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The Painted Desert: Land of Light and Shadow

Homolovi State Park & Petrified Forest National Park
Saturday – Monday, January 13-15, 2024

For about a year now, Diane and I have been making pretty solid plans to spend most of the upcoming week in Grand Canyon National Park. Since we would be passing right through the Painted Desert on our way there, we were also looking forward to spending a couple of days in the Petrified Forest along the way. We certainly could never have predicted that after our first visit to Petrified Forest National Park in 2020 we would fall in love with exploring this amazing place and have now returned each year for the past five years. With so many places still left to explore in the park, we are hoping to keep the trend going well into the future!

Unfortunately, my Jeep was still out of commission after it wouldn’t start on New Year’s Day. By now the dealer had diagnosed the problem as the engine having bad rockers and a scored camshaft, but the camshaft was on backorder with no estimated time of arrival. We were certainly not going to cancel this trip because I didn’t have my Jeep, so I rented a small SUV for two weeks and was given a Ford Explorer to drive. Most of our plans didn’t require a high-clearance 4X4 vehicle this time, but I had originally booked the Painted Desert Ranger Cabin for two nights this weekend. I ended up cancelling those reservations a little more than a week before the trip since I wasn’t sure what kind of vehicle we would be driving and if it would be able to make it, so this time we opted to spend our nights at a hotel in Holbrook.


Place of the Little Hills: Homolovi State Park

Early on Saturday morning we loaded up the rental Ford Explorer and pointed it south as we drove through the Four Corners region and across the Navajo Nation on our way to the Painted Desert. Our timing turned out to be pretty good since we ended up passing through Bluff just as a couple of Hot Air Balloons were taking off. Instead of trying to squeeze in a hike at the Petrified Forest this afternoon, we instead opted to head over to the Little Colorado River near Winslow so we could spend a couple of hours in Homolovi State Park.

Welcome to Homolovi State Park!

Homolovi State Park Sign

After a stop at the Visitor Center we hiked across the ‘little hills’ to the Homolovi II Pueblo.

Place of the Little Hills

Homolovi II Pueblo

Homolovi II Pueblo

After wandering around the ruins, we spent the rest of the afternoon hiking the Tsu’vö, Diné Point and Sunset Cemetery trails. Then I hiked the Nasungvö Trail to the campground on my own while Diane met me there with the vehicle so I could complete hiking all of the trails in the park.

Tsu Vo Trail

Shortly before sunset we went on one final hike together to the Homolovi I Pueblo where we found potsherds scattered all over the ground.

Homolovi I Wall


Petroglyphs of the Painted Desert, Part II

Five Years in the Petrified Forest

After spending Saturday afternoon at Homolovi State Park and then spending the night in Holbrook, we headed over to Petrified Forest National Park on Sunday morning and arrived just as they were opening the gates for the day. We then spent the next two days hiking and exploring the backcountry in new areas of the park while searching for petroglyphs. Here are some photos from our short visit…

Our first hike led us down a shallow canyon into a rocky cove in a little-visited part of the park that we hoped would contain some petroglyphs.

Little Canyon

We knew we were on the right track when we quickly spotted a boulder with a couple petroglyphs pecked into one side.

First Petroglyphs

It was a lovely area to explore on this beautiful morning.

On the Hunt

Petrified Forest View

Wash Walking

It wasn’t long until we spotted another small panel of petroglyphs up high.

Petroglyphs On Top

High Design

There was no shortage of boulders to search along the way…

Exploring Boulders

Next, we came upon a larger site where multiple boulders held petroglyphs.


This boulder has cracked in two.

Broken Boulder Panel

I thought the hand petroglyph on this part of the boulder was very interesting.

Broken Boulder Petroglyphs

We found a couple large potsherds at this site, too.

Three Potsherds

Wandering the badlands of the Painted Desert.

Badlands Wandering

Dead Wash Hills

We finished our morning hike by finding this amazing panel on a large boulder!

Under Arms & Snake Bite

Look at the snake biting the toe of that large anthropomorph!

Under Arms Panel

The Point

The Point

After our morning search for petroglyphs, we returned to the Painted Desert Inn so I could hike the Rim Trail and Tawa Trail back to the Visitor Center, since these were the only two official trails remaining in the park that I had not hiked. Diane drove to meet me at the Visitor Center and then we had a late lunch at the Painted Desert Diner.

Views from along the Rim Trail.

Below the Rim Trail

Tawa Point View

Tawa Trail

Tawa Trail

Later in the afternoon we headed south through the park and stopped to hike around a small butte near the Jasper Forest. We had circled almost entirely around the butte and didn’t think we were going to find any petroglyphs here, but just then we spotted a few scattered panels.



Triangle Rock Petroglyphs

Triangle Rock Petroglyphs

Little Low Panel

Little Low Panel

After another night spent in Holbrook we returned to the park when they opened on Monday morning and stopped for this view of Pilot Rock from Whipple Point. Little did I know at the time that Paul and Joan happened to be camped somewhere down there in the wilderness.

Painted Desert Morning from Whipple Point

Of course, we then spent much of Monday morning and early afternoon searching for petroglyphs in another part of the backcountry.

Unreachable Boulder

Boulder Petroglyphs

Boulder Petroglyphs

Boulder Top Petroglyphs

This was certainly an unusual find in the backcountry. I’m assuming it might be from the CCC days, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about this piece of history.

Danger Explosives

Walking along the edges of a large mesa in search of petroglyphs.

Along the Mesa


Lichen & Dots

Lichen & Dots

After leaving the mesa behind we set out cross-country across the badlands to The Sinking Ship.

Around The Sinking Ship

Below The Sinking Ship

The Sinking Ship

It sure doesn’t seem like there is much out here…

Desolate Divine

Desert Veins

Desert Veins

We followed this shallow desert wash for a little ways.

Shallow Wash

Then we found this small panel of petroglyphs on a large boulder right in the middle of the wash.

Pictograph Tank Petroglyphs

Little Cracks

Little Cracks

On our way back to the trailhead we revisited a couple of petroglyphs that were in bad light on the way out.

Mushroom Top

Hidden petroglyphs up in the corner.

Up In the Corner

High Bear Panel

High Bear Panel

Little Guys & Feet

Little Guys & Feet

Tracks Panel

Tracks Panel

Our hike had taken up most of the day and it was starting to get late by the time we made it back to our vehicle, so we decided to call it a day and started our drive over to Flagstaff for the night. From there we would make our way to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday morning.

>> Land of Light and Shadow Photo Gallery

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