From Wood to Stone

“Don’t worry”, I yelled over my shoulder to Al while swiftly walking to the truck.  I had my camera slung around my neck, water bottle in one hand, and truck keys in the other.  I was on a mission that morning, and I wasn’t about to let a little weather curtail my fun.

The vast vistas allowed me to see more than 100 miles in any given direction, but with such openness comes wind.  Northeastern Arizona is the windiest section of the state. The relatively flat, lightly vegetated mesas, buttes, and valleys do very little to slow the movement of air.Petrified ForestIt was calm at the moment, but I kept in mind, winds in excess of 40 miles per hour are common around here and gusts over 60 miles per hour aren’t unusual.  Hang on Toto!

Before climbing into the truck, I scanned the skies to the west.  The ominous line of clouds still looked pretty far away.  I figured, I’d have at least an hour before the storm hit.  However, I failed to take into account the driving time needed to get from one end of the park to the other.Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest National Park encompasses more than 230 square miles (600 square kilometers) with only one main road going through the center.  The 28 mile scenic drive takes visitors from the northern entrance located off Interstate 40 to the southern entrance off Highway 180.Petrified National Park

It was late August 2016.  We spent the night at the Crystal Forest Gift Shop near the southern entrance of the park.  The gift shop allows free overnight camping in an area off to the side. There’s even some picnic tables, but absolutely no other amenities of any kind. It’s free and considering we’re self-contained and self-sufficient this location worked perfectly for my photo excursion into the national park.petrified mapSince I was starting at the south entrance, I needed to plan my stops carefully keeping the weather and my priorities in mind.  The day before, we had entered the national park via the north entrance with the RV in tow and I was able to get a quick overview.

From the north entrance, we travel through an area called. "Painted Desert".

From the north entrance, we traveled through an area called the “Painted Desert”.

Petrified Forest National Park is very doable with any size RV.  Some pull-outs are a little more big RV friendly than others.  Regardless, to really delve into this geologically fascinating park, it’s best to explore without the RV and constraints of finding adequate parking.Petrified National ForestI hadn’t been in the truck driving more than fifteen minutes when hubby called with an urgency in his voice.  He informed me of a severe storm heading our way.  A semi-tractor trailer had flipped over on Interstate 40 due to a wind gust just east of Flagstaff and those high winds, hail, and torrential rain were heading our way.  All I managed to say to hubby before the call was dropped was, “Ok”.  You can assume cell phone coverage to be spotty in this remote park in Arizona.Petrified Forest National ParkHurry Ingrid was at the fore front of my mind as I continued on my quest.  I wanted to touch those fossils and even though there were plenty of petrified logs where we were camped, I wanted to see a forest of them.  Wood turning into stone is a rarity and takes special conditions for the process to occur.  There’s only a few places in the world to find petrified wood and I was exploring one of those places.Petrified Wood

Most of the petrified wood  around here is made up of mostly solid quartz.  The rainbow of colors is produced by impurities in the quartz.  Over 200 million years ago, logs washed into an ancient river system and were quickly and deeply buried by massive amounts of debris and sediment.  Oxygen was cut off.  Minerals absorbed into the porous wood and crystallized within the cellular structure turning wood into stone.

Crystal Forest is a popular spot to see large logs

Crystal Forest is a popular stop to see large logs

Petrified Wood

There are several areas within the national park that have a concentration of these huge petrified logs.  The petrified trees lie strewn across the hills and are broken into large segments.  The smooth ends look like they were cut with a chainsaw.

petrified broken logs can be seen strewn about the land

petrified broken logs can be seen strewn about the land

Who Cut the Wood?  During the gradual uplifting of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 60 million years ago, the still buried petrified trees were under so much stress they broke like glass rods. The crystal nature of the quartz created clean fractures, evenly spaced along the tree trunk, giving the appearance of logs cut with a chainsaw.

The national park is also home to remnants of an ancient civilization.

