The Painted Desert is a spectacular badlands running from near the east end of Grand Canyon National Park southeast into the Petrified Forest National Park. The desert is about 120 miles (190 km) long by about 60 miles (97 km) wide, making it roughly 7,500 square miles (19,425 km2) in area. The view shown here is from the north portion of The Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert is known for its brilliant and varied colors, including the unusual shades of lavender evident in this photograph.
The area resides within a strong rain shadow, giving it a cold desert climate with hot, dry summers and cold, virtually snow-free winters. The annual precipitation is the lowest in northern Arizona and in many places is lower even than Phoenix.
The desert is composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale of the Triassic Chinle Formation. These fine-grained rock layers contain abundant iron and manganese compounds which provide the pigments for the various colors of the region. The erosion of these layers has resulted in the formation of the characteristic badlands topography of the region. Numerous layers of silicic volcanic ash occur in the Chinle and provide the silica for the petrified logs of the area. An assortment of fossilized prehistoric plants and animals are also found in the region, as well as dinosaur tracks and evidence of early human habitation.
Desert was named by an expedition under Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his 1540 quest to find the Seven Cities of Cibola, which he located some forty miles east of The Petrified Forest National Park. Finding that the cities were not made of gold as expected, Coronado sent an expedition to find the Colorado River to resupply his group. Passing through the wonderland of colors, they named the area "El Desierto Pintado", The Painted Desert.