Route 66 probably offers the most popular deluxe road trip itinerary in the whole of North America. It really is hard to argue with its historic attractions and spectacular scenery, not to mention the simple pleasure of driving from place to place at your own pace. There are many must-see sights along the highway, but one of the most unforgettable is Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park - read on to find out why.
About the park
The park has long been a fascinating place for all kinds of scientists. It originally achieved national park status to help preserve petrified wood for scientific study, but there is much more to the site. The Petrified Forest National Park now attracts experts looking to examine treasures such as fossils from the Late Triassic period, native grassland and significant natural monuments, including the famous Chinle Formation.
Getting to the Petrified Forest National Park
All Route 66 road trips start in Chicago - it's just the best way to do it. The rest of the route will depend on the whim of the driver, but typical stops generally include St Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo and Santa Fe before reaching Arizona. The Petrified Forest National Park is situated close to Holbrook. From Albuquerque, take the Interstate 40 and turn off at Exit 311. You'll now be in the park itself.
Inside the park
There are lots of things to see and do here, but what you choose to take in will obviously depend on how much time you have to spare before setting off for the next stop on your luxury Route 66 holiday. If you're in a bit of a rush, there are several key places to head to. The Painted Desert Visitor Center is ideal if you want to learn all about the park and its history in the space of an hour or two. Watch the orientation film and wander around the exhibitions before going outside again to see the park for yourself.
The best thing to do is embark on a drive directly through the park. You can travel through it for around 28 miles, stopping at key locations along the way. These include Kachina Point, from where you can enjoy amazing views of acre upon acre of badlands, and Blue Mesa Road, which offers a similarly spectacular view of brightly-coloured formations that have obtained their blue, white, green and lavender hues as a result of sedimentary activity.
If you have more time to spend in the Petrified Forest National Park, you could get out of your car for a couple of hikes - some decent paths include the 0.3-mile Puerco Pueblo route through the remains of a 100-room structure (or pueblo) dating back six centuries, and the 0.4-mile Giant Logs trail, which offers the chance to see some particularly colourful and large logs. Longer hikes range from the Painted Desert Rim Trail - a mile-long round trip through picturesque woodland - to a trek to and from Agate House, another old pueblo. Alternatively, you could explore the park on horseback for a few hours.
Outside the park
You can continue the Arizona leg of your Route 66 adventure by checking out some of the other attractions located close to the Petrified Forest National Park and elsewhere in the state:
• Canyon de Chelly National Monument - This is situated north of the park and is the home of the Navajo people. Visitors can go on scenic drives through the site, as well as self-guided hikes and canyon tours.
• Wupatki National Monument - Located north-east of the Petrified Forest National Park, this attraction is home to five prehistoric pueblos. It will take around two hours to see them all, but if you're short of time, make sure you at least visit Wupatki Pueblo, which is the largest.
• Walnut Canyon - This is where the Sinagua people once lived in some rather amazing cliff dwellings set into the canyon's walls. You can take one of several trails around the site to see these, along with pueblos and some fantastic views of the rock formations scattered across the area.
• Sunset Crater Volcano - This volcano last erupted around nine centuries ago, triggering a massive transformation of the local landscape. You'll be able to trace the path that the lava took as it flowed through the area while also spotting the wildflowers, desert shrubs, pine trees and animals that signal the beginning of a return to normality for the region.