Just off Interstate 40 in eastern Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park, which encompasses part of the Painted Desert, merits a visit. The 218,500-acre/88,400-hectare park is filled with colorful rocks and petrified (fossilized) prehistoric trees of varying sizes. Dinosaur remains have also been unearthed there, including a prized specimen from the Mesozoic era that was uncovered in 1984. Although it may be tempting, grabbing a sample of petrified wood is illegal and is said to bring bad luck. Visitors can pick up a souvenir at one of the authorized shops instead.
The Painted Desert, at the northern end of the national park, contains beautiful, soft-hued rocks in its dry terrain. It's best seen at sunrise or sunset. (Almost all of northeastern Arizona in the Navajo Reservation is called the Painted Desert, but the area within the boundaries of the park is the part most frequently visited by travelers.)
To see both the forest and the Painted Desert, visitors will need several hours to drive the 28 mi/45 km of well-marked and well-paved roads. The route provides a good sense of the landscapes deep, rich colors and stark geometry. The 3-mi/5-km Blue Mesa Loop, which is especially colorful, should not be missed. Visitors can catch a showing of the movie Timeless Impressions in the Painted Desert Visitor Center (near the park's north entrance) before viewing the sights. The Rainbow Forest Museum, near the south entrance, provides more information.
The park and visitor facilities are open daily; hours vary. The entrance fee is US$20 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. Phone 928-524-6228. https://www.nps.gov/pefo.
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