Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The Petrified Forest
Exploring the area around Petrified Forest National Park, Larry Lindahl shows how this unique environment is a cornucopia for photographers
In a land of blue mesas and crystal forests, Petrified Forest National Park celebrates a colorful primordial past. Here, beneath the northern Arizona sun, rainbow-colored stone logs reveal translucent beauty below hills of multihued clay.
Hiking trails inside the 135,000-acre park are easily accessible from a 28-mile road tying together the narrow north-to-south-oriented park. The trails meander from 0.5 miles to over three miles across vistas, into canyons walled in dusty zebra stripes, or through grasslands and dry washes.
Petrified Forest is best navigated from north to south to take advantage of photo opportunities among the stone logs at golden hour. The last two stops should include the impressive inner-canyon trail at Blue Mesa. And on the way to the southern gate, stop at the Crystal Forest Trail for a rewarding sunset finale.
Unlike most national parks, Petrified Forest closes at sunset, varying from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., depending on the time of year. Visitors must be in their cars heading out of the park at closing time, and federal law strictly prohibits the removal of any petrified wood.
Gates are locked until 7 a.m. from March through October, and until 8 a.m. from November through February. There are no campgrounds within the park, no motel rooms and no overnight parking. Backpacking with a free backcountry permit is the exception for overnight stays within the park. The park entrance fee is $10 per vehicle, and it's good for seven days.
From Flagstaff, take I-40 east for 116 miles, passing the town of Holbrook to Exit 331. The Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance should be your first stop. Start with the park movie, exhibits and the bookstore. Ask rangers questions as you familiarize yourself with the park layout and hours. A restaurant, open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and gas station beside the visitor center are the only ones in the park.
Nationwide motels in Holbrook are just off I-40, or Route 66-era motels—like the infamous Wigwam Motel—are downtown, about a half hour from the south entrance on Highway 180. Overnight parking is allowed at some gift shops south of the park, and campgrounds are available in the vicinity.
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