National Park 1: The Petrified Forest

The Painted Desert, and more importantly, the Petrified Forest National Park, is only a hop, skip, and a three-hour drive from Sunset Crater.

Who’d have thought that so many people would visit a desert in the middle of high summer? Several of the viewing areas were packed with people when we went. Others, however, were packed with ravens.

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Alternatively, there was one raven who followed us around the entire time. I’m not entirely sure which.

The views are pretty cool throughout the desert, and the colors scream ‘Sunset!’ more than the volcano did, although I suppose if a volcano’s screaming at you, it’s not a good sign anyway.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t explore all the areas of the park because we didn’t have time to grab a backpacking permit and camp out. The park is huge and well worth exploring just to be able to see all the life, though, especially in the spring and early summer.

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Without even leaving the road, there are gorgeous views from all angles.

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If you are easily bored by geology, one of the most interesting spots in the park is Puerco Pueblo. It has a lot of petroglyphs on it that are over 500 years old, and the name also means “Pig Town” in Spanish. So, since we’ve visited Cow Town, now all we have to do is find a Sheep Town somewhere to have a full set.

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When I was a kid, I used to call this place Newspaper Rock. It wasn’t until later that I figured out that there actually is a Newspaper Rock in Utah. I guess I’ll just have to stick with ‘Pig Town.’

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Besides Puerco Pueblo, the other thing I liked doing in the park as a kid was reading about the horror stories people had when they stole the petrified wood from the other half of the park.

Even though there are signs like this one posted everywhere saying not to take the wood, people do it anyway.

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Then they’ll lose everything in a fire, find out their real name is Oedipus Rex, have their wife leave them for their best friend, etc. Well, maybe not that bad, but people hit a stream of bad luck after stealing, get superstitious, and blame the wood, which they then return with a note. There’s a whole stack of cases at the Visitor’s Center that are mildly amusing to read.

It also doesn’t hurt that the forest itself is awe-inspiring. Some of the trees are over three feet in diameter; others are small but have beautiful color that stands out in the landscape.

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My mom’s favorite part of the park was actually a natural bridge formed by a huge tree that fell over. We used to take pictures under it all the time. Unfortunately, the tree has broken since we visited last (luckily, not over some photographer’s head), but at least we had more time to browse around the fossil exhibits. They’ve got several full skeletons as well as a demonstration of what a partially recovered skull looks like.

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It’s much easier to appreciate history when you’re old enough to understand it.

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