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Petroglyphs of the Petrified Forest

A Return to Petrified Forest National Park
Sunday & Monday, May 16-17, 2021

After an amazing Saturday checking out the ruins and rock art of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park we were now planning on spending the next two days digging deeper into the backcountry of Petrified Forest National Park. We had such a great time exploring the Petrified Forest last February that we couldn’t wait to get back for some more! Of course, we would have preferred to come back earlier in the year when it’s a bit cooler out and less crowded, but this would probably be our only opportunity this year, so we jumped at it. Since the park does not open until 8:00am we had time for breakfast in Holbrook before heading to the southern entrance of the park and arrived just a few minutes before they opened for the day.

Once the gates opened our first stop was at the Rainbow Forest Museum so we could obtain a backpacking permit for the night. Since the park opens up after sunrise and closes well before sunset, this would finally give me an opportunity to photograph in the park at those times, plus it would give us extra time to continue exploring the backcountry after the park closed. We ended up getting a permit for Zone 1 within the northern Wilderness Area of the park. With our camping plans for the night now squared away, it was time to go on our first hike in search of Petroglyph Canyon.

Walking across the badlands on our way to Petroglyph Canyon.

A Badlands Walk

We found quite a few petroglyphs in this area, although the light wasn’t great for taking photos of most of them while we were there. I guess that means we will have to stop by again on our next visit to the park!

Jump For Joy

Boulder Jumble Guy

One Sheep

Flute Player Designs

Disappearing Design

I’m not even sure what kind of creature this is supposed to represent?

Fuzzy Head

This fractured boulder has a nice line of sheep petroglyphs on it, along with a couple of hunters with bows and arrows.

Fractured Sheep Boulder

Stick ‘Em Up

Stick 'Em Up

Broken Man

Broken Man

After hiking back from Petroglyph Canyon we spent the early afternoon slowing driving north through the park and stopping to visit a couple of the areas that were closed for road construction during our visit early last year, which included the Crystal Forest, Jasper Forest Overlook and Agate Bridge. All of these areas were a bit busier than we liked and it was getting warm out, so we didn’t stick around too long at any of them.

Crystal Forest Petrified Log

Crystal Forest Petrified Log

Crystal Forest Petrified Wood

Crystal Forest Petrified Wood

Jasper Forest Overlook

Jasper Forest Overlook

Agate Bridge

Agate Bridge

Since the park was getting too warm and busy for our tastes in the afternoon, we headed back to Holbrook for a late lunch and to get a few supplies from the grocery store while we were in town. We then returned to the Painted Desert Inn later in the afternoon to pack up our backpacks and set off into the Petrified Forest Wilderness Area to find a campsite for the night. It was all easy hiking as we followed Lithodendron Wash until we reached the boundary of the Zone 1 camping area. We found a spot to camp, but it was way too windy to set up the tent at this time, so we left our camping gear there and headed off in search of some more petroglyphs before sunset.

Walking past the Painted Desert Inn before descending from Kachina Point into the Painted Desert.

Painted Desert Inn

Searching the mesa edges for petroglyphs…

High Desert Wilderness

We hiked a bit further than I had planned, but just before giving up and turning around we found what we were looking for!

Low Petroglyphs

Three pieces of a pot.

Three Pieces

Hidden Circles

Hidden Circles

There were a lot of great potsherds around.

Potsherd Designs

This was a very nice petroglyph panel up near the point.

Point Petroglyphs

Here’s a closer look at the petroglyphs.

Mother of Game

Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend too much time exploring the area since it took us longer to find it than I thought and we still had to hike back to our gear and set up camp before it got too dark out. We will definitely have to return to this spot another time.

The warm evening light on the hills was looking nice as we hiked back to camp just before sunset.

Evening Peak

Flat Top

Caprock Hill

Pintado Point viewed from Lithodendron Wash.

Pintado Point

Diane in Lithodendron Wash at dusk just before returning to our campsite.

Lithodendron Wash at Dusk

We quickly got our tent set up while there was still enough light out. Thankfully the wind had died down at sunset and the rest of the night would remain calm. It was perfect camping weather!

Back To Camp at Dusk

I woke up early on Monday morning to catch the sunrise while Diane slept in for a while longer.

Morning Point

It was a very nice morning in the Painted Desert!

Petrified Forest Wilderness Camp

Lithodendron Wash

Lithodendron Wash

Little Balanced Rock

Little Balanced Rock

I climbed up to the top of the little mesa behind our campsite to check out the surrounding views.

Mesa Top Exploring

Looking down to our tent. Diane was still in there sleeping.

Tent Below

When I returned to camp, Diane got up and we broke down camp and hiked back out so we could beat the heat. Then we drove back into the heart of the park so we could search for some more petroglyphs this morning.

Walking among the clay hills in search of petroglyphs…

Clay Hill

After hiking along the base of a mesa for a little while I was starting to think we wouldn’t find any petroglyphs here, but then we spotted this boulder and knew we were on the right path! After passing this boulder we found quite a few other amazing panels.

On The Right Path

Tilted Slab

Tilted Slab

Although this is not a big elaborate panel, this was one of my favorite finds of the day. Look at the toes on these elk!

Four Elk with Toes

Family of Five

Family of Five

You don’t find too many footprint petroglyphs that are anatomically correct.

Footprint Panel

These old petroglyphs were buried in the tumbleweeds.

Old Tumbleweeds Panel

Jumping

I think this might be the largest Claret Cup Cactus I have ever come across.

Big Red

If I hadn’t decided to climb up to the big Claret Cup Cactus above, I might never have found these amazing petroglyphs nearby!

Big Paws Panel

Lone Lizard Man

Lone Lizard Man

Upper Boulder Panel

Upper Boulder Panel

Round Design

Round Design

Gold Disk Boulder. This was the absolute highlight of the day. These petroglyphs were huge!

Gold Disk Boulder

Big Boulder Petroglyphs

The Middle

Right Side Petroglyphs

The sky was filled with nice clouds as we hiked back to the Jeep.

Following The Wash Back

Unfortunately, I started to not feel very well during the hike out and it took me a while to make it back to the Jeep. Our original plan was to head east on I-40 to El Malpais National Monument and then find a place to camp for the next couple of nights, but since I was not feeling well I thought it would be best to get a hotel room in Grants for a night to make sure I was feeling better for the rest of the trip.

>> Petroglyphs of the Petrified Forest Photo Gallery

2 Comments

  1. Claire
    Claire June 9, 2021

    Wow some of these petroglyphs are cut extremely deep and are so bold, bright, and clear – I’ve never seen any quite like that before! At the sites I’ve visited they are usually so weathered and you have to squint a bit to make out what it is. What a spectacular handful of finds, so well preserved.

  2. John Miller
    John Miller June 9, 2021

    That ‘critter’ has a hangover!! Fabulous petroglyphs and great photography.

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