It’s a 12 hour drive from Tulsa to Petrified National Forest. The good news is you gain two hours from the time zone differences. If you need to stretch your legs about halfway through, you can also stop by Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX; even better, if you leave at midnight, the sun is just beginning to rise.
Petrified National Forest was my first National Park experience. They charge a $20 entrance fee per vehicle (I didn’t purchase my National Park Pass until Grand Canyon, but they were happy to deduct $20 from the cost).
Entrance from the North off of I-40 leads you to the Painted Desert first. There are multiple look outs for you to take in all the colors of the desert. The Painted Desert Rim Trail is between two lookouts at the trailheads: Tawa Point and Kachina Point. It’s a short one mile trail with little change in elevation, however, it puts you in direct Arizona sunlight, so be prepared! The trail gives you the chance to take in the plant and animal species in this climate; I saw a lizard, yuccas, and cacti!
It was also really cool to see rain pouring out of clouds in the desert. I definitely broke a sweat on this short one mile trail, but it was a great warm up for the Blue Mesas!
Petrified National Forest is spread out, so you have to drive from each attraction. The Blue Mesas are located within a loop.
The lookouts are INCREDIBLE, but the hike is so much better! On June 2nd there was even a little bit of overcast, which was really enjoyable. The Blue Mesa trail is a short one mile loop with 147 ft change in elevation. It puts you at ground level with these multicolored sandstone beds. This trail descends quickly and takes you all around the mesas. The wind was blowing so hard, but it was some of the best weather experienced during this trip, especially with the cloud coverage.
You can also enjoy cacti and petrified wood along this trail.
The Giant Log trail is a short 0.4 mile hike and has some of the biggest and more colorful logs on display. The wood appears to be cut by man, however, it’s mainly composed of quartz and due to stress, it broke like glass rods.
They have camping available by the gift store at Petrified, however, I ended up booking a night at a KOA, Kampgrounds of America, in Holbrook, AZ (30 minutes from the park). I had never stayed at a KOA before, but I would go out of my way to do it again. Free showers and free Wi-Fi, say no more! The tent site that was available was a “super tent.” It featured a sink with running hot/cold water, storage, privacy fence, and lights! It felt like glamping (glamorous camping).
Petrified National Forest and the Holbrook KOA kicked off a wonderful beginning to the 8 day adventure in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The hikes were fairly easy with rewarding views. I would go back to experience the Blue Mesas all over again.