Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park is just outside of Holbrook, AZ. The park itself is divided to both sides of the I40. We entered the park from Painted Desert Visitor Center (I40, exit 311). The first viewpoints showed scenery of Painted Desert with vibrant rock colours. We also met again with Route 66 before driving to the other side of the highway.
There are some ruins of ancestral Puebloan living and petroglyphs in scenery stops close to the Puerco river bend. Petroglyphs are thousand year old rock art found in the park and meanings of the pictures are unknown. Largest concentration of these pictures are marked on Newspaper Rock with over 650 marks pecked, carved or incised to it. The age of the pictures vary indicating that generations of people contributed to the messages on the boulder. Newspaper rock is visible from a viewpoint but it is not possible to get near it (probably to prevent possible vandalism on the rock) so no close up pictures could be taken.
My favorite parts of park were definitely short trails in Blue Forest and Crystal Forest.
Blue Mesa is a 3.5 mile drive loop with one mile long walking trail at the end of the loop (Blue Forest) and definitely worth the walk. It starts with a steep decent into a small valley with greyish-purplish hills all around it. It was like stepping into another universe or even a cartoon world. The colors on the hills were vibrant and the valley had petrified logs visible all around the paths. (Please note that it is illegal to take any rocks or wood, no matter how small, with you and help preserve the geologic features by keeping on the marked trail.)
I have used this term already few times so to explain petrified logs are fossilized trunks that look like gems or crystallized wood. It is prehistoric forest that has been buried ages ago under layers and layers of sediment and then crystallized over time. My other favorite part of the park was Crystal Forest. This is a bit shorter (0.75 mile) loop trail in a more flat terrain showcasing many colorful petrified logs.
This was definitely only a half day trip and gave us good time for driving late afternoon to Canyon de Chelly and onwards to Monument Valley.
Canyon de Chelly is a free entrance National Park on Navajo Nation lands. It is a rather small canyon (especially after just seeing Grand Canyon) but what makes it different and interesting are the marks of human habitation dating over 5000 years. We only had time to drive the south rim route showing us beautiful green canyon with peach trees grown at the bottom. White House Overlook gave a view of the Ancestral Puebloans housing from 1000 years ago. Most of the ruins were visible only from the North Rim route which we unfortunately did not have time to see.
For the night we drove north to Monument Valley but I will write more of that in the next post.