Journal

Petrified Forest National Park

This particular morning in Joshua Tree, I needed to decide if I was going north to Death Valley or east to Petrified Forest. I'd been on the road for an extended period of time, driving to a park, staying for a couple of nights, and driving again. This being the first segment of a multi-part project, I figured instead of trying to hit one more California park on this trip, I would make my way east to Petrified Forest. I could cover the other California parks all at one time thus getting a better feel for each of them and how they compliment and contrast each other. 

I started east on I-10 towards what would eventually be my stop in Holbrook Arizona for the night. It is a 7 hour drive from Joshua Tree to the park entrance so I knew if I left at 9am, that would get me into the park at 4pm with a sunset at 5:45. 

Upon arriving at the southern entrance, the ranger told me the park hours were 8-5pm. I was welcome to drive around until 5, but when the rangers in the park asked me to leave, I should go. That was going to make it tricky for me since the sun rose at 7:30 and set at 5:30. 

I came up with a plan for sunset, I would worry about sunrise later. My idea was to go as fast as I could to the middle of the park via the long, winding 28 mile  road that cuts the park in half. I figured once they found me in there, it would take at least 45 minutes for me to slowly drive out and that way I could be in there for sunset. Not the best plan, but one I would have to make do with.

As I was driving in, the clouds on the horizon stopped me, sunset was already really good. 15 minutes into the drive I found a spot called Newspaper Rock that has a unique view. It is a large bluff that looks out on a series of petroglyphs that give the lookout its name. My time here was cut short due the family of 7 that decided to take their fight from inside the RV to right next to me. So deeper in the park I went. 

The next spot I found was called “The Teepees”.  A series of cone shaped hills that resemble the tip of rounded, multicolored pencils sticking up from the ground. 

The sun was beginning to touch the horizon at this point and with the dry desert landscape, the sunset was starting to take shape. I stayed in this location for 15 minutes moving around The Teepees, changing my angle and viewpoint. By this time it was nearly dark so I headed back towards the entrance I came in at. I would have left the park without any ranger detection had I not been greedy and stopped for just a few more photos of the leftover cloud formations. I was in my “last” spot for the evening the ranger’s truck rolled up on me and asked, in a very authoritative tone, if my car was broken down. I said no and he informed me the park was closed and there was absolutely no stopping once that happened. I agreed to head for the gate and not stop again in the park.

The camping situation was basically non existent and the park gates didn’t even open up until 8am so I headed to the town of Holbrook to find a hotel or a Walmart parking lot, whatever I came across first. The hotel won.

Up the next morning at 5:30, I loaded up on gas station coffee and headed to the park. Maybe they forgot to close the gate last night or at the very least would open it early so I could get in before sunrise. Upon arriving, some responsible person had in fact locked the gate so I decided to start to hike in. I made it about 10 minutes and realized I wouldn’t get any good shots this way so I turned around and started back for the car. By this time it was 7:45, the sun was rising and they would open the gate soon. 

I waited impatiently until 8:10 when the gates finally parted and I could go in. I headed to a few spots I had noted the evening before. Overcast already, it started to rain. I pulled out rain coats, both for me and the camera, and headed to Crystal Forest. I photographed trees that were older than a time span I can comprehend. Very impressive artifacts laid out in a way that is very accessible, trusting that people won't disturb it. After hiking this short trail I jumped back in the car and headed up the road. There were more trails I wanted to cover, rain or not. My next stops were places with names like the Blue Mesa Trail, Puerco Pueblo and the Painted Desert Rim Trail.

After all this exploring, I ended up at the northern entrance. Having seen most of the park, I decided to make for the exit and head back towards Kansas City and a short break before I would be back on the road on my way to the Southeast.