Route 66 - Hello Arizona

On west-bound I-40 coming into Arizona.
Just about 20 miles from Gallup lies the Arizona state line. In my humble opinion, if you could only travel Route 66 through one state, Arizona would be it. With some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of America, be sure your camera battery is charged and you have lots of room on the photo card. Here you will encounter the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, Canyon Diablo, Meteor Crater, beautiful mountains and thick pine forests. Numerous ghost towns and abandoned trading posts are located all along Route 66 as it winds its way through colorful sands and between looming buttes. The population here is light and the air is clean and fresh. This is the place where with just a little bit of trying, you can get away from it all, sit back, enjoy the wide open spaces and breathe easy.

Indian City in Allantown.
After stopping at Indian City in Allantown (on the Navajo Indian Reservation) for cold drinks and to let Youngest-daughter get a shopping fix, we continued our journey west.  (Side note: this is also the area where  Fort Courage is located, a mocked up version of the fort from F-Troop, the TV show that began in 1965. Just my opinion, but there is no need to stop here - tourist trap big time with cheap, hokey F-Troop souvenirs. Sad.)  Route 66 from the state line to exit 311 runs right next to I-40; sometimes serving as the southern frontage road and then crossing over to serve as the northern frontage road and then sometimes joining and becoming I-40. The old road is now mostly broken blacktop with some rough stretches of gravel or just plain dirt and some sections simply disappear or lie on private property. It is not advised to try this if it has recently rained. Since we could see the road running mostly right along beside us, rather than spend the extra time driving slowly and crossing back and forth for no reason other than to say we actually drove on that particular roadway, we decided to stay on I-40 until we arrived at the Petrified Forest National Park.

Entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park.
The park actually consists of 2 separate areas, the Painted Desert region which contains the north entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park and the National Park itself, which lies to the south. A 28-mile park road provides overlooks and parking areas for access to trails and picnic areas. There is a very early, dirt road version of Route 66 which cuts through a corner of the Painted Desert region, but you cannot drive it.

The story of the petrified remains of trees that are millions of years old started when logs in the area were washed into the low-lying swamp that used to cover this region. As volcanoes to the west spewed tons of ash into the area, the logs were buried in the sediment. Then, water passing over the buried logs caused the silica in the ash to dissolve into the logs which replaced the cell walls and crystallized into mineral quartz. Minerals rich in iron combined with the quartz to produce the brilliant colors we see today.

Petrified logs laying about doing what petrified logs do.
A much better story though comes from the Indians. According to them, a goddess was tired and hungry as she walked through the area. She killed a rabbit and attempted to build a fire with the logs that were laying on the ground, but the logs were soaked and would not ignite. In her anger, the Goddess turned the logs to stone.

Plan to spend at least a couple of hours driving through the park, another hour or more for the visitor centers,  and then another 30 minutes or more driving west on Hwy 180 at the southern end of the park to return to I-40 and Route 66. If you do not have 1/2 a day to delay your trip, feel free to take a pass on the parks, but you may wish later you had taken the time. One more thing - don't even think about taking a piece of petrified wood from the park. There is a federal law which prohibits it, a phone number for people to call if they see someone pocketing a piece, and the park rangers will ask you if you took anything as you exit the park. If they even think you are lying, they have the right and they will require you to pull over and they will search your car. It's the right thing to do - with thousands of visitors to the park every year, if everyone took a piece of wood with them, there would soon be none left for our grand-kids to look at. Besides, there are dozens of rock shops and trading posts that will sell you a piece of wood that wasn't collected in the park. One of the shops Youngest-daughter and I stopped at had a "Buy one, get one free" sell so we both legally took back home the perfect rock we each hand picked - for about $5.
Overlooking the Painted Desert.




Petroglyphs within the park are an easy hike from the road.

An early Route 66 roadbed cutting through the Painted Desert. 

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state: