Located in northern Arizona is the famous Petrified Forest. The remains of trees that have been petrified thousands of years ago remain, like ghosts from the past. The area has been designated into one of America’s favorite national parks, drawing over half a million people every year to see the se amazing creations and to learn about them and the beautiful surrounding area. This designated park area has one of the largest concentrations of these types of fossils in the world.
How do trees in petrified forest become fossils?
The fossils you will see in the national forest are millions of years old. For wood to become petrified, it takes a lot of time and some other components as well. Back then there were chains of volcanoes along the area, and the ash and silica that came from eruptions or volcano activity covered many of the trees. Another process is when trees get washed down the river and get buried by mud, ash, or other materials. As the trees lay sealed beneath these materials, it prevents the decay or breakdown of the wood from occurring. As the trees break down, it is filled with the materials covering it, often containing silica, which rocks are made of, thus turning the tree into a hardened rock-like state, preserving it forever. The fossils are never standing up; they have always downed trees from being washed down the river or knocked over and buried under all the mud or ash.
Why are there so many colors?
Looking at these marvelous creations, you will see bright colors that aren’t usually on a tree. A rainbow of colors can be seen on most, from blue-greens to yellows to pinks and black. The minerals that have seeped into the log have hardened over time and, depending on the mineral; have created a bright color of some sort. Magnesium provides the pink hues, while carbon adds black and chromium gives the blue-green tinge to the rainbow of colors. The process of hardening and the final color scheme of the fossil takes millions of years to accomplish.
Characteristics of Petrified Wood
- 160-200 pounds per cubic foot
- Ranks as a 7 to 8 on Mohs Hardness scale (diamonds classify a 10)
- Can be used as a semi-precious stone in jewelry, or used in furniture creation
- Designated as fossils from the “Triassic Period.”
- The trees that are fossilized are coniferous, gingkoes and tree ferns
Welcome to the petrified forest national park!
There are lots to see and do in the area, and the Visitors Center is a great place to start. It is called the Painted Desert Visitor Center, and it has guided tours to sign up for and a 20-minute orientation movie called “Timeless Impressions that play frequently, so if you arrive and its playing you can wait for 30-minutes while browsing the museum and exhibits to watch it again.
Tours throughout the petrified forest
Ranger-lead programs are fantastic ways to get the inside scoop on what to see and to learn the history and facts about this unique area. Bring the kids along as it is family friendly and let them see how what once was a tree is now a rock! Sightseeing is available, and you can take your vehicle on the drives or hop on a commercial tour, go bicycling, or hiking. Due to the sensitive nature of the preserved trees and historic areas, there is no overnight camping or parking. The nearby towns and surrounding areas offer lots more to see and do so that you could schedule this as one of your stops on your traveling vacation. You can spend an afternoon or up to a few days here, depending on how far you want to hike and explore.
Hike the National Park
What is a better way to explore than to go hiking in a petrified forest? Several trails are available to walk, ranging from just half a mile up to 3 miles in length. Bring your dog on the trails as long as they are on a leash! Most of the trails are paved or developed, making it easy to see where to go. The Painted Desert Rim Trail has a dirt and gravel surface and winds through the rim woodland and up on top of the rim as well, so you get some of the best views of the red canyon walls and eroded mountains of the Painted Desert. It’s only about a mile and is a great hike for just about anyone. The Puerco Pueblo is only 0.3 miles and is a loop trail. This trail is neat because you can see ancient petroglyphs that were written on the rocks at the south end of the trail. You will also see the remains of what was once a 100-room pueblo used by the Puebloan people hundreds of years ago. The Giant Logs trail is a fantastic way to see the petrified trees and see one that is named “Old Faithful,” because of its massive size. Old Faithful is about ten feet wide at the base and can be found at the top of the trail. You can find some of the largest as well as the most colorful of the fossilized trees on this trail, and it’s only about 0.4 of a mile long. The Crystal Forest is another path you can take to see all the amazing petrified trees. The trail is named for all the crystals that can be found in the logs, created over millions of years. Keep in mind that the wood is not to be tampered with or taken, or you may be fined.
Learn and Discover New Things
There are many other trails to take, as well as trails that are not structured or designated for a more exploratory feel deep into the wilderness area. There is also backpacking, guided tours, geocaching, and horseback riding for even more fun and things to do. The Petrified Forest is on the way to some fantastic sights, and you could make this trip at least a week long. Nearby is the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Glen Canyon, Montezuma Castle and the Hubble Trading Post National Historic Site. Not to mention that Prescott and Flagstaff have beautiful pine trees, crisp, mountain air and lovely scenery with excellent accommodations and places to eat. Explore an area that once covered its fallen trees with ash, forever preserving them over the millions of years it has taken to turn what was once wood into stone. It is a remarkable sight and feels, as you learn and discover bits of the past that remains in the Painted Desert.