The Painted Desert

The Painted Desert

When we finally got out of the Grand Canyon, we headed over to see the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert.  There’s more red rock in Arizona than you can shake a stick at, but the Painted Desert has a surprising range of colors, even including a lavender-mauve.

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The place got its name from the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola. Struck by the variety of colors in the area as they passed through, they named the area “El Desierto Pintado” – The Painted Desert.

I’ll try to keep the geology lesson short.  The rocks are made of layers of siltstone, mudstone, and shale, and they contain iron and manganese compounds which provide the various colors.

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Much of the Painted Desert is located within the Petrified Forest National Park, where motorized travel is limited. But there are large areas visible from the roadways (these shots were all taken from the road).  The park also offers hiking routes into the colored hills. Do not stray too far, however, as the Painted Desert continues north into the Navajo Nation, where off-road travel is by permit only.

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The Painted Desert is located in the Four Corners area running from near the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. It is most easily accessed in the north portion of The Petrified Forest National Park.  The park is located at 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest, AZ 86028.  Telephone 928-524-6228.  Hours vary by season; check website for details.

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