The desert extends from near the east end of Grand Canyon National Park and southeast into Petrified Forest National Park.
It is most easily accessed in the north portion of Petrified Forest National Park.
The Painted Desert e is approximately 240 kilometers (150 miles) long and 25 to 80 kilometers (15 to 50 miles) wide and covers an area of some 19,400 square kilometers (7,500 square miles).
Elevations range from about 1,370 to 1,980 meters (4,500 to 6,500 feet).
The name was first used in 1858 by a government explorer, Lieutenant Joseph C. Ives, to describe the area’s brilliantly coloured shales, marls, and sandstones, which are banded with vivid red, yellow, blue, white, and lavender.
It is a long expanse of badland hills and buttes and although barren and austere, it is a beautiful landscape of a rainbow of colors.
At times the air glows with a pink mist or purple haze of desert dust.
It took millions upon millions of years for nature to create this natural canvas of unimaginable design that some describe it as a multi-colored layered cake.
The Painted Desert draws upon the Earth’s indecisive nature. From shifts in the Earth’s crust brought about by temperamental volcanoes and earthquakes to complete inundation by fresh and sea waters alike, a veritable host of elements have breathed life into this area. Colorful sediments of bentonite clay and sandstone, stacked in elegant layers, feed off the setting Arizona sun in an ever-changing display of colorful splendor.
The rocks in that formation are some 213 million years old.
The region is barren and arid, with 127 to 229 mm (5 to 9 inches) of annual precipitation and yearly temperature extremes of −31 to 41 °C (−25 to 105 °F).
Navajo and Hopi reservations occupy a large part of the Painted Desert, and the Navajo use the variegated brightly colored sands for their famous ceremonial sand paintings.