My friend Joan, aka Hemlock, had recently visited this national park and strongly recommended I do the same. Although I thought . . . petrified wood . . . ho hum . . . I knew Joan wouldn’t lead me astray.
YES, there was petrified wood, but what really enamored me were the sandstone formations. I’m quickly becoming a geology geek.
It’s strange to think that a mere 225 million years ago (and we think a decade or a century is forever), this area had a humid and sub-tropical climate with flora and fauna much different than today. Thanks to geologic activity, much of this history was preserved under silt, soil and volcanic ash allowing us to glimpse into the past.
There is only one road in the park and it runs in a general north/south direction. I entered from the southern end and spent my first day visiting the main attractions in that area including Long Logs, Agate House and Giant Logs. Of the three I’d recommend skipping Giant Logs.
Although the logs appear as if cut by human hand, the weight of the sandstone actually caused the splitting.
I obtained a wilderness permit for backcountry camping at the southern end of the park. I was looking forward to enjoying the sunset, a starry starry night, sunrise and the other surprises that come with sleeping in such a special place. It had been VERY windy all day, and after trying unsuccessfully to find an area protected from the high gusts, I finally gave up on the idea and headed to the park exit where there is free camping at a quirky museum and gift shop. I might have been pouting a little as I said goodnight to the possibilities.
A funny aside story from the day: Within 5 minutes of meeting an extremely flirtation guy from Quebec, he was ready to become my travel mate and friend with benefits, ah a story for another time . . .
I guess my guardian angel was looking out for me. The 6am rain showers turned to hail within the hour. Winds had grown more ferocious, the temperatures were biting cold. I elected to spend the bulk of the day in Holbrook, catching up on photos and internet chores. The quick passing storm opened the opportunity to spend the afternoon in the park where I hiked the Crystal Forest loop (recommend), then drove to Blue Mesa (impressive), the Tepees (recommend), and Newspaper Rock (a bust).
The park offers a unique program called “Off the Beaten Path Hikes.” The handout they provide includes a written description of the area and hike, a basic topo map and GPS coordinates for highlight destinations. The first area I explored was Jasper Forest where I found two unexpected surprises, a herd of pronghorn antelope and a colorful choo choo train.
The Blue Forest Trail was next on my list to explore. But first, I hiked the Blue Mesa paved loop trail and a bit of the connector trail. Hands down, my favorite section of the park.
Approaching the Blue Mesa area via the Blue Forest Trail is a very different look, but just as enchanting.
These little rocks on the trail were like marbles on a sheet of glass.
Today’s light was much better for viewing and photographing the Tepees area.
The Painted Desert is at the northern end of the park and is one of their more recent acquisitions. I had a wilderness permit for a short overnighter into this area while simultaneously planning to take another Off the Beaten Track hike, this time in search of the Onyx Bridge.
I met a hiker from Columbia, who’d camped nearby. We shared the hike to find Onyx Bridge.
SUCCESS!! Doesn’t look like much, but it’s a Triassic conifer tree that’s about 210 million years old. Still don’t know why it’s called Onyx Bridge.
The cafe at the Painted Desert Visitor Center had outstanding food, and what a great way to reward myself for a fantastic 4 days in the park, enough to know I’ll be back.
Time to find a hotel, the first in the 24 days I’ve been on the road.
Date(s) Hiked: 3/11-14/16
Road Trip Day(s) #21-24
- Don’t be fooled by the Museum/Gift Shop/Visitor Center flanking both sides of the road at the south entrance. They are private concessions. HOWEVER, they both allow for primitive camping. When I was there, camping near the facility on the east side was free. Camping on the west side included RV hookups and had a small fee. This is a convenient option as there is no car camping within the park.
- The gates at the entry/exit are closed at the end of each day. But don’t worry about getting locked in. They open automatically as you are driving out.
- Overnight parking and backcountry camping in the park are fairly restrictive. Information is available at the Visitor’s Centers.
- This is a great park for those who don’t hike. There are lots of views from the roads as well as many paved trails.
- Link to the Off the Beaten Path Hikes handouts
- Link to Hemlock’s Post about her Off the Beaten Path experiences.
- Links to my other Arizona Jaunts