Ifirst visited Petrified Forest National Park about 20 years ago, in mid-August, at mid-day. It was scorching hot, the sky hazy, and the petrified logs were uninspiring brown lumps. As you can imagine, I was in no great hurry to return.
But Eric had never been, and wanted to see for himself. “There’s not much to see,” I told him. But because we were passing by on our way from Lyman Lake to Flagstaff, we decided to make a quick stop. I was so wrong! Apparently time of year and time of day make all the difference here. This place is gorgeous—a couple of hours weren’t near enough, and Eric ended up having to drag me away.
In mid-May, with big billowy clouds sailing across the sky, the Petrified Forest was a wonderland of undulating dunes and colorful wood turned to stone by the magic of time and geologic processes. The names bestowed to the trails and historic structures enticed us deeper into the park: Rainbow Museum. Crystal Forest. Agate House. Jasper Forest. We walked several miles of trails, fascinated by the landscape and the spectacular rainbow colors of the petrified wood, remnants of the sub-tropical forest that stood here 200 million years ago.
With only a couple of hours in the park, we explored only a fraction of what we wanted to see. And sadly, we didn’t get to the Painted Desert, which is part of Petrified Forest National Park. Although there’s no camping within the park, just outside the entrance are two campgrounds associated with gift shops—Crystal Forest Campground is free, with no hookups; the other has electric hookups for $11. We’ll return, and we’ll stay in one of those campgrounds while we explore the rest of this unique and beautiful park. (I assure you, it will not be in August.)
Although we were headed for Flagstaff (another 120 miles away), a late spring snow storm in the mountains ahead deterred us, and we stopped instead at Homolovi State Park, halfway to our destination. It was no hardship—we love this little gem of a park. We first discovered Homolovi 10 years ago and have stayed here several times in our cross-country journeys.
Considered by the Hopi to be part of their ancestral homeland (Homol’ovi means “place of the little hills” in their language), the park—which includes seven sites with ruins—is a combined effort between the state and the Hopi people to protect this sacred place. The Hopi live on nearby mesas and regularly make pilgrimages to Homol’ovi for ceremonies and offerings.
Two of the ruin sites are open to visitors. Pathways wind among the adobe rubble of ancient villages, the only sound the gentle rustle of the wind through the grasslands and the harsh calls of the ravens. The most fascinating part of wandering these ancient villages is the abundance of potsherds left behind by the people who lived here between 1260 and 1400 AD. Painted, inscribed, coiled, and stamped—thousands of pieces of pottery are scattered throughout the ruins. Picking up and admiring the pottery is permissible—but of course, you can’t remove anything from the ruins.
After a peaceful night’s sleep and a morning of exploring the ruins, we continued another 85 miles to our campground just south of Flagstaff. (The snowstorm the day before had passed, and we arrived in perfect weather.) We’ve never found a private campground in Flagstaff that we like, so we always stay in one of the nearby Forest Service campgrounds, which are lovely, spacious, and peaceful. There’s one drawback—both Bonito Campground and Pine Grove Campground are almost 20 miles from town. But it’s an easy drive, and worth it for the tranquility and beauty.
It was a quick stopover for us in Flagstaff this time—just long enough for some truck maintenance and a couple of hikes, including part of the Arizona Trail in the campground, and the Fatman’s Loop in the hills above Flagstaff while we were waiting for our truck repairs to be completed. Lunch at Café Daily Fare was also on our short list of things to do—the food is creative and delicious, and we always make it a point to stop here when we’re in Flagstaff. (Do not bring your rig—the parking is atrocious!) To round out our stay, we had a surprise call and delightful meet-up for coffee with our hometown friends Brenda and Morey, who were heading to the Casita factory in Texas to pick up their new rig. So much fun to meet up with friends on the road!
About the campgrounds:
Homolovi State Park seems to be somewhat of a hidden gem. It’s conveniently located just a few miles off of I-40 near Winslow, Arizona. The campground is peaceful, with spacious sites, fabulous sunsets, and dark night skies. It has an excellent visitor’s center and short but fascinating hiking trails. Although the campground seems to be getting more popular, we’ve never had a problem walking in and getting a site. Water and electric hookups, immaculate bathrooms and separate, private showers, good Verizon; $20 per night ($15 for non hookup sites).
Pine Grove Campground is a Forest Service campground 18 miles south of Flagstaff. Aptly named, the campground is situated in a beautiful forest of fragrant Ponderosa pines. If you choose a site on the exterior of the loops, your backyard will be an expansive view of pine forest and open meadows. Open from May through October, half of the sites are reservable. No hookups, but clean bathrooms, one coin-operated shower facility, dump station and water fill station, good Verizon. $22 per night, $11 with the Senior Pass.
Next Up: A Week Of Adventures: Lake Powell, AZ