Friday, July 17, 2015

Petrified Forest National Park

From southern Arizona, I headed north and a little east to the Petrified Forest National Park. There are no more trees standing though. It's a lot of barren looking land in different colors and textures. It once was a forest and a swamp. I think if I were more into geology and the history of the earth (e.g. dinosaurs), it probably would have made more of an impression on me. That said, the fallen trees that have turned to stone and the landscape I got to explore all on my own were two things I really enjoyed. 

One of the stops in the park was called Newspaper Rock and I've since come across other similar sites. It's a rock/area where petroglyphs were carved into the rock. They don't necessarily know the purpose - social function, just for fun, communication, etc. In this spot it was a bit hard to see the graphics but later in Utah I would see a good example.

It's down at the bottom of those big rocks. 

I went to the visitor center next and got to see some trees. This was a big trunk largely in tact. In the visitor center, there were some cross sections that were all polished up and you could still see the rings. It was pretty cool.

There I was told about the Devil's Playground. It's a newly opened (to the public) area of the park but it is still highly restricted. They only issue something like three permits per week. It was late in the day so I wanted to camp out and get the permit to hike the next morning. I was in luck - one more permit for the week. But it would require me to be up and in line the next morning before the visitor center opened and hope I made it there first (first come, first serve). So the lady was getting me checked in, we were almost done and then she asked if I would want to camp in the Devil's Playground and then I'd be there already to hike. Yes! Much better sounding than getting up super early to wait in line. And boy was I lucky. The guy behind me in line was helped by the next lady and he wanted a permit too. Unfortunately for him, I had just taken the last permit for the week with my new camping plan.  He was not happy. I tried to ask if we could go together since the permit is for a group not per person. But he was wanting to hike that day, not camp out. He was clearly pissed and made a comment about driving four hours just for the Devil's Playground. Sorry bud, it was late afternoon at that point and he clearly didn't try that hard since 15 minutes earlier it could have been his. Guess he needs to get up earlier next time ;). I felt bad at first but quickly got over it after his under the breath comments. 

Here's the corner of the park where the playground is. I actually parked on private property and walked along a trail for a couple miles before I got to the fence of the park. There are three markers on the map and those were what I intended to find in the morning.

Here's the trail markers I followed. I lost them for a few minutes in a couple areas because there also weren't a lot of footprints to follow given that so few permits are allowed.

It was definitely just me out there though :). No lights, no phone signal and no human noise.

The sunset was really great but I just got into the park boundary about that time and needed to find my camp site and set up.

I did it before it was too dark. But the moon was out and bright, so even when it was dark it wasn't too bad. This is the moon from inside my tent. Those are my hiking poles silhouetted to the left. 

My campsite (in the morning).

This was a neat rock that looks like it may crumble or just peel away. A lot of the landscape seemed like mud and sand that had been hardened but was still soft. 

The effects of water and erosion were everywhere. This was a wash area where you could imagine the stream flowing when it rained. 

And then I came across this petrified tree, seemingly lying undisturbed where it landed millions of years ago. It was like being the first one to discover it and felt pretty neat. 

Here are some landscape pics:

I climbed up, down and around doing my best to be careful since I was solo and not many people find their way out there. Since it is new and remote, there are no trails. You are free to explore where you want. I didn't stray too far and easily found my way back to camp. What wasn't easy was finding those rock formations from the map. I had my compass but only the picture of the map I had taken from a sign inside the main park. So it wasn't too detailed and I didn't know what the formations looked like, just their names. There had been pictures on the sign but I wasn't smart enough to take pictures of those. But I had fun exploring regardless....and I may have seen them and just not known it :). I only tripped once but caught myself on a rock. I was happy to not have fallen and had a large bruise for about a week as a reminder. I explored for a few hours before packing back up and hiking out. 

If you get out to this park, I highly recommend trying to get the playground permit. It was lots of fun. In the main park, I really like the namesake stone trees. But don't try to take any pieces home! You drive over a scale on your exit to help keep you honest ;). 


  1. Hi, I came across with your blog trying to find any personal experience exploring Petrified Forest Park. For me it made more clear what is the Park about. But still I have some dark spots. We (group of 4 friends) are going to visit this park in August, 2016. We aren't going to camp up there, we just have couple hours (2-4 h.) to explore. I chose two trails - Jasper Forest (First Forest) Road and The Devil’s Playground. The last one seems difficult to explore, but we will try. Could you please answer couple questions.
    1. How many trails did you explore?
    2. What would you recommend?
    3. Is it possible to explore The Devil's Playground for a couple hours? And does it worth?

    P.S. We are from Belarus, but live in Austin. Have you been in Austin, Texas? =)

    1. Hi Kate! It's fun to know that the blog is helpful :). With only 2-4 hours I would say you should plan to do a drive through of the park and stop off at a few of the trails from there. It can take a while to just drive through, so depending on your time you may want to do a few short hikes instead of one big one? When I was there the Devil's Playground required a special permit and has a different entrance that takes quite some time to drive to and then it's a mile or two hike in I think.

      You can typically find on the national park website the "park newspaper" that they give you when you come into the park. It is usually very helpful. It will provide ranger led discussions/hikes but also provide suggestions of different hikes and the features of those hikes. I always reviewed the paper the day or two before heading to the park to help me plan my time.

      Hope that helps! On my visit I went to devils playground and then just drove through the park stopping at some of the short walks (30min or under) just off the main road. A very interesting place. The southern visitor center has a good walking path with good examples of some petrified trees if you want to see those.