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.
The Artistry Of Dunes And Petrified Wood
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.
Click on photos for larger image
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.)
Homolovi State Park, A Gem Of A Park
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.
A Couple Of Days In Flagstaff, AZ
After a peaceful night’s sleep and a morning of exploring the ruins at Homolovi, 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.
Thanks so much for this post. We must have visited at the same time of year years ago because I was agreeing with you “not much to see” until I continued to read along! Now we’ve got to go back and experience it again.
Love the lizard, I bet he’s quite a ladies man with those striking colors and pose designed for maximum affect!
So funny that you had the same experience, Sue! I’m looking forward to returning to the Petrified Forest—and I’m hoping for a cloudy day again, because that makes it all the more beautiful. The lizard was most handsome—I’ll bet the ladies do love him. :-)
Timing is everything and we loved the forest. You have to see the Painted Desert!! The western edge of it runs just north of Homolovi with some really pretty colors. We loved the ruins and the pottery shards, it was one of our favorite spots on I-40. And you are so right about parks in Flagstaff all being horrible!! We’ll just stay in Williams next time through :-) Love your Loop hike – you found some great treasures.
Jodee, I was so bummed that we didn’t have time for the Painted Desert—I remember your lovely photos! So glad you enjoyed Homolovi, too—it’s a really special place. You guys would fit easily into the Forest Service campgrounds near Flagstaff, should you be interested. (No electric, though.)
We loved visiting the Petrified Forest on our way east one year. Can’t remember which year, but I think it was in January. It was gorgeous. We especially liked it as one of the few national parks where we could take our dog on the trails. We love the desert, and this place was fun to hike. Glad you went back. Now I have to go find the campground with the ruins and save that one! geez…gotta get back on the road one of these days. You are making me homesick…I mean RV sick. Is that a word?
Sue, I would love to visit the Petrified Forest in winter. I’ll bet it’s gorgeous then! You will enjoy Homolovi State Park. It’s a convenient stop off of I-40, with many interesting sights nearby (Little Painted Desert and Winslow are two that come to mind). Yes, I think RV-sick should be a word, just like homesick. :-)
We almost went to The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert as we moved north but opted for Lake Powell again. We will definitely get this way next year:) Your petrified trees were prettier than ours were. I was disappointed that the ones we just saw didn’t have colored crystal effect like others I’ve seen and you showed in your photo. The Indian ruins would be a great bonus. Thanks for the campground suggestions:)
Pam, I think you’ll enjoy a day or two in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. I was stunned by the beautiful gem-like colors of the wood. We’ll definitely return for more explorations! I think you’ll like Homolovi, too. A couple of years ago we hiked to both of the ruin sites—both well worth it. And the campground is beautiful.
It was so great to meet up with you both while on the road. It’s funny but we went to the painted desert and dinked around enough that we didn’t make it to the petrified forest part. Have to go back and take more time to see it all. Thanks for the great photo of us. I’ll use it on FB.
Brenda, it was great to see you guys in Flagstaff—such a fun surprise! I’m envious that you got to see the Painted Desert—we definitely need to return to do it all. Glad you like your photo. :-)
Thank you so much for the campground recommendations. We spent some time in both the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert back in 2011 and were just awestruck. I’ll have to go back and look up where we stayed. Your ‘So Vibrant’ picture is just amazing. Is that with the 50 or the 60? A 20 mile drive seems like nothing actually since our farm was 23 miles from Charlottesville and we drove it daily. How wonderful to hold potsherds from ancient peoples. I’m amazed frankly that it is permitted and no one steals them or abuses them or writes their names on them.
I hope you’ll put those campgrounds to good use, Sherry. :-) Eric and I are both shooting with Canon SX60’s since my SX50 croaked (so, so sad—and a good lesson to protect our cameras from rain). It is truly amazing to be able to hunt for the potsherds—people seem to be really respectful, and simply arrange them on rocks. Homolovi is a beautiful, sacred place.
Love the picture of the collared lizard. We loved the Petrified Forest and stayed a couple of days, there is actually a fair bit to do. Your picture of the campground is nothing like I remember it, they must have upgraded it.
We always seem to be going through there when the forest campgrounds are closed, which is a pity. We stayed in Williams last time at the Railway RV park, the sites are new but it’s quite expensive, luckily we got a PA discount.
Jane, I wish we had stayed longer in the park because the weather was so gorgeous! The clouds make the landscape even more photogenic.
We’ve also stayed in Williams at the Railway RV Park with the PA discount—it worked out well for us to walk downtown for a stroll down nostalgic Route 66.
That Lizard is so elusive, I still have to see one personally, great capture as he is standing up.
The park really has the biggest concentration of amazing petrified wood and yes you have checked out only a fraction. We visited there last October when Steve took me on a road trip.
ML, those collared lizards are such amazing little jeweled creatures! We’ve only seen a few in our travels, and not always so bright and beautiful as this one. We’re definitely going to return to the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. So much more to explore….
We spent a quick overnight at the Petrified Forest but did not get to the Painted Desert. I was fascinated by all the colors in the fallen wood and the petroglyphs. I love your photo of the collared lizard. They are such a delight to spot. And those duck tacos made me drool.
LuAnn, we were amazed by the colors of the petrified wood, too. Seems like we both need to return for a visit to the Painted Desert. Next time you’re in Flagstaff, I think you would enjoy lunch at Cafe Daily Fare—the food is consistently delicious (and healthy!).
We enjoyed walking around the ruins as we went thru there but the heat will get you. Flagstaff is always a treat and you are right about the parking.
Spring or fall is definitely the time to be in this area, Debbie. We might try winter sometime, too! But not summer, never again.
I just stumbled upon your blog searching for Great Basin National Park information! Unfortunately, I can’t comment on your About page, but I’m pretty sure you & your husband are my future self with my new hubby! :) It makes me so happy to see another loving adventure/travel couple out there doing what they love! Keep it up!!
Best wishes, Hilary
What a great post, thank you so much for sharing! We recently did our very first south west USA road trip, and it won’t be the last! Due to time and budget reasons we had to skip the petrified forest and seeing these pics, oooh what a shame! Will simply have to return, right?!
Thanks for commenting, Ingrid. How fun that you did your first southwest road trip! The Petrified Forest is worth a return visit. :-)