Painted Desert / Petrified Forest National Park | Arizona

On our drive back across the country, after spending several weeks in Arizona and California with family, we stopped at the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park to check out the sights.  Petrified Forest National Park is technically located in the Painted Desert, so they’re not actually two separate parks- a visit to PFNP inherently includes going to the Painted Desert as well.

This was our seventh National Park/National Monument of the trip and the kids were definitely hooked- they all decided to include seeing all of the National Parks to their bucket lists.

It was hot and windy outside but Lexie was a good sport and got out of the car at each overlook- and then proceeded to tell the rest of the kids about what she saw since they couldn’t be convinced to get out and brave the heat and wind over and over.

The clouds totally reminded me of the ones in Toy Story!

The layers in the Painted Desert are from a variety of sediments including siltstone, mudstone, shale, and bentonite clay from the Triassic Chinle Formation, but the beautiful colors come from the iron and manganese compounds found in the rocks.

We got out of the car for a short walk through the desert and Ellie was enthralled with all of the plants. Luckily there wasn’t any cactus right by the trail or I’m sure she would have been petting that as well.  Ouch!

Getting out and walking around a bit was the key to getting her to cooperate in the car on our 40-hour drive (over five days) across the country.  In addition to giving her something to do and new things to look at, the physical activity wore her out and she was able to nap in the car and go to bed at night.

We checked out the ruins of Puerco Pueblo, a community of nearly 200 at its peak that was built in the 1200s.  At one time, this one-story dwelling had nearly 100 rooms that surrounded a central plaza.

Plagued by droughts, the Puebloan people started building large pueblo communities and working together as a group in order to survive.  Puerco Pueblo was built near the Puerco River and was a reliable source of water for farming the slopes along the river, and they were able to successfully grow cotton, corn, squash, and beans.

However, in response to climate change in the late 1300s, those that lived in Puerco Pueblo fled the area looking for a more suitable location.

The petroglyphs left by the Puerco Puebloans mark the boulders surrounding the community.

Stretching their legs on the trail to/from Puerco Pueblo.  In hindsight, I should have had all the kids wear close-toed shoes since we were traipsing around the desert, but luckily, we didn’t run into any snakes, scorpions or cactus.

One of the most beautiful areas of the park is the “Tepees”, that got their name from the resemblance of the hills to Indian dwellings.  The hills were created from the erosional pattern of the Blue Mesa Member of the Chinle Formation.  Sediments were deposited by a tropical river system that flowed here during the Late Triassic Period (over 225 million years ago).  The brown and yellow layers are sandstone from the river channel while the blue and red mudstone layers are from the floodplain, and the white layers are ash from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago.

Like most kids, ours want to push the limits every chance they get, so we had to get a picture of them BEHIND the Do Not Enter sign since that means they technically entered!

Petrified Forest National Park has one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world.  Over 200 million years ago, the logs were petrified by volcanic ash and then minerals replaced the wood over time.

Some of the logs sat high, perched on the tops of the badlands rock formations, and others had tumbled down the sides from erosion and formation shifts over time.

The grays, blues, and purples of the Blue Mesa Member Badlands are a stark contrast to the reds and browns of the Tepees and the Painted Desert, but equally beautiful.

The kids thought that the layers in the formations made them look like cakes!

Once they got tired of looking for petrified wood, Ben and Lexie pretended to be bats since they are very common in the park- though we didn’t see any.

It is so amazing that the petrified wood still looks like actual wood even though it is millions of years old and is really a fossil!

The Petrified Forest is the only National Park that contains a section of Historic Route 66.

The telephone poles mark the path of the famous road traversing the American West.  Though it was officially decommissioned over thirty years ago (1985) due to the emergence of interstates, Route 66 is still one of the most beloved historic roads in the world and people flock to the “Mother Road” every year.

The kids thought this 1932 Studebaker was pretty cool but could not imagine driving cross country in it– especially without air conditioning!!

