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What is the Painted Desert in Arizona?

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Quick Answer

The Painted Desert is a naturally colorful area of badlands in Arizona. Its rocks, buttes, mesas and other natural formations range in color from light purple and gray to bright orange and red. The Painted Desert comprises more than 90,000 acres, and it is a popular tourist destination.

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Full Answer

The Painted Desert was formed naturally from earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and changes in the Earth's crust. The Desert's bright colors come from bentonite, a by-product of volcanic ash. Bentonite is a key part of the sandstone, mudstone and clay that form the Painted Desert's buttes and hills. According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, the Painted Desert is most impressive at sunset when the orange and red colors from the sun set off the desert hues.

The Painted Desert is located in northern Arizona. Though the Painted Desert itself is not a national park, a significant portion of its area lies in the Petrified Forest National Park. Part of the Desert overlaps the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, and the Desert borders both Grand Canyon National Park and Wupatki National Monument. Visitors can access the Painted Desert from I-40, near Holbrook, or from US 89, outside of Flagstaff. The I-40 entrance includes the Painted Desert Visitor Center and provides easy access to the Petrified Forest National Park.

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