Crossing Historic Route 66 while going through Petrified Forest National Park

The Painted Desert

During our trip through Arizona and New Mexico we drove through a number of state and national parks. One of our favourites was Petrified Forest National Park, a place that had a wider variety of sights than we expected.

We came from the east side of Interstate 40 and took the north park entrance, making our way south using the park road
Park entrance

Near the north entrance was the painted desert, a section that also contained a number of overlooks. When driving along this section it was easy to stop and park to admire the view from a number of lookout points. The variety of the banded colours really stood out to us.

One of the first lookouts
Sometimes it was mostly reddish-browns and greys…
…and sometimes more greens were added
On the left at the top of the plateau you can see Painted Desert Inn National Historical Landmark

Near the lookouts was the Painted Desert Inn, a national historic site and a place that looked frozen in the 1920s. It’s a museum and bookstore now but back in the day it was used by travellers taking the original Route 66. Completed in 1920, it changed hands a number of times before closing in the 1960s. It was almost demolished in the 1970s but public support to save it led to the inn being designating a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

The film poster is of a Bette Davis/Humphrey Bogart/Leslie Howard film from 1936 that was set in the park
Nobody’s around anymore to make the 10 cent fountain drinks
Just outside the inn. This bird found a perch for a great view

After doing the lookouts in the north we made our way south through the park. At one point we crossed the remains of a road that was part of historic Route 66. The abandoned car and non-operating telephone poles are all that remained of this once-busy route. The road was in operation between 1926 and 1985. In 1985 it was decommissioned and Interstate 40 replaced it.

It’s been here for years
Nice theme for a bench along the original Route 66

As we went further south we came to Newspaper Rock. Nearby we could see the remains of a Puebloan settlement that held over 200 people at its peak. The continuously dry climate might have led them to migrate away from the area hundreds of years ago.

The reconstructed remains of ancestral Pueblo buildings originally dating back between 1250-1450

The rock itself had hundreds of petroglyphs that are estimated to be between 650 and 2,000 years old. With so many to see I could understand why it was a “newspaper” rock.

Using the sun, the summer Solstice marker helped the Pueblo plan for the changing seasons
The solstice marker up close

Moving south of the petroglyphs, we came to the Blue Mesa section. Here we saw the petrified wood formations for the first time. From a distance you would think they were still made of wood rather than crystallized rock.

Around Blue Mesa
A lot of variety in the landscape. Sometimes it was hilly, sometimes flat, and the colours were varied throughout the park
One of the larger petrified logs
This was Jasper Forest, the area with the highest concentration of petrified logs

Getting closer to the petrified logs made it clearer how they had changed from wood to rock while retaining the appearance of logs. It was impressive to think of the long process that replaced the dead wood with rock structures, preserving them slowly over time.

Still looks woody…
…but full of crystals up close

Eventually we made our way out the south entrance of the park as the sun was starting to get low on the horizon. We knew that we were going to get some impressive views and petrified wood when we researched Petrified Forest National Park, but the varied sights, ancient and modern history and great lookouts really made this place go beyond our expectations.

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