The national park is also home to remnants of an ancient civilization.

Although the petrified wood is the primary draw to this national park, I had one more quirky stop to make before returning to the RV.Historic Route 66

The famous old Historic Route 66 road used to go right through Petrified Forest National Park and there’s a popular landmark showcasing the location.  This 1932 Studebaker is a fun place for a photo-op.  The original telephone poles (seen to the left of the car) remain standing in the very spot they were originally installed all those years ago.

The weather may have cut my visit short, but it was just enough to pique my interest in a return visit.  I found the fossils and the process of their creation rather fascinating, much to my surprise.  Just one more place going on the must return list 😉

Route 66My visit was a week before my birthday and as such a little souvenir shopping was in order.  As much as I would’ve liked a nice chunk of petrified wood, the size and weight wouldn’t be conducive to life in an RV.  I opted for a lovely bracelet that I found at the Rainbow Visitor Center Gift Shop.

Please, please, please NEVER take rock from national park land.  Not only is it against the law, it undoubtedly would impact the abundance of fossils for all of us to enjoy today and in the future.  Purchasing polished petrified wood that was harvested on private land supports the park system and local economy.  And much of it is very inexpensive, unless you want a huge chunk, then that’ll cost.  The bigger the piece, the more expensive and the heavier.  My cute bracelet, similar to the one shown below, cost less than $25 and is a lovely daily reminder of my adventurous morning.Petrified Forest National ParkFortunately, the worst of the storm bypassed our immediate location, but we did endure some nasty gusting winds and torrential down pouring rain.  I returned to the RV unscathed, to a relieved husband, and looking like a drenched puppy. The minute there was a break in the weather, we hooked up and rolled in the opposite direction from those threatening clouds.  Hmm, where to next?

Sunchains Earthstone Collection – Petrified Wood Bracelet


76 thoughts on “From Wood to Stone

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Ingrid! Another spot added to our “must see” list 🙂 I always appreciate your info on how places like this are for the rig — boondocking, limited hookups, space for larger rigs, etc. When we see places like this from the road, it’s impossible to know whether we’d fit or get stuck — thanks to you we now know : ) (And your blog is much more fun to read than the RV campsite review sites….!)

    • Haha, thanks ☺ I know what you mean about unfamiliar territory. We do our best to avoid getting into a pickle pulling the RV. When our son moved to Phoenix and we still had a house in Colorado, we drove that stretch of Interstate 40 many a time but never stopped at the Petrified Forest. I’m kicking myself for not having made this a regular stop. Do check it out. It’s fascinating!

  2. Loved the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert when we visited in Spring 2016. So many unique places to visit off the the main road that often go undiscovered as people drive by in a rush toward their destination. Glad our life has slowed down enough so we can explore them.

    • It is definitely a treat to slow our travels down and meander off the main road. We’ve stumbled upon some fabulous scenery by doing so. I’m so glad we took the time to stop at the Petrified Forest NP.

  3. Your photos are lovely as always but that first image took my breath away. The impending storm created a perfect backdrop for your artistry.

    • Storm clouds always add to the ambiance of the landscape. Much to Al’s chagrin, I had a fabulous time taking in the vistas through my lens.

    • It was extremely interesting and yes people take rock all the time which is very sad. The park service will do occasional vehicle inspections as you exit the park but that doesn’t seem to stop people.

  4. A truly fascinating phenomenon and you described it so well, Ingrid. Yours and your husband’s photos capture well the wooden look of the stone. Such a gorgeous area. Your passion and drive to see the Petrified Forest in the oncoming storm was suspenseful, hurray for the success!

    • Hey, hubby doesn’t get any credit for the photos LOL. He stayed back at the RV while my camera’s self-timer got a working out 😆 It was such a fun morning exploring a unique land.

  5. I would love to explore this area one day. Like you I would want to cram in every minute possible. Why does the weather not always want to cooperate with us? Gorgeous photos that really give the ‘texture’ of the petrified wood.

