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The Painted Desert: Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Wood, Potsherds & Petroglyphs
My 40th Birthday Foray into Arizona and New Mexico
Friday – Sunday, February 7-9, 2020

This year I turn 40, so I decided to take the week of my birthday off from work so I could spend it hiking and backpacking with Diane in Arizona and New Mexico where it would hopefully be a little warmer and sunnier than it has been in Grand Junction this winter. I have been planning this trip for months and was originally going to start the trip off with a tour of the rock art and ruins in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, but unfortunately those plans fell apart shortly before the trip started, so instead we ended up spending the entire first weekend of the trip exploring Petrified Forest National Park since I knew there would be plenty to do there to keep us busy.

Diane and I left home after work on Friday evening and drove straight through to Chinle, Arizona where I had booked a hotel room for the night. Although I could have cancelled the reservation since we were no longer going to Canyon de Chelly, I didn’t really want to drive any further and later on the first night, so it was a good stopping point. We arrived late and went right to bed so we could get up early on Saturday morning and finish the drive across the Navajo Nation to Petrified Forest National Park. We arrived shortly after the park opened at 8:00am, made a quick stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center and then started our tour of the park. Of course, it figures that I planned our first visit to the park when the main road was closed for bridge work, so we decided to spend Saturday in the northern portion of the park and then would spend Sunday in the southern half of the park. The road closure meant that we would not be able to visit Jasper Forest and Agate Bridge at all on this trip, but luckily there is still a lot for us to find at Petrified Forest and I know we will be returning in the future!

Welcome to Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park Sign

Our first stop of the day was at the Puerco Pueblo where we saw a few ruins and a couple of nice petroglyph panels.

Puerco Bird Panel

Puerco Designs

Petroglyphs Below

Next we headed to the overlook of Newspaper Rock. This looks like a pretty amazing petroglyph panel from above, but this is the closest view you can get since you are not allowed to hike to it anymore.

Newspaper Rock

We continued down the road to the Tepees and then parked in a pullout for our first real hike of the day on the Historic Blue Forest Trail. This trail was originally constructed between 1934 and 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and connected the lower and upper Blue Mesa roads. In 1955 the trail and lower road were closed and replaced by the Blue Mesa Loop Trail. In 2013 the Blue Forest Trail was re-established for adventurous hikers as it winds through colorful blue and white bandland hills. I think it was good first hike and introduction to the park.

Clay Hill

Blue Mesa Trail Scene

Barren Landscape

Purple Hill



When the Blue Forest Trail met the paved Blue Mesa Loop Trail, we hiked all the way around the loop before returning.

Blue Mesa Loop Trail

Blue Mesa View

After returning from the Blue Forest Trail we finished driving the Blue Mesa Loop Road which was as far as we could drive in the northern part of the park. Although there were other hikes in the Blue Forest area that we could do, I was more interested in returning to Kachina Point at the northern end of the park so we could hike into the wilderness of the Painted Desert and visit Onyx Bridge in the Black Forest.

A view of the colorful Tepees after finishing our hike.

The Tepees

Hiking down the trail from the Painted Desert Inn into the Petrified Forest Wilderness Area.

Trail To The Wilderness

As we got closer to Onyx Bridge the washes we were following were filled with a bunch of petrified logs.

Wood Wash

Finally we reached Onyx Bridge, which is a large Triassic conifer tree that has eroded out of the Black Forest Bed of the Chinle Formation. It’s about 210 million years old.

Onyx Bridge

We explored the area around Onyx Bridge and found quite a few other petrified logs, including this one that was falling piece by piece over the edge as the ground beneath it erodes away.

Falling Over The Edge

After hiking back through the wilderness on this windy afternoon we stopped to visit the museum at the Painted Desert Inn since we were right there. This large petroglyph of a mountain lion was inside and was found on the east side of Blue Mesa in 1934 by Myrl Walker and a colleague. With the help of the CCC it was removed and put on display.

Mountain Lion Petroglyph

Before leaving the park we stopped at a few of the nearby overlooks including Chinde Point, Whipple Point and Lacey Point.

Lacey Point View

Unlike most National Parks I visit, this one closes at 5:00pm so there’s not really an opportunity to photograph the park at sunset. Instead, we decided to leave a little early and head over to the Little Painted Desert Overlook near Winslow so we could stay and watch the sunset over the Painted Desert. We arrived about an hour before sunset and watched the light change on the landscape below us until the dim light of twilight disappeared. It was a great place to watch the sunset, but the wind had picked up so it was a bit cold standing on the rim watching the show. When the light was gone we returned to Holbrook, grabbed dinner in town and then retired to our hotel room.

