Painted Desert Drama


The Earth’s rocks and soil contain scientific AND historical mysteries. Capture dramatic desert or canyon colors with Crayola® Markers on sandpaper.


1. Nature is on display around the world, including the Painted Desert in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon in the United States. Wind and water erosion carve colorful mounds from wet bentonite clay (which swells and then collapses upon itself) and petrified wood. The result is layered earth tones with deep ridges that became smooth over time. Sunlight and shadows highlight the minerals found in the crevices--with wondrous results!

2. Study photos from the Petrified Forest National Park, Grand Canyon, Africa’s Kalahari or Saharan Deserts, Asia’s Mongolian Gobi, or another dramatic geological area. On sandpaper, capture the layers of hues and shadows with Crayola Markers. Blend colors. Create ridges with more blending.

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.


  • Learn more about how a forest of trees becomes petrified. Study the roles of natural phenomena like floods and volcanoes. Find out what minerals and geological elements result. Do temperature highs and lows have anything to do with it?
  • Look for signs of erosion in your area. Speculate on the cause and then observe areas to confirm. Map erosion sites. Find out if officials and businesses are doing anything to stop this process.
  • What endangers the Painted Desert? Visitors who steal pieces of the park. How could the U.S. National Park Service prevent this?
  • Assessment: Children write or orally describe the process that led to formation of the Painted Desert or the geological area they studied.

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Markers
household supplies
  • sandpaper



  • Grades 1 to 3
  • Grades 4 to 6


  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • Less than 1/2 hour
  • 30 to 60 minutes


  • Students learn about geological processes that form unique geographic regions.

  • Students recreate the visual appearance of a dramatic geological area by blending and removing marker color on sandpaper.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards