SW National Parks Trip: The Painted Desert

We began our trip through Petrified Forest National Park with a stop at the Visitor’s Center, for postcards and my National Parks stamp!  As Visitor’s Centers go, this is a fairly large one, with a cafe and even a gas station!  But with this being a stop-through for us, we didn’t have enough time to do any major hiking, so we got the information on the highlights and moved on.

The Entrance Sign at Petrified Forest National Park

The Entrance Sign at Petrified Forest National Park

The park is basically a 26 mile north-south strip of land, with a road running north-south through the middle of it.  About half of the park lies north of Interstate 40, and half lies south.  Holbrook is the only town of any size nearby and it is located at the southern end of the park.  We drove north first, into the Painted Desert.

As I discussed in my last post, the Painted Desert is a badlands desert consisting of layers of siltstone, mudstone, and shale, topped with layers of limestone and volcanic ash.  Due to the fact that these layers erode at different rates, the landscape has become a series of colorful mesas rising above a valley floor.  It is considered a cold desert, warm in the summers and cold in the winters, but it receives hardly any snow – less than 3 inches per year.

The red layers of the Chinle Formation

The red layers of the Chinle Formation

Along our way we stopped by to see the Painted Desert Inn.  This Inn was built between 1937 and 1940 using Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) labor.  The Inn prided itself on offering excellent hospitality to travelers stopping at this remote location along Route 66.  The Inn also served meals in an onsite diner and had an ice cream and soda fountain counter.  From 1947 to 1963, the Inn and the diner were operated by the Fred Harvey Company and staffed with Harvey Girls.

The Painted Desert Inn – built 1937 to 1940

The Painted Desert Inn – built 1937 to 1940

The Fred Harvey Company revolutionized the concept of travel dining and is credited with establishing the first chain restaurant.  When trains began shuttling people west in the mid 1800s, the only option for meals during the journey was at roadhouses at stops along the tracks.  The food was subpar.  Fred Harvey began building inns and restaurants at key stops along the rail line, and created a system to quickly feed all of the passengers on the train a quick yet quality meal.

He eventually transitioned to hiring only young, single, white female servers and established strict expectations for them.  To be a Harvey Girl meant adhering to a high standard of manners and civility, remaining single, wearing a very conservative serving uniform, and having a curfew of 10 pm.  In exchange, they received a generous wage for the time, and room and board.

The Painted Desert Inn closed in 1963, and was slated for demolition until there was a public outcry by citizens.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.  Now the soda fountain and diner have been restored, and you can see what it would have looked like when it was operating as an inn.  The Inn also contains a small museum with exhibits on its history, and historic photographs and postcards.  It was a brief stop, but well worth the time.

As I mentioned, Petrified Forest National Park is located along historic Route 66, the famed route that lead people from Chicago to Los Angeles.  The park has a scenic viewpoint dedicated to Route 66, where you can see where the road once was.  It is marked by the old telephone poles that once lined the stretch of road, adjacent to the current Interstate 40.  It was interesting to think about some of my relatives traveling on this same stretch long before I was alive.

This car didn’t make it to California! The telephone poles in the background mark the old Route 66.

This car didn’t make it to California! The telephone poles in the background mark the old Route 66.

We also stopped to see The Tepees area, which contain mesas with thick deposits of grey, blue, purple, and green mudstones and minor sandstone beds.  The layering and color differences are very prominent here, and we enjoyed checking out the different mesas and comparing them.  The Tepees area of the park is part of the Blue Mesa Member, which is one of the oldest layers in the Chinle Formation; it is 220-225 million years old.  Wow.  In case you didn’t know, like me, Member means layer.

The blue, gray and red layers of The Tepees area

The blue, gray and red layers of The Tepees area

The Tepees area; part of the Blue Mesa Member. It is 220 – 225 Million Years Old

The Tepees area; part of the Blue Mesa Member.
It is 220 – 225 Million Years Old

In my next post, I’ll tell you about our visit to the southern section of the park, which contains more petrified wood!

Have you been to Petrified Forest National Park?  What was your favorite part?


11 thoughts on “SW National Parks Trip: The Painted Desert

  1. Geology geek here, worked at WASPk Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park for three years while I was in college (the first time around); we have a very different petrified forest, but none-the-less exciting.
    Have you been to John Day in Oregon? The red, green and tan layers look similar to the Blue Mesa Member strata.

    • I have been to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest before – I agree it is very different, but beautiful in its own right. I haven’t yet been to John Day, but it is on my list! I have been wanting to get over there for several years now! We are hoping to do Bend, Oregon next year, and hopefully can do a trip over there when we are closer.

  2. Pingback: SW National Parks Trip: Grand Canyon Village | Wine and History Visited

    • Thank you! John Day Fossil Beds is on my list, but we haven’t made it there yet. I’m hoping to soon! I was just lamenting to my husband that we have far too little time to travel… 😦

      • Thank you! I got a new camera for Christmas and am playing more with editing, so I hope the photos get even better.

        I am certainly trying to work all the early retirement angles – win the lottery, find anonymous benefactor, rob a bank, you know, the usual. Just kidding. My husband and I do try to live within reason though, so travel along the way and a semi-early retirement will be in the cards. Camille

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