Arizona’s Painted Desert – 6 Great Reasons to Visit

March 13, 2010

Ever since I first set eyes on the Painted Desert in northern central Arizona I was immediately captivated by it’s unique rugged beauty. Covering 7,500 square miles starting from the Grand Canyon and spreading itself 150 miles in a south easterly direction, it’s width varying between 15 and 50 miles. Many mesas and buttes contour this sparse and arid land, with the multi layered Chinle formation displaying many different colours, sunrise and sunset have to be seen to be believed. These wonderful badlands are home to special places and fascinating people that will make your visit here a memorable one.

Petrified Forest National Park is situated at the very southern reaches, and features a 27 mile drive that can be taken at your leisure with many vantage points where petrified conifer trees from the Triassic period can be inspected up close. Some of the stop offs have paved trails that you can stroll at your own pace, while others like the Blue Mesa and Jasper Forest can only be seen from the viewpoints due to the delicate nature of the soil.

A house made entirely from petrified wood and some world famous petroglyphs are just two of the many interesting, and educational features of this beautiful park.

Drive the north and south rims of Canyon de Chelly by car, stopping off and walking down a trail to the white house ruins, this is free but can be tiring depending on your level of fitness. Here you will be greeted by the sight of a fabulous cliff dwelling built by the Anasazi and set into the sandstone sheer canyon wall. Access to the floor of the canyon is only permitted if you take a tour with a Navajo guide, this you will have to purchase but I guarantee the views will be breathtaking.

Just 35 miles east of Flagstaff is Meteor Crater, a visually stunning impact crater that was caused by a meteorite penetrating the earth’s atmosphere and slamming into the Arizona rock some 50,000 years ago. Used by Nasa to train the Apollo astronauts for the moon landings, this will get your camera clicking.

A short 12 mile drive north of Flagstaff will give you access to a loop road to Sunset Crater, this 1000 feet high volcano last erupted nearly 800 years ago and gets it’s name from the bright red cinder cone at it’s summit. By paying one entrance fee you also gain access to Wupatki National Monument, where well preserved ancient multi storey pueblos can be viewed at leisure.

The vast majority of the Painted Desert is the homeland of the Navajo Indians, whose tribal capital is Window Rock just south of Canyon de Chelly. A very informative museum in the capital will enlighten you of the Navajo past and lodgings are also available here. The Navajo farm and work the canyon floor, and if you do decide to take the tour, you can witness first hand the making of a Navajo rug and the interior of a hogan. Some of the most picturesque parts of these Arizona badlands are on Navajo soil.

Living atop 3 spectacular mesas, the Hopi Indian reservation is completely encircled by Navajo land. The Hopi are well known for their wicker basketry and pottery, but it is their very skilful work with sterling silver jewelry that makes them world famous. To be amongst the Hopi is indeed an experience, be sure to learn about the kachina dolls while you are there.

Well there you have it, six very good reasons to visit the Painted Desert, or El Desierto Pintado as the spanish named it.

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