A detour through the length of Petrified Forest National Park is a worthwhile hour or two drive that traverses geological formations dating back more than 200 million years. But shorter excursions into the park are also rewarding.
It is one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world, along with North Dakota, Argentina and Egypt. The tallest fossilized, downed trees in the park are close to 140 feet.
The park includes the historic Painted Desert Inn, built with petrified wood in 1924 and nicknamed the "Stone Tree House." It was later refurbished in a Pueblo Revival style. The inn closed in 1963 and was saved from demolition in 1975. It reopened in 2006 but does not host overnight guests. bit.ly/2w5k0IG
An elderly Navajo weaver was demonstrating her craft on a recent visit to the inn. There's also an ice cream shop on the bottom level that's a nice treat on a hot day.
Petrified Forest is the only national park that had a stretch of Route 66. A section of the road north of the Visitors Center was plowed under but broken bottles and other debris from Route 66 motorists is scattered on both sides of the old road alignment.
The Visitor Center is a 1963 building designed by notable California architect Richard Neuta. It was built as part of the Mission 66 program President Eisenhower's administration launched in the mid-1950s to upgrade national park facilities. The designs are deliberately in contrast to the park landscapes.
The center has been altered and shows signs of aging but the Park Service is restoring original design elements.
There are no campgrounds in the park but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.
Westbound motorists on Interstate 40 should use Exit 311 to visit the park. Eastbound motorists can Exit 285 at Holbrook to reach the park from the south.
Established: 1906 National Monument; 1962 National Park
Annual visitation: 643,588
Take a side trip to Hubbell Trading Post: