Painted Desert is the name for a broad area of colorful badlands located in Northern Arizona in the United States. The desert stretches from the Grand Canyon National Park into the Petrified Forest National Park and runs roughly astride and just north of the Little Colorado and the Puerco Rivers. The area within the Petrified Forest National Wilderness is also known as the Painted Desert Wilderness. Much of the Painted Desert region is located within the Navajo Nation. The region is also home to a number of county parks such as the Little Painted Desert County Park found just north of Winslow. The Navajo and the Hopi people have lived in the region for at least one thousand years, however the modern name for the desert comes from the Spaniards who named it "el Desierto Pintado" due to its brightly colored landscape.
The desert comprises stratified layers of mineral and decayed organic matter. Many hardened dunes can be found. These hardened dunes are visually distinct due to the bands of grays, reds, oranges and yellows which are then shaped by natural wind and rain patterns. The area is noted to be especially beautiful at sunset and sunrise when the land appears to glow in hues of violet, blue, red and gold. Other key features include the many mesas and buttes that rise sharply from the desert floor. Sparse desert flora and fauna can also be found.
In the southern portions of the desert the remains of a Triassic Era coniferous forest have fossilized over millions of years. Wind, water and soil erosion continue to change the face of the landscape by shifting sediment and exposing layers of the Chinle Formation. An assortment of fossilized prehistoric plants and animals are found in the region, as well as dinosaur tracks and the evidence of early human habitation.
Much of the region is accessible only by foot or unpaved road though major highways and paved roads cut across the area. Depending on use, location and duration of stay, travelers might be required to purchase permits from the appropriate authorities. The towns of Cameron and Tuba City, both within the Navajo Nation, are two major settlements. One interesting side note about Tuba City and Cameron is that parking lots and yards are often covered by bright red dust that is blown in from the surrounding lands by dust storms. Currently coal and petroleum mining operations are active in the region and red clay is retrieved from the desert by locals. This clay is then used to produce handmade pottery to be sold at roadside stands and souvenir shops.
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