Besides the ancient archaeological sites, Petrified Forest National Park preserves a variety of resources including written documents and photographs that document more recent historical events.
Historically the area was heavily ranched in the 1800s by outfits such as the Aztec Land and Cattle Company (popularly called the “Hashknife” Outfit after their distinctive brand), and later by various smaller land owners.
The petrified wood deposits were originally named “Chalcedony Park” and used extensively for private tourism and other commercial uses prior to the establishment of federal protection.
The first permanent buildings in the park which served as lodges, lunch stands, and curio shops were built at the north and south ends of the present park in the late 1920s by private owners and called the Stone Tree House and the Rainbow Forest Lodge respectively.
The Stone Tree House was purchased by the National Park Service in 1936, renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and later reopened as the Painted Desert Inn operated by concessionaires including the Fred Harvey Company.
It was the Fred Harvey Company who commissioned famed designer Mary Jane Colter to decorate the interior and staffed the building with their famous Harvey Girls. The Rainbow Forest Lodge (now the Rainbow Forest Oasis) is currently operated under the Fred Harvey name by Xanterra Parks and Resorts and still offers services to visitors.
Besides the renovations of the Painted Desert Inn, the Civilian Conservation Corps played a large part in the early development of park infrastructure. Working from camps on the Rio Puerco and at Rainbow Forest the CCC built roads, bridges, and trails. They constructed the old headquarters/museum building and residences at the Rainbow Forest.
In addition they served as clerks and park guides. As you travel the main park road you are following their work and driving over bridges these men constructed.