We stayed in Gallup for one night as we drove from Albuquerque to Moab. The park is clean, the people are nice, and it seems to be a place where people stop for a night or two as they’re making their way somewhere else. It looks like it was once a KOA, so it offers everything that a KOA Journey would. We were in site 1, a very spacious end site.
The city of Gallup is a decent size, with a Walmart, a Home Depot, and plenty of places to eat. There’s a municipal airport not far up the road from the RV park that receives flights around the clock. It’s so close and loud that planes coming in for a landing set our truck alarm off a couple of times, including in the middle of the night. I’m not sure why planes are landing at this tiny airport in the middle of the night, but between that and a nearby train track, we didn’t have the most restful night of sleep. After getting set up, we went into town for lunch and ate at Jerry’s Cafe, a Mexican restaurant that seems to be pretty popular with the locals. We also drove past the Hotel el Rancho, a hotel on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by film director D.W. Griffith’s brother in 1937 on Route 66 and served as a temporary home for many movie stars that filmed Western movies in the area. Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracy, Kirk Douglas, Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne all spent time there, and now each room in the hotel is named after a previous famous guest.
We are making our way north towards Wisconsin from Casa Grande, AZ, so we needed a place to stay for two nights along our route and Petrified Forest National Park seemed like a decent place to stop. As there is nowhere to camp within the park, we stayed at the Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA for two nights while visiting the area. The KOA is nothing to write home about. It’s basically a gravel parking lot. There are restrooms with showers (which we never checked out), a laundry room (the most expensive we’ve seen yet), a little store, and a decent dog run. There’s also a broke down basketball court, a broke down volleyball court, and a pool that was not in use due to it being out of season, but that also looked broke down. Amongst the piles of miscellaneous stuff lying around, there is also a grassy area for tent camping and cabins for rent. We paid $49/night for full hookups with cable, which seemed high for the quality of the park. When driving out the south end of the National Park, we noticed there was free overnight RV parking at the Crystal Forest Museum Gift Shop – no hookups, but if you’re looking for a place to stay for a night near the Park, you can’t get any closer or any cheaper.
Holbrook/Petrified Forest KOA
Address: 102 Hermosa Drive, Holbrook, AZ 86025
Phone Number: (928) 524-6689
Full Hookups Available
Pull Throughs Available
Seasonal Pancake Breakfast and Cowboy Cookout
We weren’t quite sure what to expect at Petrified Forest National Park. We had seen petrified wood at a few other places we had visited before, but obviously nothing to the extent of what’s found in the park. There is more to the park than just crystalized wood, however.
The north end of the park has views of the Painted Desert, which extends all the way to the east end of the Grand Canyon and north to the Navajo Nation.
There is a 28-mile scenic drive from the north end of the park to the south. We arrived in Holbrook at the KOA at about 1:30, got set up, and decided to do the drive to see what we wanted to explore more thoroughly the next day. The north and south entrances are both about a 25-minute drive from the KOA. We drove from north to south, stopping along the way at different viewpoints. As we had Max with us, we did not visit the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. The building functioned as an inn starting in the 1920s, but the maintenance required became overwhelming and today the building is used as a museum.
Petrified Forest is the only National park in the country with a portion of Historic Route 66 within its borders. A 1932 Studebaker sits where the road once cut through the park.
The Crystal Forest Trail is 0.75-mile loop trail that offers the best opportunity in the park to see petrified wood deposits. The trail meanders among hundreds of petrified logs of all sizes and shapes, allowing you to see the colors of the crystalized wood up close. If you’re just passing through the area and only have time to see one thing in the park — this is what it should be.
When we came back to the park the second day sans dog, we stopped at the Rainbow Forest Museum and strolled the neighboring Giant Logs Trail. This is where you’ll find Old Faithful, the park’s most massive log, which measures 35 feet and weighs approximately 44 tons.
We walked the Agate House trail, which is 2 miles roundtrip, to see the eight-room ruin inhabited beginning about 1050BC that’s constructed of chunks of petrified wood and mud mortar.
Our favorite part of the park was the 1-mile Blue Mesa Trail off of the 3.5-mile scenic Blue Mesa loop drive. This area is called the Blue Badlands (even though I would refer to the color as violet) and it’s clear to see how it got its name. The trail is quite steep at the beginning, and since it’s a loop, at the end, but it’s such an interesting departure from the rest of park. You’ll still find petrified logs here, of course, and paleontologists have also found numerous plant and animal fossils in the sedimentary layers.
Petrified Forest National Park was an interesting site to see. You can definitely do it all in one day. It’s the most accessible National Park we’ve been to, as all of the trails are almost completely paved, which means strollers and wheel chairs will be able to make it to most parts of the park. It’s also the most dog-friendly park we’ve been to, as dogs are allowed everywhere except in buildings. The roads are all paved and smooth, so those with RVs will have no problem maneuvering within the park, and there’s a decent amount of RV parking at most points of interest as well. Beware that this area gets VERY windy. During the winter, winds can reach 60mph. We didn’t see any wildlife while in the park, but on our drive back to the campground, we saw two female pronghorns along the side of the road.