Hills & Shadows

Hills & Shadows


While we were watching the light change on the landscape below us, Diane noticed the full moon was rising in the other direction, so I pointed my long lens that direction for a shot of the Snow Moon above the horizon.

Snow Moon Rising


Evening Light

Little Painted Desert with the Earth’s Shadow

Little Painted Desert Earth Shadow

Pastel Badlands

Pastel Badlands

There was a nice alpenglow cast across the landscape after the sun set.

Late Evening Glow

Little Painted Desert at Dusk

The Rincon Basin during Twilight

Rincon Basin

After a nice introduction to the northern end of Petrified Forest National Park on Saturday it was time to head into the south end of the park on Sunday morning. Since the park doesn’t open until 8:00am we got to sleep in a little later and have a good breakfast first. When we arrived at the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center there was no one else around yet, so we went on a quick hike along the Giant Logs Trail while we were there.

The highlight of the Giant Logs Trail is Old Faithful. This behemoth is 35 feet long and weighs an estimated 44 tons. Back on June 29, 1962 it was struck by a bolt of lightning that caused substantial damage. At the time, the staff rebuilt the log and added some concrete for stability.

Old Faithful

Here’s a close look at a colorful piece of petrified wood we passed.

Petrified Wood Detail

I was really looking forward to our hiking today since we planned to spend the entire day exploring the backcountry of the park looking for petroglyphs. We started out by following Dry Wash from a pullout along the road and then headed cross-country to Marthas Butte and beyond. We found a lot of petroglyphs as we searched the boulders of low cliffs. There were so many that I was kind of tired of finding new ones as the day neared its end. While there was some blue sky in the morning, as the day progressed the sky got cloudier and overcast and it was very windy out. This was my favorite hike of the weekend since we were off the main trails and road, we found a lot of rock art and we had complete solitude since we didn’t see another person all day. It was awesome! Below are some of the rock art highlights from the day!

The Spiral Boulder

The Spiral Boulder

Big Slab Panel

Big Slab Panel

Hidden Spiral

Hidden Spiral

Two Birds & One Sheep

Two Birds & One Sheep

Slab Side Panel

Slab Side Panel

Bear Paw Boulder

Bear Paw Boulder

Marthas Butte

Marthas Butte

Single Petroglyph

Down The Wash

Snakeman Panel

Besides finding petroglyphs all over the place, we also found quite a few potsherds scattered on the ground, including some pretty large pieces.

Big Potsherd #1

Big Potsherd #2

Desert View

Low Boulder-Strewn Cliff

Potsherds & Petrified Wood

Potsherds & Petrified Wood

Searching For Petroglyphs

Searching For Petroglyphs

Among Boulders

Big Boulder

Boulder Design

Boulder-Top Panel

Squared Boulders

This boulder was my favorite find of the day and had I almost missed it! I love the designs and the fact that the boulder is now cracked right through the panel.

Cracked Boulder Panel

Finding the Starving Man Panel was another highlight of the day. While I had seen photos of this one before, I had no clue where it was and hoped to find it today.

Starving Man Boulder

Big Face on a cliff.

Big Face

Hand Panel

Snake Panel

Dots & A Bird


Angled Slab

Hidden Cove Guy

After searching for petroglyphs all day it was time to head back across the desert to our vehicle.

Headed Back

We found an area with a lot of petrified wood and logs on the way back that we stopped to explore.

Petrified Hills

Before leaving the park we stopped to hike to the Agate House ruins and the Long Logs Trail. The Agate House was a seven room pueblo that was constructed from petrified wood.

Agate House

Colorful petrified wood in a wall of the Agate House.

Agate House Wall

One last look at the Agate House before we hiked around the Long Logs Trail and then returned to the trailhead.

Agate House Ruins

The park was closing for the day soon so we headed back to Holbrook for dinner and to rest for the evening. We had a really nice weekend exploring Petrified Forest National Park for the first time and look forward to returning again. It was a nice way to start my 40th birthday foray into Arizona and New Mexico!

>> Petrified Forest National Park Photo Gallery

One Comment

  1. Stephanie Barnard
    Stephanie Barnard February 23, 2020

    Happy Birthday! Great photos (as always).

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