We recently traveled to our hometown of Prescott AZ for a wedding. We of course took our 17′ Casita travel trailer and turned it into a camping trip.
After the wedding festivities were over, we had a few days to explore before heading back home. On the way back from the wedding we made our way to a little place called Reservation Lake. It’s a quaint little lake on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, about 48 miles southeast of Pinetop. My husband and I fly fish and planned on doing so at Reservation lake. For those of you that are not familiar with spending time on the reservations, it is not the same as other places as they are their own sovereign nation. You must get your own permits (for fishing, camping, recreation, etc.) at either one of the local stores or online. The reservations are very strict and penalties can be severe if you don’t follow the rules.
Mark and I chose to get our permits online at the White Mountain Apache Tribe Game & Fish website. It’s a little bit pricey if you are camping and fishing because you have to have permits for both, but it’s worth it. We weren’t lucky with catching any fish on this trip but we enjoyed being out on the water anyways!
After our unlucky spell at Reservation lake, we decided to take a detour on our trip and head to the Petrified Forest. I’m a bit of a National Park junkie and always try to stop at one when I get the chance. This trip was the perfect opportunity since we were on that side of AZ, and probably wouldn’t be back that way in a while.
When we arrived to the park it was late in the day. We ended up setting up camp at a privately owned gift shop at the south entrance of the park off of Hwy 180. They offered overnight camping at $10.65 a night with electricity (what a steal!). There was also some free camping at the museum shop right across the street but we decided to splurge and have electricity for the night! This little campground had 10 sites that were for self contained units only (i.e. have their own toilet). The sites were fairly level and had a little cement slab with a picnic table. The sites filled up quick during the evening and cleared out in the morning when the park opened. There are no other campgrounds around or in the park. For those interested in backcountry camping in the actual park itself, you can do so but you must get a free permit from either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or the Rainbow Forest Museum to stay in the wilderness areas of the park. According to the park service you must, at a minimum, hike 1 mile away from two designated parking spots to do any backcountry camping. Considering the view of the milky way at night and the sounds of the desert, this would probably be an incredible experience.
After we arrived to the park we set up camp and went out exploring for the last few hours of the day before the sun went down. It was absolutely breathtaking seeing these trees that are now stone laying atop the desert floor. The weather was beautiful and watching the sun set on the painted desert was the cherry on top of the trip. For those of you who have not been there, it’s a must see! It’s literally an ancient piece of history laying in the middle of the painted desert.
The park is somewhat divided by the freeway that “intersects” its path. We were on limited time coming and going to the park but made a point to see as much of the lower half as we could the first night, and then most of the rest of the park before noon the next day before having to head back to CO. There are several sites to see, some of which you have to hike out to. Our favorite stop was a small hike through the Crystal Forest. It was absolutely beautiful and we were in awe of the amount of petrified wood that is scattered about. We were also fortunate enough to watch the sun set over the Blue Mesa and Jasper Forest, another one of our favorite stops.
Just imagine yourself roaming around 200 million years ago, these trees would have been alive and dinosaurs would have been roaming around, RIGHT AROUND YOU! It’s an incredible feeling thinking about that. I hope if you have the gumption to go that you will. It’s worth the trek. It’s a smaller national park (26 miles in length) of which you can explore in 2 days to see EVERYTHING. The upper half of the park is a mostly scenic overlooks along with a few treks that can be hiked (don’t forget your backpack, and some H20!). Due to limited time on this trip, we missed a few offshoots that we would have had to hike to, but for the most part if you add all the hours that we explored together (first night & second half-day), we saw just about everything in about a full day.
Definitely add this to your list if you like the thought of seeing ancient history, fossils, or maybe even a few dinosaur bones!
Adventure on my friends!