To end our 2019, Hayden and I went on a last-minute road trip around southern Utah and Arizona. We had some business in Sedona, so we made a trip out of it. We took some snowy backroads and visited some national parks – Arches and Petrified Forest on the way down, and Bryce Canyon on the way back. I don’t know what it is that keeps drawing us to Arizona in the wintertime, but this was our third time in three years (see here for Feb. 2019 and Feb. 2017). For the record (again), it’s not warm in northern Arizona in the wintertime. And yes, we did get snow in Snowflake.

Utah Parks

The focus of this post is Petrified Forest National Park, but here are some quick notes about visiting Utah parks in winter.

Arches: Usually super crowded, so it was nice to go during the off season. We walked past a herd of mule deer grazing right on one of the trails, which I don’t think I’ve seen when I’ve been during the summer. We drove the gravel road out to the Tower Arch trailhead and look forward to doing that on a subsequent day trip when we have more time.

Bryce: It was snowy, so most of the park was closed. You could enter, drive 3 miles, and see three different viewpoints of the Amphitheater along the way, but that was it. They say they clear the roads within three days and allow access to the park even in the wintertime, but we were not so lucky. Because only 3 miles of the park were open, it was fairly crowded. However, we still found parking spots and only stayed about an hour.

Petrified Forest National Park

The highlight of the trip for me was visiting Petrified Forest National Park. I would say Petrified Forest is one of the more underrated parks. It doesn’t have towering mountains or tons of hiking. Tough I found beauty in the details of this park as I learned the history and geology. In fact, one of the signs in the park quoted a naturalist as saying the magnificence of Petrified Forest rivaled that of the Grand Canyon. After learning more about it and poring over my pictures, I think I can agree.

The park is most well known for its fossils. Most prevalent, of course, are the fallen trees from 225 million years ago that are now petrified (“wood turned stone”). The petrification process is incredible. In a nutshell, the park used to be the climate of a rainforest, similar to Costa Rica. Then the plates shifted and the elevation of the area rose, thus changing the climate. The trees that were once there became submerged in water-saturated sediment, which prevented the normal decomposition process. As the water flowed through the trees, it would deposit minerals in the cells of the trees. This caused them to become like the minerals themselves, or petrified. For more information, you can check out the Wikipedia pages on Petrified Wood or Petrified Forest National Park.

In addition to the petrified wood, there are over 600 archaeological sites with fossils of other plants and giant reptiles, as well as pueblos and other artifacts from early inhabitants. There is also a short segment of historic Route 66 that runs through the park.

Colors of Petrified Forest

After visiting the Rainbow Forest part of the park, I knew I would have to make some color palettes from these photos. The nuances of the colors in these images surprised me at every click. It was delightful to see hints of neon greens and bright blues in an otherwise overwhelmingly brown landscape. Here’s a quick video showing my process, followed by several color palette combinations inspired by the scenes I discovered at Petrified Forest National Park.

Overall, it was really neat to explore a different part of the U.S. that I never really knew existed. What did you think? Do you have a favorite? Share it on Pinterest or comment below!

Stay classy,