USA Road trip – Petrified Forest and Painted Desert

Desert painted with amazing colours of different minerals, petrified forest with the trees that lived there over 200 million years ago and now are beautiful looking stones. Majestic sunset, magic sunrise. Sky full of stars. Sound of the coyotes breaking the total silence. How was the first day and night of the USA Road trip?

USA Road trip – part 1.

  • Alburquerque, New Mexico
  • Petrified forest National Park, Arizona
  • Painted Desert, Arizona
  • Route 66 and Flagstaff, Arizona

Initially I was going to go alone. I really wanted to take this trip, however, I couldn’t find anyone, who could join me, so I thought that alone travel could be nice experience as well. But true is saying “when you travel, you never travel entirely alone”, especially in the places, that you can find other people. So, thanks to handy coincidences, it turned out, that I met my old friends during this trip and also made some new ones, still benefiting from traveling alone and doing what I wanted! Pretty cool, huh? 🙂

Day 1

Flights and planes

The trip started at the airport in Houston, where, after spending one month in that city for training, just with a small bag as a hand luggage, I boarded a plane to Alburquerque (seriously, who invented that name?!) in New Mexico. I was supposed to meet there with my old university friend Wladek and travel for few days together.

Flight was nice and not too long, in the smallest airplane, that I ever been to (even smaller than Ryanair planes!). However, with some free snacks and drinks (United airlines). I was also able to see great mountains and the New Mexico desert when approaching Alburquerque from the air.

After some more adventures (my friend’s flight was delayed because of faulty planes, I couldn’t contact him and I was waiting for couple of hours on the airport not sure if we’ll finally meet), we finally got to the rental cars office, ready to start the journey!

We just had 4 days together, one car, too little time and a lot to see! Fortunately, we eventually agreed on the final route, which was quite challenging in that short time. However, we managed to complete it all, which was pretty awesome 🙂

First National Park of the trip!

Our first stop was Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park in Arizona, where we decided to spend the night.

*Good tip: before assuming that you’re going to stay somewhere for the night, check what time they close and how much in advance you need to be there to get a backcountry permit (permit, that allows you to camp in the wild areas of the national parks – pretty awesome thing btw!)

As you can imagine, we didn’t check it and we reached the Park Entrance Station at 4.50pm. Guess what time it was the closing? Yeah, you’re right – 5 pm. And as we found out, the back country permit need to be asked for at least one hour before closing. However, as were are both born under a lucky star, the head officer of the Park was really nice and after hearing, that we are from Poland, we came such a long way to see this place, and we are both geologists – he couldn’t say no to us 🙂

*Good tip part 2: You need to pay for the entrance to most of the National Parks in States. Fees are between $ 10-25. However, we ( lucky ones! ) didn’t pay a single penny for it. Why? Because the weekend when we traveled was a public holiday in USA. It was President’s Day – from 13-16 February, which meant, that the entrances to the National Parks were free. Surprisingly, it didn’t mean thousands of people visiting them at once – it was nice and calm, acctually. Opposite to the summer time, that I’ve heard can be really busy. So, when you are in USA around that time one day – go and visit the parks! 

Camping, coyotes and sausages.

And there we were – in the empty desert with a sun slowly going down. We left our car on the parking area, took our stuff and went down to the desert to find good place for camping. The official rule says, that you’re supposed to camp at least 1 mile from the road, so after walking a bit something like this, we found nice flat hill and pitched our tent there. Surrounded by petrified parts of the trees, colorful deposits and miles of wildeness, we watched stunning sunset.

Night was a bit cold, but very quiet. You couldn’t hear literally anything. Just once in the night, closer to the moring, we were woken up by sounds of the barking coyotes, somewhere in the distance. We’ve never seen coyote close before and we didn’t know what to expect from them, so just in case, the water from the sausages from our dinner were poured veeery far from our tent 😉

As we had really busy schedule for the following day, we woke up before the sunrise and started to going back to the car, looking on the amazing formations on the way.

Looking for the wood

Our camping area was at the very beginning of the National Park, so we drove further into the Park. The road took us to some nice places, showing more petrified wood and trails. Layered blues, purples and greys, created by iron, carbon, manganese and other minerals, standed in cone-shaped formations by the road. Finely colourful petriried logs, created by minerals in the silica saturated water, were laying on the trails. Petrified wood is really heavy – it weighs up to 200 pounds per cubic foot! And even without that being the issue – collecting it from the park is strictly prohibited. On the way back we saw many places, that were selling the same kind of stones, but it was said, that coming from the private lands. There are also a lot of fossils in the Park area – including one of the North America’s earliest dinosaur fossils (“Gertie”).

Route 66

After leaving the Park we continued in the direction of Grand Canyon – on the famous Route 66. US Route 66 is the most famous road in America. Historic Route 66 ran through 8 states, connecting Chicago with Santa Monica in California,  covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). In my trip I passed through it several times, I also was at its end. We took a short stop in the lovely small university town of Flagstaff, before taking scenic route to the Canyon.

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Next parts of the trip coming soon!

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