As we left New Mexico, we saw a little more of Route 66:
After a few hours of driving, we found ourselves in Arizona!
And wouldn't you know it, Arizona upped the ante on Texas' "Watch for rattlesnakes" signs by adding poisonous insects to the mix:
Soon after crossing the border, we found our way to the Petrified Forest National Park.
Because we approached the entrance from the east, we began with the northernmost part of the park, which includes breathtaking views of the Painted Desert.
At one of the overlooks, we found a picnic area. As we ate our sandwiches and chips, a white-tailed antelope squirrel (which I first mistook for a chipmunk) came to visit. We also had some of the park's famous ravens nearby.
After lunch we continued driving through the north part of the park to see more of the Painted Desert.
We saw more ravens, too! We found out later that they keep their beaks open because they pant to stay cool. (Not that it was all that hot out there, though. Temperatures were in the 70s.)
After driving through the north part, we crossed I-40 and headed for the section dedicated to the Petrified Forest. We were excited to hit the many hiking trails in this area of the park.
Our first hike was on the Puerco Ruin Trail.
From here we could see many petroglyphs left behind.
It was along this trail that we FINALLY saw a cactus! After my trip to Phoenix when I saw so many giant saguaro cactus, I really thought the kids would get to see that kind of Road Runner cartoon desert type of cactus. No such luck in this part of Arizona! It was funny that when we finally saw cacti, it was this tiny variety!
Tons of petroglyphs were on what's called the Newspaper Rock. Scopes are set up so visitors can see the rock for themselves.
A "moderately strenuous" trail that we hiked was the Blue Mesa Trail.
I put moderately strenuous in quotes because I'd call it STRENUOUS—in caps! But then again, I'm old and out of shape, so what do I know. The first and last part of the trail is extremely steep and scary. Loose gravel on a narrow path with twists and turns and steep drop-offs? Not my idea of fun.
(The above picture is NOT the scary part, by the way. I was too busy panicking and hyperventilating to take pictures on the scary part.) Brett and the kids were doing their mountain goat impersonations while I gingerly tiptoed my way downhill. An older couple, complete with ranger hats and utility belts, came clomping up behind me. "Just lean into it," the woman told me. "Um, sure," was my reply. AS IF!
Anyway, I survived that challenge, and I'm glad I did because I got to see some amazing sights along this trail.
(That's the older couple hiking just past Brett and the kids.)
Brett found the perfect skipping stone down there. Too bad there was no water—and you can't take anything from the park!
It was incredible to find so much petrified wood. (Yes, it IS the Petrified Forest, but STILL.)
After that hike we drove around to another scenic overlook. As Brett and I walked out to see the Jasper Forest, Katie stayed near the car to work on her Junior Ranger paperwork.
We were fascinated to read about this area that once had been filled with petrified wood before people had carted most of it away.
From there we drove to the visitor center and to another hiking trail.
We loved seeing all the different colors of crystals in the petrified wood.
In the visitor center Katie turned in her Junior Ranger materials, and a ranger swore her in as a junior ranger. She promised to help promote the mission of the national parks and to eat her vegetables and clean her room. For her efforts, she received a patch and a badge. Pretty cool!
We had a great day of hiking and exploring this gorgeous part of the world!