Arizona has always held a sacred place for me. Beyond the vortexes and red rocks of Sedona, the rest of the state holds some of the most magical places I’ve ever visited on earth. Lava tubes, canyons and high peaks hold some of my most memorable experiences, but during a recent visit to the northeast corner of the state, I found myself in an unknown and relatively unexplored realm of Petrified Forest National Park. This place is called the Devil’s Playground.
Devil’s Playground was recently opened in April of 2014 for public use by a permit system. Planning the trip, I knew a permit was needed, but I had not been informed that only four were given out each month. It was the first week of November when I arrived, and I received the last permit. The Universe was in my favor.
There is no formal trail through these wild lands, but instead, brown posts adorned with the National Park Service symbol on them, scattered every five hundred feet or so. I’m used to climbing mountains, through snow, over scrambles and during inclement weather, but typically on trails. The desert sun beat down as I navigated deep sand, washes, cattle refuse and thorny brush. The path seemed to lead to nowhere, which was fine by me, until glimpses of the famed “hoodoos” came into sight after a few miles of wandering. The playground was close.
Petrified wood, red rock, sulfur-stained white and blue boulders quickly dominated my surroundings. The smell of sulfur came and went as I traversed numerous small gullies beneath the desert floor. Hours were spent exploring this landscape, which seemed eerily similar to that of another planet. The only people my husband and I ran into were a couple from Germany, who had scored the second-to-last permit of the month. I’m still amazed at how desolate this once-forbidden location was, while Petrified Forest National Park was bustling with tourists only a few miles down the road. Taking a chance off the beaten path proved to be an out of this world experience, and I hope to return to the Devil’s Playground to find what else may be hidden.
Photos (C) 2015 Ashley Spooner
Ashley Spooner is a fun loving 26 year old residing in New Hampshire. She enjoys hiking, backpacking, photography, travel, animals, Native American history and making snow angels. You can find more of her adventures on her tumblr.