With the bizarre, but beautiful; incredible, but force to be believe sight of multi-hued badlands, the Painted Desert National Park is an extraordinary landscape of scenic natural wonders. If you come here from Highway 89 and watch for the breathtaking panoramic view of the park, you will understand as to why this preserved area is named so. Well, this desert region of Arizona derives its name from the belts of white, yellow, and red sediments as well as bentonite clay of eroded rock formation. Everywhere, you will see the multitude of colors in the shades of gray, lavenders, and of the vibrant colors of orange and pink. Geologically, the park is a long span of buttes as well as badland hills, which despite being barren and austere, serves as a wonderful home of a rainbow of colors. Forming the main highlight, these colorful rock creations extend from near the Grand Canyon at some 30 miles from Cameron near, run southeast, and culminate just ahead of the Petrified Forest that is administered together by the National Park Service. The creations due to which the park gets its name tend to fluctuate in width from 10 to 35 miles from the Cameron to the Petrified Forest.
A majority of the Painted Desert National Park is nestled in the Navajo Nation. At the very first look, you will feel as if there is nothing much to see in this arid desert. However, I would suggest starting this spectacular trip along the high rock belts from the Painted Desert Visitor Center. I am saying this because it is from here you will start to probe beyond the obvious the interactive exhibits as well as a video of 20 minutes. At the Visitor Center complex that is accessible throughout the year from the Interstate-40, Exit 311, you can expect backcountry permits, bookstore, restaurant (open 8:00am – 3:00pm MST), gift shop, gas station, post office, and public restrooms. And yes, just contact one of the park rangers who can aid you in planning your trip of the Painted Desert National Park via the 4W drive or an ardent hike on any of its trails. If you are planning to drive, look for a 10-mile paved road that offers a non-hiker a good view of some of the formations.
Nestled at a distance of 2 miles from the Visitor Center, the historic Painted Desert Inn is worth a visit. This one is not a lodge, but a museum-cum- bookstore but offers no lodging. This is the National Historic Landmark that is accessible throughout the year from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm MST. Besides the museum exhibits, there is a bookstore as well as public restrooms here. And yes, it is from here you can access the Wilderness and Rim trail.
$10 for private vehicles (for 7 days), and $5 for single bicyclists as well as motorcyclists (for 7 days).
Daily, except December 25.
Be here for some hours for hiking as well as photography.
Late afternoon when the dimming sunlight renders the desert even more beautiful.
Not allowed in the park.
The Painted Desert National Park is reachable by driving for 3.5 hours from either Phoenix or Albuquerque. It is nestled between U.S. Highway 180 and Interstate 40, while the exit is at I-40 at exit 311.