Day 35 of Miami to Alaska Family Road Trip: Arizona’s Petrified Forest and a Strange Hotel

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The Grand Canyon is truly of the most beautiful places on Earth but unfortunately it also overshadows many surrounding natural treasures that are worth your visit.  One of those very special, must see places in the United States is Arizona’s Petrified Forest, the star of our family road trip’s 35th day.


Yes, that REALLY, REALLY is "Mater" from the movies Cars and Cars 2. This particular vehicle was the inspiration for that Disney Pixar's character.

So Long Sedona

We got off to a great start to our day in Sedona where we went rock photo hunting.  The sun rises in the east so if you want to get the spectacular glowing red rock photos you need to seek the spots that are lit from the east.  Sedona is fairly easy to drive with very few roads so if you get lost, ask any of the nearby hotels and they will guide you.

The Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest, located several miles south of Route 66 and about 200 miles east of the Grand Canyon , is both a national park and a national monument comprised of semi-desert shrubs as well as highly eroded and  colorful badlands.  Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, the park covers about 146 square miles and comprises the southern part of the Painted Desert.

Like many places along our road trip, the Petrified Forest was an improvised visit on a day of long driving so due to time constraints we only allotted two hours to see everything we could. The park ranger advised us to use our limited time to do the 36 mile loop that would take us to the gorgeous Blue Mesa and to then turn around and view the petrified trees and pieces of wood near the park’s museum.

Only about 600,000 visitors come here annually so driving and stopping for photos or video is a very placid, peaceful experience.  About the only thing you need to be on the lookout for here are desert winds that love to spontaneously whip themselves in a frenzy.  We saw a small desert wind storm when we were exiting the park.

I don’t know what it is about Arizona but after seeing Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon last year and then Sedona and the Petrified Forest this year we’re convinced there’s something otherworldly about this state.  The Petrified Forest itself is like a giant panoramic photo of landscapes that probably resemble something on Mars it looks so wild.

When we approached the Blue Mesa outlook, one of the clear highlights of the park, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the overlook has a one mile path that gradually declines to the bottom of the mesas.  The path declines in such a slow, safe fashion that even my daughter Briani was able to walk down, right next to the mesas.

Petrified Trees Plank

The other star of this park are the petrified trees located in the park area of the museum.  Through the process of petrification, barks and trunks of trees appear like a tree from a distance but upon being touched are granite-like.  Some of the barks have multi-color deposits of minerals that make them appear even more beautiful in the light.  Given how looking tree-like is at the essence of proper planking I decided to honor the gorgeous Petrified trees with what I call the Petrified Plank.   (See the photo at the top of this post).

A Wild-looking Hotel

Proving that curiosity sometimes leads to wonderful discoveries on road trips we made a pitstop at a peculiar set of 15 teepee-style hotel rooms in Holbrook, Arizona, near the Petrified Forest called the Wigwam Hotel.  It turns out the motel was paradied in the Disney Pixar film Cars with a traffic-cone motel that went by the name The Cozy Cone Motel.  The icing on the cake was when we discovered the hotel had the original, real “Mater” lead car character of Cars parked in the front.

We got these additional details about the rooms in this historic hotel from Wikipedia: “The diameter of the base of each teepee is 14 feet (4.3 m), with each unit 32 feet (9.8 m) in height. Behind the main room of each unit is a small bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower. Current rooms contain the original restored hickory furniture, two double beds, cable TV and a window mounted air conditioner; there are no telephones or Internet access.

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