Petrified Forest:

Black trunks became colored stones

By Sylvie Berthiaume

This is a stunning mystery of nature. Hundreds of senior conifer trees that could reach 60 meters fell, more than 200 million years ago, near a former river. They have subsequently been covered with mud and volcanic ash minerals that have prevented them from rotting. The silica which then invaded them has led to the quartz, amethyst and jasper trunks that we see today. 

The palette of colors in each trunk is nothing less than hallucinating: something that would make jealous painters such as Jackson Pollock and Jean-Paul Riopelle.

In some cases, it is a white crystalline lens which has taken all the place. You must see it sparkling in the sun!

In the Petrified Forest National Park, the trunks can be admired on two sites where tens of specimens are grouped on hills easy to walk on. We would want to spend hours to scrutinize each trunk to remember its peculiarities and compare them to the other.

Gold and precious stones attract the vultures

It is not surprising that in the end of the 19th century and in the years 1940-50, there has been a new "gold rush" in this territory.

Needless to say that countless fossilized trunks and stones have also been sold and are therefore missing.

Fortunately, the status of a National Park protects what remains of it. It is therefore strictly forbidden to collect even the smaller fragments. You can however buy some at the Visitor Center, whose profits are dedicated to the preservation of the park.

Painted Desert: Colors in height

In the Painted Desert, from the territory of the Navajo Nation until the Hopi Buttes, the colors of the mesas, plains and hills offer an endless view that changes at the discretion of the layers of erosion, sand, clay and silt which were also accumulated over more than 200 million years. 

A desert whose scope is wide in the horizontal, and spectacular in height, with blue, green, pink, red, beige and gray layers and curves.

If you have time, find the Puerco Indian Ruin, where you can admire the remains of a former 14th century Pueblo village. 

Among the 600 historical sites in the park, you will also be able to discover, close or with telescopes, cave paintings on the cliff of the Newspaper Rock, pit houses and other ruins dating back 8,000 years.

Preparations required

Even if the circuit can be done in marked trails and on well-paved roads, you must be well organized to take optimal advantage of it, because the sun and the heat become overwhelming within a few minutes only. 

Of course: reserves of water (4 liters per person for the day), lightweight clothing, shoes and hat covering all parts of the body, including the neck. Forget sandals and flip-flops… We have seen parents and children suffer!

Imagine if you get off the beaten track… all survival supplies and accessories are then mandatory. And for all seasons, because the temperatures change much according to the places and the hour of the day and of the night. Yes, there may be thunderstorms. Yes, it can be cold.

Wild camping

It is possible to obtain a permit to stay one or several days in this National Park.

The required permit is issued at the Visitor Center at the entrance of the park.

43-km panoramic road across a territory of 380-square km

To see the accumulations of petrified trunks gathered in a few points of observation, while having breathtaking views of the stone walls of the Painted Desert, it is absolutely necessary to make the journey by car. At the time of writing these lines, no tour operator offers this possibility.

From Flagstaff, starting early in the morning and returning in the early evening, there is ample time to see the essential.

Easy: The ideal is to enter in the National Park by the South, to simply follow the road with a very good signage, stop at the points of view developed strategically, and finish the visit at the North of the park. Direct return to Flagstaff.

However, if one wants to deepen his or her knowledge and enter a little into the aboriginal culture of the Navajos, Mogollons and Pueblos Hopi or Zuni, it takes a few days and requires camping there.

The strange feelings of admiration and of human powerlessness left by the observation of these phenomena long occupy the mind.



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