Expect the Unexpected
We did not plan our time very well. We had originally wished to camp overnight at Petrified Forest with an overnight camping permit, but you need to get there before it closes, and by that we mean the gate really does close for the day. You can not drive in. We stayed overnight at a hotel nearby at a cluster of inexpensive hotels and cheap restaurants and got up early the next day to get a good start on the day.
We arrived early, and like others, we had to park along the side of the entrance and watch service vehicles and school busses enter while we waited outside. Sometimes a car would sneak in, but we would later find out how wrong this action was. When we finally got in we went to the visitor's station and checked out the displays, the rest rooms, and talked with the rangers to plan the day. We found out that the petroglyph that we came to see was not on display because of construction! My heart broke a little, but we were assured that there were plenty of treasures to see in the park, which was to prove itself true.
We drove to the first trail head and were about to hike down into the first trail when a ranger/cop/official stopped us and said we were on his report of cars sneaking in early. Oh boy - this was not going well. I asked him to check with the visitor's center as I was the first one when it opened to ask about the rest room and I thought they would remember me and could confirm our respect for park rules. He radioed in and confirmed that it was a false identification, and we were very much relieved. We told him how we went to he visitor's center first thing and asked about the petroglyph we wanted to see so badly and how it was not available for viewing and he invited us to join him for our own private trip with him over to the building (it was under construction at the time) to see the petroglyph we came to see. Who knew being mis-identified as criminals would become such good fortune!
We took a few photos and talked with our private tour guide who was almost our private captor, and got some good recommendations on spots in the park to visit and nice vantage points to see petroglyphs well and some trails that should not be missed. There is a lot to this park besides petrified wood as we found out, especially really great rangers!