Our previous exploration of the Petrified Forest National Forest wrapped up the portion of the park south of Interstate 40. If you would like to catch up and explore the previous episode of our look into the park, you may watch our video or read our blog. Today, however, we complete our extensive tour of the park by visiting a large number of the overlooks at the Painted Desert section as well as taking a peek at the Painted Desert Inn.
The north portion of the park is a much different landscape than the one we have seen previously. This desert badland area is called the Painted Desert and for good reason. Vibrant red, gray and lavender layers are revealed everywhere you look. These layers are made up of siltstone, mudstone and shale from the Triassic Chinle Formation. Much of the same materials that created the petrified logs in the park are responsible for the Painted Desert. Over time erosion has occurred revealing ever evolving formations.
Thankfully the Painted Desert section of the park is not lacking fantastic views here. There are a number of overlooks on a looped drive that one can stop and pull over to utilize - eight overlooks, in fact! And we went to each one because we are completionists and after all… these overlooks were created for a reason.
For our visit we started at the furthest overlook and worked our way back to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. This would make Lacey Point our first stop. Here the land below is predominantly varying shades of red. Stretched out far in the distance one can make out the San Francisco Peaks around Flagstaff rising out of the horizon. The view here simply goes on and on.
A short distance to the Northeast is Whipple Point. Here the view is very similar to Lacey Point but bands of white and gray begin to emerge providing contrast and much more interesting details. You can still see the far off mountain peaks at the lookout. If time is a factor, this stop is preferable to the two we’ve visited so far.
Be sure and read the informational signs along the way if you can. You’ll learn a lot more about the park, routes that traders and various expeditions took through the area over the ages and loads more information than we ever could provide on this blog. It’s entertaining to stand looking out below and imagine camels and other travelers making their way through the desert landscape.
Continuing along the road, you will next come to Nizhoni Point. If you look carefully, you might find an unofficial dirt packed trail that leads down into the valley. If you dare to take this path, you will see completely different perspectives of what might otherwise first appear to be more of the same. Petrified wood that were distant specks become clearer. The rolling red hills play off each other and you will truly feel immersed in the desert. Of course, what goes down must come up!
Pintado Point is the next overlook. Here you will find a sweeping panoramic view due to the way the road juts out and starts heading east. You can view back to where we started and far off to the northeast. This is a must stop overlook if ever there was one. Thankfully there is a helpful sign to assist in pointing out interesting features.
The next stop, Chinde Point provides a great place to stop and rest. A number of shaded picnic tables and water spigots allow one to have a bite to eat, get out of the sun, apply sunblock and simply sit enveloped by the nature in front of you. There are also restrooms at this point as well, however, at the time of our visit they were closed. An unfortunate reality of the pandemic and times we currently live in.
The view itself is nothing short of spectacular. The red hills rising from the desert floor are plentiful and create a lot of texture. In the distance you can see Pilot Rock. One can hike out to the peak from our next stop but seeing as the trail is nearly 17 miles, we simply didn’t have the time.
The next overlook is both Kachina Point and the historic Painted Desert Inn. Due to the building being so close to the lookout this is a popular stop for many visitors and rightfully so! It’s really quite a gorgeous structure!
Originally built in the 1920s, the Painted Desert Inn was constructed of petrified wood found strewn through the area. For twelve years the building, known then as the "Stone Tree House", was a place travelers could stop, get a meal, purchase a souvenir or two, have a cool drink and rest for the night. Despite having no electricity or running water, this place was a welcome respite from the harsh conditions of the area. Unfortunately, the clay the building was built on proved not to be stable and renovations took place in the 30s which added an adobe facade.
Kachina Point is located right next to the Inn and also features a wide panoramic view. If you only have time for one overlook in the Painted Desert… make it this one.
Heading east you will next find Tawa Point. This overlook has a paved trail that wraps around for more gorgeous views in many directions. You can look back northwest and see the Painted Desert Inn, plenty of contrasting layers in the hillsides and if you’re lucky, maybe a friendly raven or two!
Our last stop was Tiponi Point. For many people entering the park through the north gate, this would be your first stop. While there isn’t particularly a bad stop along the road we think there’s better ones for those that are trying to pack in many things this park has to offer.
You can certainly see that there isn’t a shortage of sights, breathtaking views and tangible history laying before your eyes. Don’t forget to check out our companion video while you’re at it to see for yourself.
For those who have followed along on our journey through the park, thank you! We hope you enjoyed our content and that we may have helped plan your own visit to this fantastic park.