At Optima® communities in Arizona, we celebrate the blend of nature, history, and architecture that makes our state unique. One such gem is the Petrified Forest National Park, a high-desert treasure chest that offers a captivating blend of geology, archaeology, paleontology, and architectural marvels. Located near Holbrook in northern Arizona and stretching for miles on both sides of Interstate 40, this park is a must-visit for residents and visitors alike.

Petrified Forest National Park is renowned for its stunning petrified wood, which dates back millions of years. The park’s southern section is particularly rich in these ancient trees, scientifically known as Araucarioxylon arizonicum. Over time, these trees have transformed into almost solid quartz, exhibiting vibrant colors due to iron, carbon, and manganese deposits. Trails like Crystal Forest, Giant Logs, and Long Logs offer close-up views of these fascinating petrified wood deposits, immense logs, and even an ancient log jam.

American Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). Credit: National Park Service/Halllie Larsen on Flickr Creative Commons. CC by 2.0, Attribution 2.0 Generic Deed.

In addition to its geological wonders, the park is home to The Painted Desert, a sprawling expanse of vibrant, multicolored badlands that sweep through the park. The views from various viewpoints along the Main Park Road are truly breathtaking and provide countless photo opportunities.

Along Old Hwy 180. Credit: National Park Service/Stuart Holmes, public domain.

A Journey Through Time
For those interested in paleontology, the Rainbow Forest Museum, located in the park’s southern section, offers a trove of prehistoric animal skeletons. The museum’s paleontological displays provide a glimpse into the ancient fauna that once roamed the area.

Archaeology enthusiasts will find the park equally fascinating. The south side of the park features Puerco Pueblo, a 100-room compound occupied over 600 years ago by the Ancestral Puebloan people. Visitors can also explore nearby petroglyphs and Agate House, an eight-room pueblo constructed from petrified wood and occupied between 1050 and 1300.

While the park is known for its natural and archaeological wonders, it also boasts significant architectural landmarks. The Painted Desert Inn, located on the park’s north side, dates back to the 1920s. Over the years, it has been updated by prominent figures such as National Park Service architect Lyle Bennett, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Fred Harvey Company’s lead architect, Mary Colter. The inn features murals painted by noted Hopi artist Fred Kabotie and offers exhibits on Petrified Forest history. In the summer, visitors can enjoy a treat from the ice cream counter.

The Painted Desert Visitor Center complex, recently deemed a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is another architectural highlight. Designed in 1958 by Richard Alexander and renowned modernist Richard Neutra, the complex epitomizes mid century modern style with its simple glass and steel materials, low profile, and clean lines.

Visiting the Park
The park is a 3-½ hour drive from Optima Sonoran Village® and Optima Kierland Apartments®, and offers an enriching and educational experience for all. Its two main visitor centers — the Painted Desert Visitor Center in the north and the Rainbow Forest Museum in the south — provide exhibits, books, gifts, limited food service, and restrooms. The 28-mile-long Main Park Road connects these centers, winding past viewpoints, trailheads, and other attractions.

To plan your visit, get the details here.