Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Painted Desert

I saw the sign for Petrified Forest National Park as I was shooting down I-40 in Arizona last month. I almost didn't stop, because I'd not heard of it before and it wasn't on my itinerary. But I was doing good for time, and the random drifting and exploration is what makes my road trips special, so I got off the highway and turned into the visitor center. What's a few minutes spent finding out what's here, eh?

It was one of the best decisions of my trip.

The north part of the park is a small loop that takes you out onto the edge of the Painted Desert.
This badland is about 120 miles long by 60 miles wide, and it runs clear up to the south edge of the Grand Canyon to the northwest. It's arid desert made of siltstone, a soft rock easily cut by water. It has a heavy iron and manganese content that gives it it's unique coloration.
Beautiful as it is, I kept imagining myself as a cowboy on a horse or a wagoner behind a team trying to cross this land back in the 1800s. The terrain is near impossible to move over and there's no water anywhere.
You can't go out into this desert unless it's on foot with a permit, but I wasn't equipped or in shape for that. All the average visitor can do is stay on the park road and enjoy the views from scenic overlooks. I figured that I'd buzz right through, but it's so spectacular that I couldn't stop taking it in.
Remember the Grand Canyon pics from last week where I pointed out the San Francisco Peaks? Well there it is from the other side, just 120 miles away. And it's barren, trackless desert the whole way.
Most of this desert is still Navajo Nation today.
In a couple of these, you'll see flat stretches that look like roads. They aren't. They're just dry washes where the water from the very infrequent rains channels itself briefly. You wouldn't want to be caught in one of those when that happens, because they can flash-flood immediately with any kind of significant rain.
I need to come back here when I've got more time and conditioning and hike out there for a few days.


  1. I've probably been to 20 or so national parks/monuments. I have never been disappointed.

  2. Beautiful, and deadly...

  3. Another "next time" is Monument Valley up in the NE corner of AZ and over into UT. The views are gorgeous outside of the main area but, for an extra few bucks, you can drive in and all around (careful -- some areas are 4WD only but not marked) -- and it is utterly beyond spectacular! In the pre-dawn hours you'll also see the photographers headed out to get set up for that "break of dawn" shot -- I've got a couple that still knock my socks off. This is also the area to buy Navajo stuff -- it's the real McCoy (?) and, if you want something real nice, you'll find it at prices not *too* exorbitant. The town of Kayenta is about 45 minutes away from the main area of Monument Valley but, driving in, you'll stop and take pictures -- and you aren't even there yet. It's that good!

    1. Darn. Spent a night in Kayenta. So close!

  4. Another place where you just can't capture the majesty with a camera.....

  5. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Very Beautiful

  6. Stunning - thank you!