The Petrified Forest National Park sits just across the New Mexico / Arizona border on Interstate 40.
Although its most promoted attractions are the colorful fossilized remnants of petrified wood, I enjoy the dramatic badlands scenery even more. These dramatically colorful landscapes may not rival Arizona’s Grand Canyon in scale but certainly matches it in color, diversity and texture.
To really enjoy the Petrified Forest National Park, you need to drive through it at a leisurely pace, taking advantage of the scenic pull-outs for viewing various features of the landscape. To get the best views, it is better to see it early in the morning or in the late afternoon when the natural light is most flattering. Midday light tends to be very harsh, bleaching colors and details, and will yield poor photos.
The Petrified Forest National Park also hosts the Painted Desert Inn, one of the most beautiful examples of Pueblo Revival style architecture in all of the southwest. The inn first opened in 1940, servicing Route 66 travelers. Bypassed by a new alignment (now Interstate 40) in the late 1950s, the old Route 66 today is marked in Petrified Forest National Park by remnants of the raised roadbed, a lonely line of telephone poles, and a park exhibit that includes a 1932 Studebaker exhibit adjacent to a pull-out showcasing a section of the route that passed through the park.
The sections of old Route 66 just outside of the park are marked by colorful small businesses that relive the old Route 66 in their construction and adornment. Petrified Forest National Park is definitely worth a day trip from Albuquerque (3 hour drive each way)! Be sure to bring your camera!