When traveling Interstate 40 from Albuquerque to northern Arizona, a must-see is the Petrified Forest National Park. There are many landscapes to see throughout the park, including sprawling grasslands, impressive mesas, colorful badlands, and an array of flora along the Painted Desert Rim.
The most interesting feature of the park is, of course, the fossils of petrified trees that date back 225 million years to the Triassic period. That’s not the only history, though – you’ll also find out about the people who have been a part of the park, from prehistoric peoples 13,000 years ago to travelers on Route 66.
You can spend as little or much time as you want in the park. Most guests drive through the park, stopping at overlooks and viewpoints. There are also plenty of trailheads to stop at to go explore the park on foot, plus lots of hiking trails. There’s even room to park a trailer to unload your horse and roam the park on horseback.
You’ll probably start your journey at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, where you’ll find educational materials, gifts, and exhibits, plus a convenient gas station and restrooms. Once you leave the visitors center with brochures in hand, you’ll be ready to explore the sights:
Drive to the overlooks at Tiponi, Tawa, Kachina, Chinde, Pintado, Nizhoni, Whipple, and Lacey Points to see the red part of the Painted Desert
Visit the village at Puerco Pueblo, a large archeological site, and then use the free spotting scopes from the Newspaper Rock viewpoint to see the 650+ petroglyphs.
Either hike a mile or drive the 4 mile loop to Blue Mesa to see the erosion on the badland hills.
Hike the Crystal Forest, Jasper Forest, Long Logs and Agate House trails for a close-up look at the Triassic fossils.
Wherever your journey in the Petrified Forest National Park takes you, don’t forget the Leave No Trace ethic: stay on the designated trails, keep pets on a leash, leave what you find, and respect the wildlife.