If you want to take a day trip to another planet, consider visiting the Petrified Forest National Park. This stretch of unique desert, located on the Arizona border a few hours east of Flagstaff, is a reserve for trees that have been petrified into rainbow-colored stone. It’s a slice of desert that used to be a swamp. How amazing is that?
Why you should go: Yes, there is a lot of cool petrified wood. However, my favorite part about this place is the feel. The eerie silence, broken only by the occasional tourist and the squawk of crows, personifies the lonely fascination of the desert. This place has unsettled many of my dreams, and the memories I have from my two visits are always sharp in my head. It’s a place of extremes, of stark beauty, and of sights that you’ll never see anywhere else.
What to bring: Pack a lot of water and all the sun protection you have— I’ve been roasted to magenta from 20 minutes outside. Also take a camera with a lot of memory space, since nearly every inch of the park is a photo op.
What to do: Wander around looking at petrified trees. It doesn’t sound like much to do, but it can take up an entire afternoon. Stop by the visitor center at either end of the park to watch an informational video that explains how the trees came to be this way.
What else you need to know: One simple rule: don’t steal the rocks! The entrance fee to the park is $10 per vehicle, and that’s good for a full week. You can also camp for free in the park if you obtain a backcountry pass from the visitors office. Don’t plan your family vacation with this as a destination, but if you’re driving between Albuquerque and Flagstaff, definitely take the time for this detour.