Painted Desert Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park

Transport yourself into a painting when you visit the 93,500 acres of the Painted Desert. This outstanding landscape features rocks of every color, from deep lavenders and rich grays to reds, oranges, and pinks.

In the 1850s U.S. Army Lieutenant Amiel Whipple passed through the Painted Desert while surveying a route along the 35th Parallel. Impressed by the deposits of petrified wood, Whipple documented the finding, recording the first published account of the Petrified Forest. Thereafter, pioneers, sightseers, and scientists travelled to the region to collect samples of the petrified wood. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Petrified Forest National Monument, and in 1932 President Herbert Hoover added over 53,000 acres to the monument. The creation of Route 66 in 1926 brought motorists to the north end of the monument where entrepreneurs had built a trading post; at the south end there was a store. In response to the visitor boom at the end of World War II, the Eisenhower administration funded the ten-year Mission 66 program aimed at upgrading National Parks facilities and functions. 

The Petrified Forest National Monument began planning for a new park headquarters in 1956 which was planned to include a new visitor center, administrative buildings, and residential housing. Park Service architects started drafting designs for a modern administrative building. In 1958 the Park Service contracted architects Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander to help design the new feature. They envisioned an urban hub with flat-roofed steel and glass buildings. It would be called the Painted Desert Visitor Center. Construction on a new site allowed for infrastructure growth and improvements throughout the park. However, the Park Service experienced a severe budget cut in 1959–1960 which forced delays on all Park contracts, including roads, utilities, and buildings. In 1959, Park Service Director Conrad Wirth reported that all park planning documents should be completed and stored away until funding arrived. In January of 1961 construction began and was officially completed in April of 1963. In December 1962, during construction, Congress recognized the Petrified Forest as the 31st National Park.

The design of the Painted Desert Visitor Center featured bright white concrete, aluminum beams, and floor-to-wall glass windows that allowed for visitors to see inside. The residential housing located on the second floor highlighted a long continuous window which brought light into the apartments and provided a view of the yard. The facility has undergone multiple renovations which have altered its exterior design aesthetically, though its layout remains relatively unchanged. In the 1970s Park officials started noticing faults in the building's construction which needed repairs to maintain safety. Renovations took place over the next few years and altered the outer appearance, including new paint in a red-brown palette which better blended the building into its surrounding environment. Conservation efforts have allowed the Petrified Forest National Park administrative point to remain open to the public every day.


Painted Desert Community plans
Painted Desert Community plans A January 1959 rendition of plans for the Painted Desert Visitor Center complex. Source: "Figure 44." In Allaback, Sarah. Mission 66 Visitor Centers: The History of a Building Type. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2000. Creator: Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander
Painted Desert Visitor Center
Painted Desert Visitor Center An evolution of rustic style architecture, the building was designed to blend with its landscape through form rather than local materials. Source: "Figure 50." In Allaback, Sarah and Ethan Carr. National Historic Landmark Nomination form for Quarry Visitor Center.  September 1, 2000. National Park Service History eLibrary.
Painted Desert today
Painted Desert today Interior of the Painted Desert Visitor Center, including the front desk and bookstore. Source: "Painted Desert Visitor Center." National Park Service. Creator: National Park Service


1 Park Rd, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ 86028


Jennifer John, Northern Arizona University, “Painted Desert Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 15, 2024,