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October 23, 2008 / Bo Mackison

Painted Desert Inn – National Architectural Treasure

Painted Desert Inn in Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert Inn in Petrified Forest National Park

Driving through the Petrified Forest National Park, one expects to see old rocks and scrub deserts and a lot of open space. But there is another treat of a different sort, right in the middle of the park – the recently restored Painted Desert Inn. The Inn has earned the designation of a National Historical Landmark.  This designation was given to the Inn as a significant historic place with exceptional quality, which illustrates the heritage of the United States.

The inn was constructed between 1937 and 1940 in the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style and the interior spaces have an unusually high quality of design. There is a sitting room, dining room, kitchen and tap room in the main part of the building. Rooms were attached to the building, but each had a separate outside entrance. A generator provided electricity, and water was hauled from the closest town, Adanama, which was located 10 miles away.

When I spoke to the park ranger, he said the inn was located in the “absolute middle of nowhere” when it was in operation in the early 1940s, and only attracted a few truckers from nearby Route 66. The rooms – there were only 4 rooms and 2 of them were used by park rangers – were rather primitive, having bunk beds, a dresser, and outdoor facilities. The attached main building, however, was quite elegant.

Murals by Hopi artist, Fred Kabobie

Murals in Dining Room by Fred Kabobie

The murals throughout the inn are by the late Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie. During the restoration, art conservationists restored the murals using a technique where tiny dots of paint were applied to the design only where the paint had deteriorated. Much of the mural maintains its original integrity.

The inn was restored to its 1940s condition during the last several years, and it is just the type of place where I would love to spend a few nights, maybe even a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. I love this region! Out in the middle of the desert, no lights, a sky full of stars at night, and great vistas during the day.

Unfortunately for me, it no longer operates as an inn, but the building can be toured as part of a visit to the Petrified Forest National Park.

Id Like a Desert View, Please!

"I'd Like a Desert View, Please!"

If you drive on I-70 across Arizona, you drive right through the center of the park, though I’d recommend taking a break from the interstate because you cannot see the inn (and the really cool parts of the park) unless you drive on the main park road. Spending at least a few hours checking it out “up close and personal” is really a treat.

This building beautifully demonstrates architecture designed to fit into its setting. The simplicity of the lines and the desert color palette used to paint the inn are complementary to the Painted Desert setting. Truly a lovely building to explore if you are planning a trip to the park.

No way is this a “drive-by.”


  1. Gandalf / Oct 23 2008 4:42 pm

    i’d love to have coffee and a doughnut in that dining room early in the morning.

  2. amelia / Oct 25 2008 9:37 pm

    I love the adobe architecture and that pink next to the desert.

  3. rvewong / Oct 26 2008 12:36 pm

    It’s too bad you can’t stay there. Those shots seem to capture a nice mood.

  4. ybonesy / Oct 30 2008 10:43 pm

    It’s gorgeous, Bo. The murals are great. How beautiful that they restored them. I also noticed the vigas and how they’ve been cleaned and polished.

    I’m glad to hear that the rangers are living in a couple of the rooms. I’d hate for a place like that to be vandalized. I think I could stay there for a few weeks or months, too. Imagine the quiet.

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