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10 Facts About Arizona’s Painted Desert



Arizona’s Painted Desert is a breathtaking place located in the Northeast portion of the state. It is home to a lot of wildlife and offers many attractions. Most famous of these is the Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert used to be a lush coniferous forest region during the Triassic period. The Painted Desert is a cold and colorful desert region that attracts visitors from all over the world. Check out these 10 facts about the Painted Desert that you may have not known.

1) The Painted Desert is 120 Miles Long & 60 Miles Wide

The Painted Desert glows orange under a blue sky.
Flickr User steviep187

That’s 93,500 acres worth of beauty! It starts from the eastern part of the Grand Canyon all the way down to the Petrified Forest. The easiest access into the desert is actually through its southern part which is through the Petrified Forest.

2) It Took Millions of Years for Nature to Create This Masterpiece

Red layered cliffs rising up from the green flora of the Painted Desert.
Flickr User steviep187

It’s a product of not only shifts in the Earth’s crust due to volcanoes and earthquakes but also the appearance and disappearance of freshwaters and sea waters. The desert itself shifted along with plate tectonics several hundreds of miles. When the single world continent of Pangea existed, the Painted Desert was much closer to the equator.

3) People Say the Painted Desert Looks Like a Cake!

Mountainous rock formations abound on the Painted Desert.
Flickr User Kool Cats Photography over 7 Million Views

You can probably guess that it gets its name from the variety of beautiful colors that make up its layers. Not only are there vibrant reds and pinks, but there are also purples and blues that shine through the rocks.

4) The Layers Are Made of a Variety of Sediments

Aerial shot of the Painted Desert.
Flickr User Michael Bleyzer

Among them, you’ll definitely find sandstone, mudstone, shale, and bentonite clay. This makes the Painted Desert a paradise for geologists who wish to study a variety of rocks and minerals. It also is a great location for aspiring paleontologists and geologists.

5) Iron and Manganese Compounds Give Them Their Color

Aerial shot of the Painted Desert.
Flickr User Kool Cats Photography over 7 Million Views

Silicic volcanic ash makes petrified remains possible but the red and red-brown colors are mostly due to the rich amount of iron in the desert region. When iron mixes with oxygen it turns a red-orange hue.

6) The Painted Desert is a Protected Area, Motorized Travel is Limited

Shot looking over the Painted Desert landscape.

Good thing there are plenty of options for hiking. That’s right, you can discover and explore the Painted Desert by hiking along many trails. You can also drive through it and feel like you’re traveling on an alien planet’s terrain.

7) The Painted Desert Borders the Petrified Forest National Park

Cliffs in the distance under dark clouds in the desert.

Here you can not only see the petrified remnants of a pine forest from millions of years ago, but also fossils, dinosaur tracks, and the archaeological remains of ancient tribes and settlers. The Petrified Forest also was originally located closer to the equator on the continent of Pangea. You wouldn’t believe how many unique creatures lived in this ancient area over the many eons.

8) A Spanish Explorer Gave the Painted Desert its Name

Aerial shot of the Painted Desert.
Flickr User John Simm

An expedition led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado nicknamed the area “El Desierto Pintado” when they passed through it in 1540. We’ve been calling it The Painted Desert ever since.

9) A lot of it is on Navajo Nation Land

Aerial shot of the Painted Desert.
Flickr User Boogiebogar

The Navajo (Diné) considers the entire Earth to be sacred, but especially these lands. You’ll need a permit for any back road travel here. But it won’t be too difficult to get. Just remember to respect the land so future explorers can discover this majestic place.

10 The Painted Desert’s Climate is Cold in Winter & Hot in Summer

Aerial shot of the Painted Desert.
Flickr User gprhoto

The annual precipitation here is often some of the lowest in Arizona, but the temperatures can get bitter cold during the winter months. So, remember to bring a jacket if you plan to visit the Painted Desert between the months of October through April.

Cheyenne Reed was born and raised in Ohio. She recently relocated to rural Wyoming to try out working at an exclusive guest ranch. She graduated from Kent State University with an English degree, and most enjoys writing about travel. If she has free time, you may run into her anywhere, because she is always itching to explore new places. Her personal motto is, "Any day can be an adventure if you make it one!"