The Petrified Forest National Park is located on I-40 about halfway between Albuquerque and Sedona, though a little closer to Sedona. It is a good stop for breaking up the monotonous drive through miles of barren landscape and sometimes strong winds. I had to drive my top heavy VANgo below the 75mph speed limit to keep from getting blown sideways.
Ten years ago, the Petrified Forest National Park was one of the last places I visited before ending my year long road trip in VANilla. Now it is one of my firsts! In my previous visit, I wandered around the area called Crystal Forest in the southern section where I entered the park. Thereafter, I made several stops at overlooks like most visitors were doing today.
During today’s visit, I entered from the north side after spending the night in Grants, New Mexico at a Harvest Host location called Route 66 Junkyard Brewery. Harvest Hosts is an organization that provides a network of places for fully contained RV’s to stay for free. The fee to join is currently only $79/year for access to 1,600 properties nationwide.
Route 66 Junkyard Brewery
Out of courtesy, RVer’s should respect the hosts’ property and support their local business. In this case, the active junkyard, also serves as a brewery. As a result, I purchased a Piñon Lager for $5. It was surprisingly tasty! The brewery is atmospheric with hoods of vehicles serving as tables and a classic car acting as the bar.
The owner Henry is a veteran, and he was busy filming a Route 66 Junkyard TV show. As a result, I and the other campers didn’t talk to him, but the bartender did her best to multitask, both taking orders and practicing lines with an actor.
I read in the reviews that people enjoyed checking out the classic cars. While there were a few in the garage area of the brewery, out in the junkyard where we parked, there were just lots of wrecked cars. I had hoped to do some photography with morning or evening light, but the lot was far from atmospheric. Though I did like the Rainbo Bread truck which was obviously not making deliveries today.
Upon my departure the next morning, I noticed an entire lot of classic cars on the other side of the brewery. This lot was locked and had a different name, but they would have been fun to explore. Another time.
Uniquely, of the few folks that filtered into the brewery that evening, I sat next to two guys from Colorado Springs who were headed to Mesa, Arizona to surprise their mom for her 80th birthday. On the way, they were doing a brewery tour in Albuquerque.
While Grants is only about an hour outside of Albuquerque, I was surprised it made their list as not much else is around. The beer and the draw of nostalgic Route 66 must speak for itself.
Petrified Forest National Park
Anyway, with my early morning start and the fact Arizona doesn’t participate in daylight savings, I arrived at the Painted Desert Visitor Center of Petrified Forest National Park around 9:15 am. I made the mistake of trying to stop in the center, only to find a line outside the door due to COVID.
After a bathroom break and talking to another Coloradoan who was in the process of his DIY Sprinter camper conversion, I found a long line of cars at the entrance gate at 9:30am. Fortunately, someone nice let me in, otherwise, I was going to have to exit out the entrance to the parking lot with a “Do Not Enter” sign. Note to self, always arrive on the quarter hour to avoid the hour and half-hour rush.
Ten years ago, I was a novice hiker and had an old dog. As a result, I selected short trails. Today, with my wild dog Annie, I picked a four-mile hike on AllTrails in Jasper Forest, previously known as First Forest, after consulting with the ranger at the entry gate.
While four miles is still short, it was a nice stretch for the legs before reaching Sedona for lots of hiking. The ranger warned me that the hike was in the “backcountry” and suggested I park in the right-hand section of the parking lot to follow the path down into the Painted Desert basin. Contrary to the ranger’s suggestion, the AllTrails app had me following a trail that descended from the left-hand side of the lot.
Ultimately, I began following the AllTrails map as I knew the exact distance, and despite the basin being open, it is easy to get off track when exploring the buttes and admiring the petrified wood. The AllTrails path takes hikers through a wash, past a butte, and along a dirt road which travels through a barren field to buttes in the distance.
More interested in the colorful bands of the Chinle Formation and the petrified wood, I abandoned my plan and veered off to right at the road. Inspecting the pieces of colorful stone trees was far more interesting to me than wandering through a barren desert.
It’s hard to believe that the Petrified Forest National Park was once a prehistoric rainforest. But over the past 200 million years, the continents moved, regions uplifted, and the climate changed, resulting in the tropical rainforest being buried by layers of sediment. Over time, the fallen trees soaked up water and silica from volcanic ash and crystalized into quartz. I think the formations are very cool!
After meandering around the south side of the basin, I returned to the lot and ventured over to the north side just to satisfy my curiosity from the ranger’s suggestion. Both sides feature nice specimens of petrified wood. The specimens are reached sooner on the north side, though there are also more people there. That is to say six people, rather than two!
It is likely easy enough and the most interesting to create a loop through the basin from the right side of the parking lot to the left. If I were to do it over again, I’d make this loop. I just didn’t know how far it would be, and despite being able to see, didn’t want to chance getting lost in the heat.
Petrified Forest National Park Is Dog Friendly
Additionally, off the beaten path and out of sight on the south side, gave Annie a chance to expend her energy. Fortunately, the Petrified Forest National Park is extremely dog friendly. This dog friendly policy is one of the main reasons why I revisited the park.
In most National Parks, dogs can hardly leave the parking lot. At Petrified Forest National Park, they can be on a leash on the trails. Consequently, Annie didn’t have to remain cooped up in a vehicle for our entire drive.
Other Places to Visit Along I-40 Between Albuquerque and Sedona
If rocks and hiking aren’t your thing, there are some other places to stop while breaking up the drive between Albuquerque and Sedona such as Route 66 Casino, the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary (currently closed due to COVID), Indian Trading posts, and the Meteor Crater.
For a place to stay near Petrified Forest National Park, consider the Wigwam in Holbrook for something kitchy that the kids will like. Visitors stay in teepees which include the basics like private bathrooms and TV’s.
Now that I have VANgo and a mobile place to stay, I continued on to dispersed camping south of Sedona. My Free Roam app suggested Forest Road 689 or Forest Road 525. Forest Road 525 sounded prettier, but it also came with more crowds and OHV traffic.
As a result, I selected Forest Road 689 that is generally “half-full” according to the app. It is not “half-full” in March during spring break, and the limited views in most spots are nothing to write home about.
My philosophy to arrive on Sunday afternoon after weekend campers had left, failed! Ultimately, I snuck the last spot which I shared with another large fifth wheel. Fortunately, everyone has been quiet and respectful, but I will be on the lookout for other dispersed camping for the future. ETB