We didn’t have as much time to time explore Petrified Forest National Park as I would have liked, and because of the July heat, we did not venture on many of the hikes that are available, but it was still a totally worthwhile stop.  Even though I grew up in Arizona and am very familiar with the typical desert landscapes, the colors and badlands of the Painted Desert are like nothing we’d ever seen before (even in other parts of AZ).  They’re so unusual and unique that the park definitely deserves a visit!

Things to Remember When Visiting the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park

  • Bring (and drink!) lots of water!  Like most parts of Arizona, summers are VERY hot and PFNP gets the lowest amount of precipitation in the state, so it is also VERY dry!
  • The park is open year round (except on Christmas Day) but hours change seasonally so make sure to check ahead of time.
  • It’s $20 for a private vehicle to enter the park.  We recommend getting the $80 America the Beautiful annual pass so that you can check out all of the National Parks in the country (and there’s a free version for military, permanently disabled, and all 4th graders!)
  • The main park road is almost thirty miles long and it is not a loop so plan ahead to ensure you don’t have to backtrack to see everything.  If you’re traveling south/west, enter PFNP off of I-40 at exit 311 and exit at Highway 180. If you’re traveling north/east, follow the signs on Highway 180 (I-40 exit 285 at Holbrook) to enter the park from the south.

Have you ever been to the Painted Desert or Petrified Forest National Park??


Grand Canyon National Park | Arizona

Growing up in Arizona, I visited Grand Canyon National Park MANY times as a child and Jacob and I went once when we were dating.  Even though two of our kids were born in Arizona, and we lived on the west coast for almost ten years before moving to North Carolina, we never made a trip to the Grand Canyon with the kids.  I knew that had to change and so we made plans to spend some time exploring the Grand Canyon on our road trip to the west coast.

We got up early and made the drive from our hotel in Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We surprised my parents with a bus tour of the Grand Canyon to Hermit’s Rest so, after finding parking- it can be difficult in the summer, we made our way to the Visitor Center and boarded our bus.

We booked our tour through Xanterra and they schedule all of the bus tours, mule rides, whitewater rafting, as well as hotel accommodations within the park.

Like the rest of the trip, I tried to get pictures of the kids at all of our stops.  Sometimes they were silly and sometimes they were cooperative, and sometimes it was a combination of the two all in one photo!

Our tour bus was great!  I love taking guided tours at National Parks because then everyone can look out the windows and see the sights instead of focusing on traffic or maps (especially since I’m usually the driver).  Plus, you get all sorts of great information from the guide that you wouldn’t get if you were just driving around.

While we made a couple of quick stops on the way to Hermits Rest, once there, we were able to spend about half an hour exploring the century-old rest area.

Hermits Rest was built in 1914 as a rest area for those traveling by Harvey Cars.  El Tovar, one of the hotels at the Grand Canyon, was originally a Harvey House and the cars would take tourists to the westernmost paved point of the South Rim.  And clearly, the kids were VERY interested in learning all about it!

The Hermits Rest structure was designed by Mary Jane Colter and is now a National Historic Landmark.  The majority of the structure was built into an earthen mound in order to blend in with the natural setting.  The chimney is made out of rubblestone, and the exposed parts of the building are also rubble masonry.

The view from Hermits Rest is nothing short of spectacular.

This plaque, along with two others (Psalms 66:4 and 104:24) were placed at scenic overlooks along the South Rim in the late 1960s by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Phoenix.  They were removed briefly in 2003 at the request of the ACLU who argued that a National Park was not an appropriate place for religion but that decision was quickly overturned by Washington-based park officials.

I tried to take another picture of the kids and I was met with such cooperative faces!

Our bus driver’s name was Ben and upon hearing that we had a Ben in our group, he let our Ben start up the bus to leave Hermits Rest!

We continued driving along the South Rim and the kids were surprised to see all sorts of green trees and plants.  I think they knew that there were pine trees at the Grand Canyon, but didn’t realize how many other species of plants thrive on the cliffs of the canyon.

