Visit Northeast Arizona's Amazing Natural Wonders


It had been a long time since I last visited the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. So, a couple of weeks ago, we headed the car up Highway 87 to Winslow.

I have long been a train buff, so we had to stop at what once was the Santa Fe station there. Today, it's called La Posada. The facility was built in 1929 by the Fred Harvey Company and designed by famed Mary Coulter. She designed many facilities for the Santa Fe and the Fred Harvey Company, believing the structure should fit the surroundings.


The Painted Desert is only a couple of hours from Payson in northeast Arizona.

La Posada is one example. It is now under private ownership and has been refurbished and reopened. At one time, the Santa Fe trains would stop here and detrain passengers who would find a table in a large dining room where they would be fed.

When finished with the meal, passengers would re-board the train and continue their journey. This is how it was in earlier times, before trains carried diner cars.

A stop here is well worth your time. If you want to stay overnight, there are 20 guestrooms available for occupancy along with a modern dining room and good kitchen. If you're a train watcher, you will be right at the side of busy tracks. There are long freight trains every few minutes.

From La Posada, we headed for the Petrified Forest. We took Interstate 40 heading east to Holbrook. You'll pass by the town and continue on I-40 another 20 or so miles then turn off using Exit 311. Signs will tell you this is the exit for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. After going through the park entrance, stop at the ranger station and pick up various printed materials fully explaining what you are about to enjoy, plus a very informative 17-minute film which explains how these natural phenomenon were formed.

North of I-40, you visit the Painted Desert. South of the highway, you enter the Petrified Forest. These natural wonders were formed between 50 and 255 million years ago. Over the years, chemical processes changed tall pine-like trees to stone and today we can enjoy the rainbow of colors, both in the petrified wood as well as the so-called Painted Desert.

I discovered that petrified wood is found in all 50 states and 31 countries around the globe. Arizona has the largest find on the planet.

As you drive through this area, there are places to pull off for photography as well as to enjoy a hike.

I exited the park heading south to Highway 180. At the corner is located the Crystal Forest Museum which, in fact, is mostly a gift shop. I usually avoid these, but it looked very interesting. In fact, it is worth your time. Inside are hundreds of polished items of petrified wood, Indian artifacts and crystallized fossils that were found in the area. It is not legal to take any petrified wood from the "forest," but there is plenty here. We purchased some petrified bookends and a carving of a buffalo.

From Highway 180, it is 20 miles back into Holbrook. You can either overnight in north Holbrook in several nice motels or head west and stay the night in Flagstaff. If you wish to just make a day of it, from Holbrook take Highway 377 to Heber, turning onto Highway 260 and returning to Payson.

If you're like me, you need to "get out of Dodge" once in a while, and the drive to the northeastern part of our state is very rewarding.

For more information, visit the Town of Holbrook Web site at or call (928) 524-6558 or visit the Petrified National Park Web site at, or call (928) 524-6228.

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