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The Painted Desert was our first major stop on our recent trip west. The Painted Desert encompasses over 93,500 acres and stretches over 160 miles. The Painted Desert gets its name from the multitude of colors raining from lavenders to shades of gray with vibrant colors of red, orange and pink. It is an expanse of badlands hills and buttes in a beautiful landscape of a rainbow of colors.
The Petrified Forest National Park, which we visited, contains part of the Painted Deserted. We entered the park through the northern entrance and saw the Painted Desert first before going on to the Petrified Forest.
The colors of the sandstone and mudstone layers of the landscape are the result of varying mineral content in the sediments and the rate at which the sediments were laid down. When sediments are deposited slowly, oxides of iron and aluminum become concentrated in the soil and create the red, orange, and pink colors seen in the northern part of the park. During a rapid sediment buildup — such as a flooding event — oxygen is removed from the soil forming, blue, gray and lavender layers. These colors are prevalent in the southern portion of the park.
The park is covered by the “Chinle formation”, a very soft layer of earth consisting many of mud, sandstone, and volcanic ash. The softness allows for fantastic erosion, which contributes to the remarkable beauty of the Painted Desert.