Southwest US Road Trip Part 4: Petrified Forest, Joshua Tree


After getting into Albuquerque late, we slept in, had another leisurely Marriott-sponsored breakfast, and then drove 3 hours to Petrified Forest National Park. There, we met up with cousins again at the visitors’ center. It was so cute watching them all do the Junior Ranger booklets together! We wandered around the tiny visitors’ center for a bit, learning about how the rock came to be, then headed off on the main driving tour.
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The kids loved taking their booklets along on the road and filling them out in between stops. The park map had one main road to follow, which made it convenient to stop for short hikes and viewpoints along the way. We included Puerco Pueblo (a very short 15-minute or so loop), which was fun after seeing several pueblos on our trip previously. The Blue Mesa was gorgeous to see – we loved spotting all the different shades in the rock. We felt like we got a great view from the road, so we didn’t feel the need to do this whole trail.

The Crystal Forest loop was perfect for really getting to experience the petrified wood. The crystals were gorgeous! All the kids were SO into finding the different sparkles and colors. The trail is also short – a little under a mile loop, so it was great for little legs to burn off energy before more driving.
We ended up at the other visitors’ center at the opposite end of the park, turned in our Junior Ranger booklets, and drove the rest of the way back to Bullhead City to Grandma’s house.


The last day of our trip was one of the longest drives, so we headed out early. Just going from Bullhead City back home was about a 9 hour drive with no stops, so we considered skipping Joshua Tree altogether. But it only added about an hour of drive time, and we figured we’d need stops to stretch our legs, anyway, so we figured we’d jump out for an hour or so to explore and work out some wiggles, then plan to come back.
What we didn’t realize was how much we’d love Joshua Tree.
It was just gorgeous!
The trees themselves were, of course, beautiful. But since we were there in the spring, after a winter with tons of rain, it was so fun seeing so much blooming, even in such a dry climate. Beautiful flowers, and we saw a decent amount of wildlife, as well. We started by exploring at the Oasis Visitors’ Center first and doing Junior Ranger (of course we had to get one last one in!). It was really interesting learning about the two deserts coming together and how that impacts the climate. There’s a little tiny trail out from the visitors’ center that actually provides decent diversity in terms of seeing flora and fauna.
Then we headed out driving. From the Oasis Visitors’ Center, there’s a nice road that cuts a semi-circle into the park. It provides a great overview of a lot of what the park has to offer, and was perfect for the amount of time we had. It allowed us to see quite a bit in a short amount of time. mostly spans the length of the park, which was perfect for us to experience a good amount in a short amount of time.
As soon as we headed out, we started seeing tons and tons of the Dr. Seuss-ish trees. We were mesmerized! We took a detour from that main road to head toward the Cottonwood Spring Oasis and Black Rock Canyon in hunt of wildflowers. And boy, did we find them as we got closer to the oasis and into the canyon! So, so many gorgeous flowers right on the side of the road. It was incredible to see. We also stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden Trail along that road, which was fun to see.
We got back on the main road and headed over to the popular Skull Rock. Even though it’s such a popular park spot and it was a weekend, it wasn’t crazy crowded (although it WAS March). There were plenty of people there, but it felt completely comfortable. Our kids absolutely LOVED this part of the journey (and so did we). It was so fun climbing all around on the rocks and we could’ve easily spent hours right there. We were all super reluctant to leave. It was enough to feel fun and just the tiniest bit exciting, but completely doable for even small children and a pregnant woman. At this time of year in the middle of the day, it was toasty, but not unbearable.
Finally, we headed out to Keys View to catch a glimpse of the valley, some mountains, and the San Andreas Fault. We all thought this was interesting to see, as the fault extends all the way up near our home.
After spending hours longer than we anticipated, we hopped on the road** and all but my wonderful husband passed out shortly after a gorgeous sunset and we finally rolled into our driveway around midnight. It was an amazing trip and we can’t wait to return to so many of the spots we tasted on that trip! There’s something to be said for whetting our travel/National Park appetite.


(**Uninteresting tangent: We stopped at a Burger King on the way, where Dan and I hadn’t eaten in probably a decade [and was a first for our kids]. They’d been SO good and patient in the car the whole trip and, especially as vegetarians, we basically never eat fast food. So they think getting a little kid meal box is basically like Christmas. There were no McDonald’s locations for miles and miles, so we figured a Burger King would be fine. Wrong. So so wrong. It was absolutely the worst food we ate the entire trip and had eaten for years. Not one of us could force ourselves to finish our dinner. Alas. It sustained life.)

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