Petrified Forest National Park and the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Petrified Forest National Park was another of those stops that was never on our original itinerary. Our next planned stop was Albuquerque, but the drive there was longer than we wanted to do in a single day. As I sat in the little room at the Grand Canyon Community Library and searched the web for a good place to stop between Grand Canyon and Albuquerque, I stumbled upon Petrified Forest National Park. Only about 20 miles off of I-40 and almost exactly the midpoint of our journey, this was the obvious choice. And as an added bonus, it was one more national park to stamp in the kids’ passports and add to our tally.

We’d passed several other opportunities to see petrified forests along our route, but always chose to prioritize other things to see and do in those areas. It’s not that we weren’t interested, just that you can’t do everything. In this part of Arizona, there weren’t too many other options, so it was time to satisfy our curiosity about petrified wood.

I’m sure there was much more available to do at the park than we had time to do. We took the walking tour of the main area, checked out the visitor center and the gift shop, then it was time to get back on the road. It’s fascinating how minerals replaced the biological material in these old logs such that they are perfectly preserved and look just like logs despite being stone. At the same time, for me it was a “seen one, seen ’em all” kind of experience. “Oh look, there’s a big one.” “Oh look, an even bigger one.” The variation in size and color wasn’t enough to excite me so much. Alas, a geologist I am not.

Overview of the main field that the self-guided tour loops around

This is one of the smaller specimen (can you call them that?) but this is a pretty good representation of how they look… Like a log, but also like a rock.

A more artistic angle on the end of one of the larger “logs”

It wasn’t something that held the kids’ attention for long either. At 3, Emelie is at the age where the world is still new and everything is equally remarkable. A rock that looks like a log? Okay. No big deal. Why wouldn’t there be rocks that look like trees? But the desert provides more than enough sand to keep toddlers happy, and often we were the ones that were ready to move on first. The game that got us around the self-guided tour was “find the next number”. She was then just getting good at recognizing numbers and being able to put them in sequence, so she loved showing us what she knew. “What number are we on here? 5, right. And what comes after 5? Right, can you go find the 6?” And away we go.

Oblivious to the geological phenomenon beside her. It’s all about the sand!

Or we could see what happens if we put sand on the rock log…

Nah, I’ll just sit by this drainage pipe and play in the sand.

She did a great job of following the numbers. And stopped to trace each one along the way. An educational stop, just not in the way you might think.

I’m not sure it would have been worth the trip if it hadn’t been right along our route and a perfect place for an overnight stop. But we got to stretch our legs, see something we’d never seen before, and it inspired a good theological discussion in the car about what we believe about the formation of these and other ancient geological phenomena.

The night before, arriving later in the day from the Grand Canyon, we stayed at the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA. Here’s a little review (sorry, we didn’t take any pictures).

Campground Review: Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA

Price: $29/night. Very reasonable for a KOA.
Location: Approximately 20 miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, less than 2 miles off of I-40.
Facilities: Clean bathrooms and showers, a good playground, pool (May-September only). Wifi is available for an additional fee, but with limited range. I sat in the game room above the offices to use it.
Site-description: Gravel, some small trees.
Neighborhood: Mostly retired couples in larger RVs. In late October, this wasn’t so surprising.
Comments: They also offer “Cowpoke Cookouts” every night for an additional charge. Menus are provided at check-in. We chose to skip it and cook for ourselves, so I can’t comment on the quality.

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