Painted Desert Inn

Painted Desert Inn and Autumn Blossoms

Autumn Blossoms, Painted Desert Inn © 2010 Bo Mackison

On our swing through some of the Southwestern National Parks in October, we stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park in the east central region of Arizona. This park also includes the Painted Desert and this building, the Painted Desert Inn Museum. The architectural style of the inn was influenced by Pueblo Indian dwellings and Early Spanish architecture. It was built to harmonize with its surroundings and blends well with the surrounding Painted Desert.

Garden at the Painted Desert Inn II

Desert Garden and Painted Desert Inn © 2010 Bo Mackison

The original inn was built in the 1920s, mostly of available stone and petrified rocks and the builders used a mud mortar to hold the structure together. It was a trading post and had a lunch counter, but it had no water or electricity. The Park Service purchased the building in 1936 and used WPA funds and Civilian Conservation Corps labor to essentially rebuild the entire structure.

In the late 1930s, National Park Service architect Lyle Bennett redesigned the building, utilizing the Pueblo Revival Style. The Painted Desert Inn re-opened for business on July 4, 1940 and was a stop on the Historic Route 66. (Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park that has a portion of the Historic Route 66 within its boundaries.) The inn’s life as an oasis in the middle of the desert lasted only a couple of years, and ended with the beginning of World War II. Traveling was greatly curtailed and the inn closed in 1942.

Not to be ignored for long, the Inn again opened and was operated from 1947 through 1963 by the Fred Harvey Company, a company who was a concessionaire in many of the Western National Parks. Then, after sitting unused for a dozen years, the building was scheduled for demolition in 1975. However a public outpouring of concern for the historic building convinced the Park Service to save the Painted Desert Inn. It opened in 1976 as a museum and bookstore on a limited basis.

Painted Desert Inn, National Historic Landmark

Painted Desert Inn, National Historic Landmark © 2010 Bo Mackison

It again underwent extensive repair in 2004-06 and then reopened as the museum and bookstore now pictured. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic Landmark.

The building is a stunning example of architecture, and has a history well worth exploring. There are exhibits inside the Inn which shed light on its fascinating history. A walk around the entire structure and through its many rooms reveals small architectural gems such as arched doorways and windows, hand crafted metal lamps, and an intriguing wooden beam support system in the ceilings.

In the next posts, I’ll feature the interior of the Painted Desert Inn, so lovingly and meticulously restored, and filled with art and intricate design features, and also photographs of the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest landscapes.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Joanne Keevers says:

    I’m constantly amazed at how much civilized life there is in the USA deserts, compared to those of Australia. Your photos clearly show how much plant life there is in these areas. I’ve never travelled to Australia’s outback, and have no desire to, as all there seems to be there is red soil!

    Last year I came across photos taken in Sedona, Arizona, which looked surreal. Prior to seeing those photos, I thought that the only desert life in the states was Las Vegas!

    I’m looking forward to seeing the inside of this building. Thank you, Bo. 🙂

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Our deserts in the Southwest are truly beautiful. Much plant life, wildlife to see, many cities and towns, too. I’ll be in Tucson in southern Arizona for the months of February and March, Joanne. I’m sure I will be sharing plenty of desert photographs. 🙂

  2. Outstanding post, Bo! I enjoyed visiting that place again through your photos and narrative!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      It’s a remarkable place, even if one only takes the 30 mile drive through it. Someday I’d love to really go out in the wilderness areas,

  3. Very cool. It is amazing what the CCC did for the National Parks.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      Yes, many of the parks were the beneficiaries of the CCC program. The buildings at Mesa Verde NP, coming soon, are another testament to the hard work and creative vision of the CCC.

  4. The inn looks like its made out of the same rock as the desert. Gorgeous color!

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