About the Site
Petrified Forest National Park (2)  


Park History

Petrified Wood

Painted Desert

Blue Mesa


Petroglyphs and Ruins

The Tepees

Scrub and Grasslands



Rainbow Forest

Crystal Forest


Petroglyphs and Ruins

In addition to the beautiful desert scenery Petrified Forest National Park also contains a rich collection of archaeological remains from many centuries of human occupation. Chief among these are the remarkable petroglyphs found in several parts of the park. These are figures carved into the dark "desert varnish" which covers the sandstone. The rock below is known as "Newspaper Rock" and is one of the best examples of petroglyphs found in the southwestern United States. The drawings were probably carved by the Anasazi.

More petroglyphs can be found at the Puerco Indian Ruin in the central portion of the park. The setting for these petroglyphs can be seen in the picture below.

A closer view shown is shown here. It is not currently known what the significance of the drawings might be, although some seem to serve as a solar calendar.

More detail of these petroglyphs can be seen in the picture below. Most striking is the large wading bird--an avocet, perhaps--pictured just to the left of center. It is not known whether the artist depicted a frog, or a person, in the bird's mouth.

The Puerco Indian Ruin was inhabited during the 1100's and again during the 1300's. It is one of more than 300 Indian ruins in the park. This area supported a small farming community of perhaps 60-75 inhabitants, possible due of its proximity to the then-flowing Puerco River. Below are the remains of a 76 room pueblo, some of whose buildings may have stood two stories high. These walls are formed by slabs of sandstone laid in adobe mortar. Interestingly, the ruin was first excavated by John Muir, more often known as a naturalist than an archaeologist, in 1905 and 1906.

Another remarkable relic of earlier human habitation is the Agate House in the south section of the park. This house, originally built as an Anasazi pueblo, is constructed entirely of pieces of petrified wood. It was perhaps occupied for only a short time and was probably last occupied about 700 years ago.

It was restored to its present condition by the National Park Service in 1934.

The house originally had 7 rooms, of which two were reconstructed. The reconstruction is not entirely accurate, as evidenced by the presence of windows which wouldn't have been part of the original building.

The Tepees

Although Petrified Forest is not a large national park, it possesses some varied and remarkable scenery. One of the most striking areas within the park is the "Tepees", so named because of the resemblance of the striated hills to Indian dwellings.

The conical hills have been carved from blue and red mudstone by the erosive forces of wind and water. Iron, manganese, and other are responsible for the colors of the rocks.

Desert Scrub and Grasslands

The land within the park is very dry, receiving only about 9 inches of precipitation per year, most of which occurs in short thunderstorms between July and September. However, the land itself is quite varied. Below is a view across Jasper Forest to the northeast.

Below is a view from approximately the same place looking in the opposite direction toward the southeast.

The view below looks northeast from the Agate Bridge area toward Blue Mesa. Although from an angle like this the ground appears to be covered by vegetation, the plans actually grow a distance from one another because there isn't enough moisture to support them growing in close proximity.

No water flows through the park around the year, although the dry bed of the Puerco River, which once nourished the Indians who lived in the Puerco Pueblo, can be seen on the left below. The strong winds which blow through the park raise huge clouds of dust from the dry bed, visible against the sky in this picture.

Here is a view looking north from the rim of Blue Mesa.

The hills and cliffs in the park have been heavily eroded by the action of the strong winds and occasional cloudbursts. This view below looking westward from the Crystal Forest illustrates the results of these erosive forces.

Two views of the landscape in the southern portion of the park are shown in the pictures below. First is a view looking toward "The Flattops" and Puerco Ridge.

Next is a view across the desert from the south entrance station at twilight.

That's the Jasper Forest below, where specimens of petrified wood are scattered across the plain. The petrified logs in the park may contain jasper, agate, and chalcedony.

The desert is never more beautiful than at twilight. This view looks west at sunset from the southern portion of the park.


Even though the park does not receive much precipitation, there are lots of different plants which can be found there. Below is Indian Paintbrush, common in many western national parks.

Below is one of the desert plants which can be found in the park.

This is western wallflower, blooming here even in early spring. The Zuñi Indians use ground remains of these flowers as protection against sunburn.


Except for ruins, there are few buildings in the park. One historic building which does exist is the Painted Desert Inn, originally built as a roadside inn and long a respite for folks traveling west on Route 66, now Interstate 40, which runs through the park. The Inn occupies a position on the rim above the Painted Desert.

The Painted Desert Inn is currently listed as a National Landmark. It was originally built in 1924, enlarged in 1930 by the CCC, and purchased by the National Park Service in 1936. It is a mixture of Spanish and Indian pueblo styles, as can be seen below. It also features beautiful murals inside the building painted in 1947 by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

There are two major visitor's centers in the park, one in the northern section and one in the south next to the Rainbow Forest and Giant Logs. The visitor's center (in the right portion of the picture), along with a panorama of the south section of Petrified Forest National Park, is shown below. The Giant Logs Trail can be seen in the foreground.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com