While on the trail, I saw the setting sun peeping through one of the hills of the desert.

Sunset in the wilderness of the Painted Desert
Sunset in the wilderness of the Painted Desert

We made our way up, before it was dark. And it was almost time for the park to close – 6:55pm. We now decided to exit this mesmerizing park, where we spent our whole day. The wilderness and quietness of the park was forcing us to stay here forever and get lost. But..but..but we had to leave.

Experiencing Petrified Forest was one of the most memorable day of our whole trip. There are no words or pictures to describe what we saw through our eyes and felt through our hearts. But it was time to move forward.

Our next destination was Grand Canyon National Park. Before exiting the Petrified Forest National Park, I was repeatedly telling Aman that although Grand Canyon is known for its phenomenal  landscape and is favorite amongst the tourist & locals traveling to Arizona, I bet (atleast for myself), that Petrified Forest is more spectacular and serene. I was right about serenity, not grandiose.

We then drove from Petrified Forest to Grand Canyon to sleep the night in our car at the visitor center of the Grand Canyon, as we wanted to see the sunrise in Grand Canyon. The night in the car was an experience in itself, which I will spare the readers from.

Directions from Petrified Forest to Grand Canyon via the highlighted blue route.
Directions from Petrified Forest to Grand Canyon via the highlighted blue route.

Summary of the Day – Miles travelled: 414; Hours driven: Approx 6  ; Time zone change: From MT to MT; States crossed: New Mexico and Arizona; National Parks: Petrified Forest National Park.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Chad Belinfanti says:

    Wow this is truly incredible!

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