Petrified Forest National Park
Location: Holbrook, AZ
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, at the gift shop at Rainbow Forest
Petrified Forest National Park is a large and very diverse park. We entered the park through the north entrance at the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center is just before you enter the park. There is a small gift store and restaurant here. Stop and get a map so you know what major stops you would like to make on the drive. The scenic drive from the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center to the Rainbow Forest Visitor’s Center is about 28 miles long. The drive through the park takes about an hour with minimum stops. There is a lot to see along the way so if you have time for stops I highly suggest taking time.
In addition to plenty of scenic pullouts the park has several really neat stops. From the north side one of the first stops we made was at the Painted Desert Inn. The Painted Desert Inn was once a hotel destination along Route 66. Today the Inn is preserved as a museum of the original restaurant upstairs and has a small soda shop/ice cream parlor downstairs. This was a beautiful overlook and a really cool historic building. We arrived too late in the day to try out the soda shop but that is on the list for a return trip.
Along the road there is another historic Route 66 stop. There is a rusted 1932 Studebaker sitting on the side of the road. This location shows were the original Route 66 road crossed the park. The car is in pretty poor shape (it’s been sitting in the desert) but it makes for a pretty need photo-op. Other neat stops on the drive include Puerco Pueblo: a short hike to an ancient Pueblo site, Newspaper Rock: lots of petroglyphs, Agate Bridge: a petrified log that had fallen across a gap form a “bridge” (you are not allowed to walk out on it), and several short hikes through the petrified logs.
The drive ends at the south side of the park at the Rainbow Forest Visitor’s Center. This visitor’s center has a small museum that has many exhibits about the prehistoric history of the area including several skeleton displays. There is also a small bookstore inside the Visitor’s Center. Next door to the visitor’s center is a larger gift shop that offers a lot of merchandise and a few snacks. Around the Rainbow Forest Visitor’s Center, several trails will get you very close to the petrified logs. We opted to hike the Crystal Forest loop. The trail was a fairly easy hike. It was under a mile long and the trail is paved. The trail has stairs so it isn’t stroller friendly.
Overall: Petrified Forest is an amazing park. It has several different environments to explore. You could spend as much time as you want at this park. I would suggest making sure you have at least 2 or 3 hours to explore it but you could easily spend a few days here. In the summer the weather was very hot and there was no shade, so be prepared and bring plenty of water. Petrified Forest is a destination I want to come back and explore in greater detail.