Forest that is!
Just as we traveled west of Holbrook, Arizona along Interstate 40 (and along old Route 66) we came upon the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.
Wow! It was surprising and quite amazing.
I did a little review of the history of this forest (although it’s like a desert) while on location but I think it’s better to use some previous, documented research to provide some background.
How Petrified Wood Was Formed
According to ArizonaLeisure.com, when trees were toppled by volcanic eruptions, they were swept away by flowing water and deposited in marshes and covered with mud and volcanic ash. Buried under layers of sediment, the logs remained buried for millions of years undergoing a extremely slow process of petrification which essentially turned the logs to colorful stone. (How does this compare to eruptions in Hawaii and elsewhere?)
The logs were also covered with even more sediment from the ocean. Millions of years ago the ocean disappeared and was replaced with flowing rivers that gradually eroded over 2,600 feet of sediment depth slowly exposing the petrified wood that litters the landscape at the Petrified Forest National Park.
“There is no doubt that millions of pounds of petrified logs still remain buried deep into the ground. Eventually gradual and continuing erosion will expose even more stone logs that are still entombed.” https://www.arizona-leisure.com/petrified-forest.html
The petrification process began with tree burial. The volcanic ash and mud released chemicals during decomposition. The chemicals reacted with wood to form quartz crystals which by themselves are colorless. Minerals in the water such as iron or manganese gave the quartz red and pinkish hues. Over millions of years, the quartz crystals “cocooned” the logs slowly turning them to stone.
National Geographic: See the Enchanting, Ancient Forest in the Middle of a Desert
“Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is a can’t-miss destination for those looking for otherworldly landscapes.”
According to National Geographic the Painted Desert (part of the Petrified Forest National Park) draws more than 600,000 visitors each year. “While most come to see one of the world’s largest concentrations of brilliantly colored petrified wood, many leave having glimpsed something more.” The current 346 square miles of Petrified Forest open a window on an environment that was once far more drastic than today’s grassland. more than 200 million years old, one radically different from today’s grassland.
Where you now see ravens soaring over a stark landscape, leathery-winged pterosaurs once glided over rivers teeming with armor-scaled fish and giant, spatula-headed amphibians. Nearby ran herds of some of the earliest dinosaurs. Scientists have identified several hundred species of fossil plants and animals in Petrified Forest.
Much of the quartz that replaced the wood tissue 200 million years ago is tinted in rainbow hues. Many visitors cannot resist taking rocks, despite strict regulations and stiff fines against removing any material. To see if the petrified wood was actually disappearing at an alarming rate, resource managers established survey plots with a specific number of pieces of wood; some were nearly barren in less than a week.
The problem is not new. Military survey parties passing through the region in the 1850s filled their saddlebags with the petrified wood. As word of these remarkable deposits spread, fossil logs were hauled off by the wagonload for tabletops, lamps, and mantels. In the 1890s gem collectors began dynamiting logs searching for amethyst and quartz crystals. To prevent further destruction of its unique bounty, the area was designated a national monument in 1906 and a national park more than a half century later. (More details are at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/petrified-forest-national-park/
Isn’t it interesting that humans can’t resist leaving beauty behind for others to behold. This aspect of history doesn’t change. We all want to take a little piece with us. You’ll even notice some local businesses selling pieces of the artifacts. I resisted though and rely on photography along with memories.
USA Today tips for visiting the Petrified Forest
One of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world is found at Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona, about 110 miles east of Flagstaff and 210 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Add to that dramatic, colorful geological formations and ancient art and you’ll quickly see why Petrified Forest National Park is a must-visit.
- Plan ahead
- Stop along the way
- Visit the museum
- Take a hike
- Go old school – really old (archeology style)
- Watch for birds
- Go wild
- Stop by the inn (Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark)
- Join a range
Love and Blessings,