|This is Off the Beaten Path--no trail, no other people.|
Routes differ from trails in that they are unmarked and require navigation skills. Don’t expect signs at the trailheads either. Pick up directions at the visitor centers, or get them online. Following these routes read like a treasure hunt “from the spot where the tree is located, follow the drainage west…” Picking your own path and backtracking (when you find you went the wrong way) take extra time, but in return you will discover hidden treasures.
Off-trail exploration is a most welcome opportunity for the visitor seeking a quieter experience. I saw no one else Off the Beaten Path. Instead, there was more nature— pronghorn, jackrabbit, and only flower I saw were all Off the Beaten Path.
|At first these looked like animatronic pronghorns..|
|Until they showed up around the next bend and bolted off when they saw me.|
In late February, I hiked four of the six described routes on a two day trip to Petrified Forest. Because they were short, there was still time to hike all the paved interpretive trails as well.
Jasper Forest Road (First Forest)- 2.5 miles round trip
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed the Jasper Forest Road in the 30s but it was closed in the 60s.
|Traces of the old road.|
|The Jasper Forest wood is mind-blowingly colorful.|
Follow Lithodendron Wash into the Painted Desert Wilderness to find a concentration of 210 million year old petrified logs in the so-called Black Forest. I got all excited when the description mentioned that one of the landmarks would be a “large living tree in the wash” but I never did find it. Still, this is a beautiful area for wandering around.
|Martha’s Butte (right) and Walker’s Stump (left)|
|Petroglyphs mark this special spot.|
Originally built in the 30s by the CCC, they are not kidding when they say this is for adventurous hikers. It’s steep and exposed, but the views are worth it. And no one has to know if you butt-scoot/crabwalk down the steep parts. The guide for this one is the most detailed and gets bonus points for including geology notes.
|Steep. Don't slip.|
|Oh the colors!|
Off the Beaten Path Hikes provide a wonderful compliment to the paved interpretive trails at Petrified Forest. Do the other trails first to learn from the interpretive signs about the local geology and history, then go Off the Beaten Path to see more and test your route-finding skills.
|Even though it wasn’t on the OFBP list, the Long Logs trail was deserted and seemed to be overlooked. It was my favorite of the interpretive loops.|
*The Trail Show Podcast refers to “routes not trails” being “The future of thru hiking” Hopefully they won’t mind expanding this phrase to dayhiking as well.
Off the Beaten Path Petrified Forest Site
Ask for a paper copy of the directions (including a topo map) for each route from the visitor centers or the Painted Desert Inn. They also have plant identification information. YAY!
|springparsley (Cymopterus spp.)|
Traditionally protecting the park is done by keeping people on the paved paths. Going off trail in a national park requires you take on extra responsibilities. The NPS still asks that you stay on the trail in fragile areas where footprints would be an eyesore. Do your part and respect all posted signs. Use good judgement when traveling off trail through sensitive terrain. All it takes is one careless hiker to leave visible footprints across the fragile badlands to spoil the view for other visitors.
It should go without saying, but leave all petrified wood where you find it. Yes, even that little piece that you’re sure no one will notice.