    • Arizona offers such a diversity of landscapes, so much so, that we’re even contemplating not leaving the state this summer. We can just travel up and down in elevation with the weather. Ah, that weather! Mother nature does like to play games with me. She’s certainly keeping me on my toes here along the Texas Gulf Coast and not cooperating with my photographic endeavors 😀

  6. Stunning trip and scenery. Wish we had had an RV on our recent road trip in Northern Sri Lanka when the road stopped abruptly and we had nowhere to sleep for the night in sight as we were in the middle of nowhere. We did get lucky and landed ourselves in a tree house room for the night…

    Love the petrified rock, wow, and overall the photographs are fabulous and give a great feel of what the area is like. Thanks.


    • Thank you and travel is always full of adventures …. some more fun than others. Sounds like you had an interesting trip. Thanks for stopping by and sharing 🙂

  7. The Petrified Forest is wonderful for photography — especially on a cloudy, stormy day when there’s just enough sun peeking through to make the colors even more vibrant. We were there in late spring and had similar weather. Nice job capturing the beauty!

    • Thank you Laurel. The cloud cover allowed me to capture the colors in the petrified wood beautifully. As much as we enjoy a sunny blue sky, that usually doesn’t work well with photography. Thus, I loved everything about that morning …. well, the rain could’ve held off a little longer 😉

    • It was a great morning for photography. Most often, the AZ bright sky makes it difficult to capture the depth of vibrant colors found in the desert southwest. No complaints on my part!

  8. Thanks for the info! This area is on our possible list for March/April depending on the weather. The storm made for wonderful photos:) Love your first photo:) Great reminder in that adorable bracelet:) Glad you got hone in one piece!

    • It did get a little scary out there when the sky got incredibly dark and I could see the wall of weather heading straight for me. And once those winds kicked up and I saw lightening in the distance, it was time to ‘run’ to the truck and head home …. well, maybe there was another stop in there 😁 but I won’t tell. Do put this place on your list. Looks like there’s some fun trails.

  9. What a fabulous post!!! I couldn’t read it fast enough but had to savor your excellent photos! I was there several times as a child. We can’t wait to go one day! In the meantime, I was just there with you!!!

  10. Never been to the Painted Desert or the Petrified Forest but it’s now on our list after reading your post. Great photos and wonderful information. Thanks Ingrid.

    • It’s definitely worth checking out and super convenient if you’re traveling via Interstate 40. We’ve traveled that stretch of road countless times and always bypassed. So glad we didn’t this time!

  11. My hat’s off to you for being able to recreate a visit from a year ago – I have trouble after a few days.

    As always, your photos are spectacular. Those dramatic dark skies are the best, aren’t they?

    • Thanks Judy. That day was extremely memorable and my photographs always act as a wonderful reminder of the day’s adventure. And it wasn’t quite a year ago, but it was five months… seems like last month ☺

  12. Bad storms and RV is not a marriage made in Heaven! But just look at those wonderful storm clouds in the distance..There is something ominously delicious about photos of storms…and taking them is even better. Dennis and I got into some hurricane force winds in Ajo AZ one January..It blue the TT next to us off it’s blocks and the door off another fiver across from us…Yep, not my favorite place to be in a storm…Loved that park..I would have to touch everything and channel history!!!

    • And that is some old history going on there! Yep, we’ve found ourselves in some scary wind situations as well… something we try to avoid but sometimes mother nature likes to surprise us and keep us on our toes 😉

  13. I haven’t been there since I was about six but I remember being totally gobsmacked by trees being stone. I think I still have my little piece of petrified wood I got at the souvenir shop too 🙂 Thanks for the share!

    • I could see a little macro photography being fun in this park. I wasn’t at a loss for things to entertain me and I wasn’t even able to get in any hiking. Guess it’s not bad to save a thing or two for another visit ☺

  14. That looks like an intriguing place. Ingrid. I’m glad you beat the weather for a little bit of exploring and some photographs. When we were in New Zealand last year, we visited a park that had petrified wood as well. Such an interesting metamorphosis.

