This was the LAST major stop on our 2016 road trip of awesome! I was REALLY looking forward to visiting the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in Arizona, it was actually one of the top items on my mega list of places to stop.
And while it was quite stunning to see, in the grand scheme of our trip it wasn’t as epic as, say, Monument Valley and Mesa Verde. Taken alone, perhaps I would have been more floored, but after seeing those marvel, this one kind of paled in comparison… though the colors and those trees! Still a sight to behold!
We didn’t really spend too much time in the desert, it was really just a drive through with stop for pictures, sightseeing, and short walks. Unlike other National Parks, this one had a very hands off approach (no touching the rocks, petrified wood, or, anything really!) so there wasn’t much beyond snapping pictures and walking and driving. While we probably won’t go out of our way to visit again, we are VERY glad we did drive through to check it out!
So now some background on this place! Enter, once again, my good friend Wikipedia!
The Painted Desert is a desert of badlands in the Four Corners area of Arizona running from near the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors, that not only include the more common red rock, but even shades of lavender.
The Painted Desert was named by an expedition under Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola, which he located some forty miles east of The Petrified Forest National Park. Finding the cities were not made of gold, Coronado sent an expedition to find the Colorado River to resupply him. Passing through the wonderland of colors, they named the area “El Desierto Pintado” – The Painted Desert.
The desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale of the Triassic Chinle Formation. These fine grained rock layers contain abundant iron and manganese compounds which provide the pigments for the various colors of the region. Thin resistant lacustrine limestone layers and volcanic flows cap the mesas. Numerous layers of silicic volcanic ash occur in the Chinle and provide the silica for the petrified logs of the area. The erosion of these layers has resulted in the formation of the badlands topography of the region.
In the southern portions of the desert the remains of a Triassic period coniferous forest have fossilized over millions of years. Wind, water and soil erosion continue to change the face of the landscape by shifting sediment and exposing layers of the Chinle Formation. An assortment of fossilized prehistoric plants and animals are found in the region, as well as dinosaur tracks and the evidence of early human habitation.
The Petrified Forest National Park, which runs into the Painted Desert is named for its large deposits of petrified wood, with an area of about 170 square miles encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands.
We had a lot of fun sightseeing, and even the kiddos had fun looking at the colors of the rolling hills, but it was a lot of time in the car, and time outside of the car was frikkin hot. So it wasn’t the excursion we were hoping it would be.. but still, a must see for this portion of the United States!