There is only one long paved road that goes through the entire Petrified Forest National Park. The north entrance gate is located on I-40 east of Holbrook, Arizona and the south gate is on Highway 180, which also goes to Holbrook. The north gate entrance is the most popular starting point, because the drive going south first presents magnificent views of the majestic Painted Desert before arriving at the Petrified Forest, which is a fitting grand finale. Layers upon layers of multi color sandstone, volcanic ash and mineralized rock strata literally paint the desert with bright contrasting colors and one of the oddest looking landscapes that can possibly be imagined awaits at Blue Mesa.
When going south on Petrified Forest Road toward the end of the Painted Desert section, the rock strata changes color from earth tones to a light grayish blue color and this signifies arriving at Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa is a unique geological area that borders upon the Rainbow Forest section of this park, which is where the bulk of the ancient petrified trees can be found. Upon first glance, it does take a few moments to realize that the odd brown color rocks lying on the faded Blue Mesa are chunks of ancient petrified wood. Once a visitor knows what to look for, the scattered petrified wood can be noticed in any direction when standing on the crest of Blue Mesa.
The Blue Mesa scenic overlooks are located on the roadside and the hiking trailheads are easy to spot. The overlooks are on the crest of this big mesa, so the distant views do stretch out to the horizon. The gray, purple and blue spectrum of rock strata colors in this place certainly are other worldly. In fact, the Blue Mesa landscape almost resembles pictures of the moon, but this amazing landscape is in full living color! The layers of white, blue, purple, gray and magenta volcanic ash and mineralized cinders paint this mesa with colors that are rarely seen anywhere else. Blue Mesa is very photogenic and many artists have spent days studying the dramatic views while applying paint to the canvas.
The main Blue Mesa Hiking Trail Loop is paved, so those who have mobility challenges can experience this amazing landscape. Staying on the trail is part of the rules of the park, because this is a sensitive environmental area where a slight disturbance can mean life or death for the local flora and fauna. Going off trail to collect bits of petrified wood is strictly taboo and this area is heavily monitored, so it is best to resist the temptation. For those who want to bring home a memento of the ancient past, there are petrified wood shops to be found just beyond the south entrance gate.
As always, be sure to pack plenty of water and stay hydrated when visiting the Petrified Forest National Park, especially during the extreme heat of summer. It also pays to watch your step, because there are dangerous rattlesnakes and scorpions in this region. Blue Mesa is one of many unique features in the Petrified Forest National Park and this amazing geological feature is very easy to access. Spending some time viewing this one of a kind landscape certainly will create pleasant memories that will last a lifetime!
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