    • If you ever find yourselves driving past the Petrified Forest via Interstate 40, it is worth veering off for a peek. Nature never fails to entertain!

  15. Glad you escaped the storm! Isn’t that a real wonder of nature, all those petrified trees? Plus the Pianted Desert? I enjoyed it thoroughly when I was there years ago.

  16. We have been to that area twice. Loved it both times. I will say, Ingrid, that you are way more adventurous than we are. Big storm coming….I am in the RV!

    • Having worked in the construction industry and airline industry, I quite often would be caught out in the elements. My weather related fears are lightening and high winds while using a porta-let. Southern Colorado endures a lot of high winds and the thought of using the porta-let on a windy day and being turned over …. now that was scary. Looking like Smurfette was not a goal 🤣

  17. Glad you made it through the park before the weather got too bad. We drove through Petrified Forest National Park pulling our fifth wheel when we were on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. You are so right – although we were able to have a nice tour of the park the parking lots for rigs our size didn’t give us the opportunity to get out and get up close with the rocks. Thanks for this post!

    • I am so impressed with all the places you two have been with the RV. We haven’t decided yet if we want to travel actively this summer or just meander to a few places. Love the freedom to choose 🙂

      • Ingrid, since we aren’t full timers we like to see as much as we can on each trip. I usually have a bucket list of a few “must see” places for each trip and then we love to stumble upon places, too. Unfortunately, we don’t have as much time to spend in each place as you do. A week is the longest we’ve stayed in one place. Then again, sometimes our next stop is only about 100 miles away!

    • Thank you! Ah, hubby wasn’t too happy with me but my excited exuberance about my adventurous morning had him shaking his head with humor.

  18. We’ve enjoyed a few visits to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, Last time there we took a hike at Blue Mesa, such beauty and contrast from the top of the mesa to the bottom.

  19. Love these pics. I remember my grandpa had a few pieces of petrified wood on his property. He got it from his dry farm he owned up by Zion. Those logs always mesmerized me as a child. Love the whole forest of them.

    • I can totally understand how a child would be mesmerized by a stone log, gosh I was mesmerized. Talk about a beautiful work of art. I wanted to buy a large chuck at the Crystal Forest Gift Shop for my son’s yard but husband’s eye roll stopped me. Next time, I’ll go shopping without him 😆

  20. I’m proud to say that I was able to resist the strong urge to pick up a piece of that fantastic petrified wood….I supported the local economy and bought a small, beautiful piece. We really enjoyed searching the huge rock yard for just the right one. Thanks for taking us back again. One of the things that we love about this area of the west is the ability to see those nasty storms building, then moving across the land. So dramatic and exciting.

    • It is tempting to take one of those beautiful rocks. And unfortunately, people do all the time. I read somewhere about a ridiculous number of fossils stolen in the past 30 years. Very sad. Those storm clouds were amazing and I wasn’t too concerned until I saw lightening… nothing will get me off a trail quicker 😀

  21. I spent a good part of my childhood living in Holbrook with many family trips to the forest and painted desert. Thanks for the great post and photos that bring the memories back. Now we must go again.

    • I wish I could’ve explored it further and in a less rushed manor, but that’s the beauty of the RV and being able to revisit some of our favorite spots.

  22. The area is very similar to the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. Obviously the same conditions existed in both areas to produce the stratified badlands and petrify whole trees. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to petrified forest in Arizona, but from your photos there doesn’t seem to be hoodoos or as many complete, unbroken trees as in the Bisti Badlands.

    • I was hoping to get to Bisti in May along with a few other sites in northern NM, but we might have to reschedule ☹ Sometimes life happens and best to roll with the flow. Fascinating land that I’m looking forward to exploring more of.

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