On the third day of our trip we woke up to a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. It had snowed overnight but had luckily stopped already.
We grabbed a much needed breakfast since we had just snacked for dinner the night before and once again packed everything up, checked out and loaded up the car. We would be spending the next two nights in Page (a welcome change from unpacking and packing every day). But before we could actually get going, we had to clean the snow off the car windows and ended up discovering the car was out of window wiper fluid. Throughout the rest of the trip we ended up tossing water on the windshields while running the wipers as an alternative since the car got pretty dirty.
Today, we were heading over to Petrified Forest National Park. The park is a little over 100 miles east of Flagstaff and about a 2 hour drive. The park was recommended to us by my cousin who had stopped by here during one of her trips in the area.
Petrified Forest National Park
Painted Desert Visitor Center (North Entrance) – 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ 86028
Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center (South Entrance) – 6618 Petrified Forest Road, Holbrook, AZ 86025
So although this national park is called Petrified Forest, it is not what you are probably imagining when hearing the name. It is not a park full of living trees. Instead it is referring to all the petrified wood found in the park. Petrified wood is basically like a fossil. It is wood that was buried and picked up sediment through the hundreds of millions of years and kind of crystalized and turned into what you see in the park. (That was probably a horrible explanation and you can read a more detailed description here.)
The park itself is mostly along one road that runs north-south with a visitor center at each end. The north entrance’s Painted Desert Visitor Center is just off the I-40 while the south entrance’s Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center is off the US-180 a little ways past the town of Holbrook. You can start at either end and drive to the other end.
Since we were planning to drive straight to Page after visiting the park, we chose to start from the south entrance so when we finished, we would be right by the I-40 which we needed to take to head towards Page. Upon arrival, we did not bother stopping in at the visitor center or museum but it looked like there was a lot going on with symbols for gift shops, food, restrooms, etc. by the entrance. There are also a few trailheads that start around here like the Agate House Trail and the Giant Logs Trail both known for viewing petrified wood.
We decided instead to start a little ways in at the Crystal Forest trail. This is a short loop trail about 0.8 miles roundtrip and is nicely paved. You will see tons of petrified wood and can get up close to them. Remember though, DO NOT TAKE ANY WOOD FROM THE PARK. You will see a lot of reminders about this and there is a fine. I think I also read somewhere that someone became cursed when doing so (hehe). Also, make sure to look up into the sky. It was a beautiful day and I loved the cottonball clouds above all the petrified rock.
After leaving Crystal Forest, we headed to what is probably considered the highlight of the park, the Blue Mesa Trail. The Blue Mesa Trail is a 1 mile loop but there is a steep portion to this trail where you descend into the badlands. The different color bands are really a beautiful sight and there are also pieces of petrified rock in the basin. The trail is very well paved and other than the descent/ascent portion, mostly the same elevation and easy to walk.
The last stop we took in the park was by Puerco Pueblo where you can see the foundation of an old village. There also restrooms here if needed. Afterwards, we drove the rest of the way to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. There are a few other trails and lookouts along the path and for the most part these trails are on the shorter side and more easily walkable for beginners. Basically a great national park for people of all ages and athletic ability.
We finished driving through the park around lunch time and our next stop was the hotel in Page so we decided to eat lunch at the visitor center where they do sell hot food. The food was underwhelming but the fry bread was pretty good. I would order that plain instead of in “taco” form like I did.
The drive from Petrified Forest National Park is basically west on the I-40 and then north on US-89. When the total drive time is about 4 hours. Unfortunately as we were heading west on the I-40 back towards Flagstaff, it started to snow and Flagstaff and the surrounding area was all covered in snow while it was snowing. I was driving and it was actually my first time to drive in snow since it’s not something you see much in sunny Los Angeles. The snow meant we had to drive slower but luckily it eventually stopped and somewhere on the US-89 we ended up back in sunny weather with no sign of snow at all.
As for driving on the US-89, the highway is mostly one lane although they do on occasion add a passing lane for about a mile at a time so you do have opportunities to pass slow vehicles. The scenery during the drive is actually quite beautiful and the sky was super blue with white clouds.
We had reserved two nights at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Page – Lake Powell Area (that’s right Holiday Inn throughout the trip). The hotel was more on the outskirts of Page but really close to Horseshoe Bend which we passed by right before reaching the hotel. Our room here was much bigger with a seating area and dining table. There was not a fully kitchen but there was a microwave, mini fridge and small sink.
We checked-in and did some unpacking then decided since it was still light out to head over to Horseshoe Bend to catch the sunset before grabbing something for dinner.
US-89 between mileposts 544 & 545
If you are on social media, it is highly likely you have seen someone post a photo of Horseshoe Bend as it is really popular with the social media crowd. It is not surprising because it really is a beautiful site and depending on what time of the day you go, it may look different under different light or cloud cover.
Things to keep in mind are that there is a fee for parking (and it is not covered by a national park pass since the lot is owned by the city of Page). Currently it is $10 per passenger vehicle. Apparently this is a newer thing because my parents came a few years ago and they said it was just an open area to park and a bit of a mess but though there is a fee now, it is much more organized. And while open year round, it is only open from sunrise to sunset and it makes sense because you would not see much in the dark.
From the parking lot is a 0.6 mile paved hike to the overlook where you can see a horseshoe-like bend in the Colorado River. The hike is fairly easy. I think I read that if you go when the sun is high in the sky, the water itself is more beautiful. We went around sunset so it was a bit dark in the canyon by the river but the setting sun as a backdrop was quite gorgeous. If it were not for the parking fee, I would have considered stopping by again when the sun was up since it was so close to the hotel.
When you are at the overlook there is now a guardrail that was installed in recent years in the center of the overlook but if you really wanted to hang closer to the cliff, the sides are not fenced in. People used to sit right on the edge of the cliff and take photos but it is dangerous, likely why the railing was installed.
We stayed there taking photos until the sun was almost gone and then walked back to the parking lot in the dark. Dinner was a quick stop at a Jack-in-the-Box.
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