Such pretty, little flowers!

The Colorado River, starting in Poudre Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park, travels 1450 miles to the Gulf of California in Mexico and carved the Grand Canyon 5-6 million years ago.

The kids were glad that Grandpa brought his binoculars on our trip and everyone took a turn using them to look at the rapids of the Colorado River as well as old settlements on the canyon floor.

More spectacular cooperation!  I usually let the kids do silly pictures after they smile nicely for the group pictures.  They’re much more likely to cooperate when they know that they get to do something fun afterward!

Sweet Ellie and I hung out on a ledge in the Visitor Center while everyone else watched Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder explaining how the Grand Canyon was formed.  At almost two, she wasn’t quite ready for quietly watching an educational movie, but the rest of the crew was totally enthralled.

Learning about canyon life with Grandma.  All of the Visitor Centers (there are three plus museums and studios) have hands-on displays that are great for kids of all ages.

Desert beauty.

She enjoyed exploring after leaving the Visitor Center and the wide, paved paths are great for kids and are stroller-friendly, too!

He’s on top of the world!  At Mather Point, there’s a big boulder that you can sit on that gives the illusion that you’re all alone at the Grand Canyon.  What you can’t see is that there are crowds of people below him since it was a busy, summer day.

Isn’t she Grand?

Chris, Nick, and Lexie braved the trails with Grandpa and hiked a little bit into the canyon.  The kids were wearing flip flops so we didn’t attempt any hardcore hiking or anything, just walked down a short trail.

Of course, their cooperation was rewarded with silly photos!

It’s so cool to see the Colorado River snaking through the canyon and knowing that this whole thing was created by that one, little (ok, really it’s big) river.

I love the dead trees that dot the rim of the canyon.

Every once in a while I end up on the other side of the camera!

The canyon seems to go on forever- and rightly so, it’s 277 miles long, 18 miles wide at it’s widest point, and over a mile deep.  It’s HUGE!

We always try to get a picture of the seven of us when we go somewhere new.

Our trip wouldn’t be complete without a silly family photo!

We stopped at the Desert View Watchtower, also designed by Mary Jane Colter, on our way out of the park and we arrived just in time to watch a storm roll in over the canyon.

It was so cool to watch the clouds come in over the canyon and then the rain started.

And just as quick as it started, the storm passed and you could see the canyon again.

The Desert View Watchtower was built in 1932 and has both an exterior observation deck and an observation level at the top of the tower.

The kids walked up to the top of the tower to check out the view with Grandpa!

After climbing to the top of the Watchtower, we made our way to the gift shop and then got caught in a downpour on the way to the car.  We headed out of Grand Canyon National Park tired from a long day, but in complete awe of the beauty of the canyon.  Once the kids are older, I’d love to bring them back and stay for a few days so that we could spend more time hiking and maybe go whitewater rafting!

Things to Remember When You Visit Grand Canyon National Park

  • Drink lots of water– the altitude and lack of humidity will leave you dehydrated quickly.
  • If you want to stay at a hotel in the park, book well in advance
  • The lottery for Phantom Ranch lodging (at the bottom of the Grand Canyon) is currently done 14 months in advance!
  • The South Rim of the canyon is open year-round but the North Rim is only open mid-May through mid-October.  Make sure to check for closings if you’re headed to the North Rim.
  • It’s $35 for a private vehicle to enter the park.  We recommend getting the $80 America the Beautiful annual pass so that you can check out all of the National Parks in the country (there’s a free version for military, permanently disabled, and all 4th graders!)
  • The Grand Canyon is popular and parking fills up quickly (often before 10am) but there are additional lots and shuttles to the Visitor Center and then a shuttle bus system that runs along the South rim so that you can check out all of the popular viewpoints.

The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  Have you been??  Have you been to any of the others??











Amazon Associates Disclosure

Love Dwells Here is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to