Petrified Forest National Park is located near the Arizona - New Mexico border on Interstate 40. The main access towns are Flagstaff, AZ and Grants, NM. The small town of Holbrook, AZ is on the park's doorstep, but is a less attractive and less interesting place to stay. Petrified Forest National Park was established first as a National Monument on December 8, 1906 and then as a National Park on December 9, 1962. On both occasions the motivation was preservation of the dwindling deposits of petrified wood lying exposed among the banded earth. What is Petrified Wood? Well, if we pop back 225 million years we can find out. At this time the area was a floodplain of streams and lakes experiencing a wet and warm climate. Ancient tall trees grew on the slopes surrounding the floodplain and those that fell were washed down to onto the plain. The rivers and lakes of this plain were muddied with a soft fine silt that would allow the trees to sink enough to be cut off from the oxygen supply that would feed the rotting process. Over eons minerals in the ancient waters seeped into the logs and became lodged in the cell strucure of the wood. This process of petrification turned the treetrunks into colourful crystallized quartz. Collisions between tectonic plates along the shores of present day California forced this area of the United States to rise up and form the Colorado Plateau. Now thousands of feet above sea level, the natural forces of erosion dusted away the silt and exposed the trees once more. In preparing for your visit you should consider the direction you will be travelling in. Most visitors pass through the park one-way. Arriving from New Mexico you will most likely travel North - South, whilst visitors from within Arizona will travel South - North. A 27 mile scenic drive runs the length of the park. This forms the backbone of your visit. At either end are museum / visitor centers that allow you to get your bearing
s. Most of the petrified wood is to be found at the southern end of the National Park. Because of their protected status, most of the trees (but not all) are viewed from behind fences or from overlooks. Heading to the North, the several petrified tree views and trails are as follows... The Giant Logs (short trail) - A loop trail that passes through silt beds with many hundreds of petrified wood fragments. Several large pieces are directly adjacent to the trail for close inspection. This trail also passes the park's dedication plaque. Starts from the visitor center. The Long Logs (short trail) - A second trail with abundant petrified wood deposits set among the banded formations of the painted desert. Many of these specimens are whole trunks. The trail runs parallel to a few, so you can appreciate the size of these prehistoric trees. The Agate House trail also starts from the Long Logs parking lot. The Jasper Forest (overlook) - Views of the painted desert scenery with petrified logs. Although no close-up views are available, this overlook shows off the wood in its natural surroundings well. The Crystal Forest (short trail) - Wander amongst wood and logs. This trail allows free exploration of a small but dense deposit of the petrified trees. The Agate Bridge (viewpoint) - A treetrunk spans a rain runoff gulley and is now supported by a concrete beam. It makes an interesting photo, but this stop offers little else of interest. Characterising the northern end of the Park, the scenery of the Painted Desert badlands is dramatic and beautiful. The eroded layers of ancient lake beds exposed in sculpted forms make for an otherworldly feel to the area. The rich colors are enhanced by the changing light of the day and vary considerably throughout the park. The Long Logs (short trail) - A second trail with abundant petrified wood deposits set among the banded formations of the painted desert. Many of
these specimens are whole trunks. The trail runs parallel to a few, so you can appreciate the size of these prehistoric trees. The Agate House trail also starts from the Long Logs parking lot. The Blue Mesa (overlooks and trail) - wide panoramas of the desert with grey and pale blue coloration. A loop trail descends to explore the area. The Rim (overlooks) - in the section of the park north of the Interstate there are a series of spectacular panoramic views into the Painted Desert. The coloration is richer in this section than at the southern viewpoints. A short trail also traces the rim. Wilderness Hiking - For a more in depth exploration of the silt formations you can take a wilderness hike into the heart of a colorful region at the north of the park. Access is next to the historic Painted Desert Lodge at Kachina Point. There are no developed trails in the area, but navigation is fairly straightforward and many rewarding hikes can be taken upon suggestion from the park rangers. You need to register if you will be staying overnight in the wilderness. in addition to geologic features, Petrified Forest National Park has a number of significant Indian sites within it's boundaries. Spurs from the park road allow access to each and have parking lots, overlooks and trails with interpretive panels to explain what you can see. There are three main. Puerco Pueblo - A number of partly restored and excavated rooms of a 13th century pueblo. A short interpretive trail makes a circuit of the site. Agate House - A second pueblo building, this time made from piece of petrified wood. The original structure had no windows, with access via a hole in the roof. A window has been added recently to aloow visitors to peer inside. Newspaper Rock - An ancient messaging post with many petroglyphs in the sandstone rock face. To preserve the rock, there is no access to the petroglyphs, but an overlook with telescopes provides a
n adequate view of the figures. Being one of the smaller parks in the NPS system, Petrified Forest National Park is an easy park to explore in about half a day. This turns out to be handy as the park operates strict opening hours of 9AM - 5PM. This restriction allows park staff to keep a watchful eye upon visitors (and sometimes search vehicles). A system of high minimum fines and zero tolerance is in place with respect to the taking or defacing of petrified wood and any disruption of the Indian dwellings. Entry costs $10.00 per car for up to 7 days including repeat visits.
Well maybe not quite unless I was terrorised by lots of petrified wood. The Petrified Forest National Park is probably one of the strangest places that I have visited. For a start it's not even a forest - well not in the true sense of the word. There are no trees left, they are broken up and scattered over a wide area but even still they are a sight to behold. The trees have become petrified due to a process that takes thousands of years and I'll briefly explain how this happens. The trees here are conifers that date from the time of the dinosaurs (Triassic period for fellow history buffs out there!). They were washed by floods into the area that became the park where they were covered by mud and then volcanic ash. They then became fossilised due to mineral-laden water that left coloured deposits around the cells of the wood. It was these deposits that turned into stone. The area was raised due to seismic activity and then erosion exposed the logs to the world again after thousands of years. The area was designated a National park, along with the painted desert which adjoins it, in 1906 to stop the theft of thousands of pieces of petrified wood. So what is there for the inquisitive tourist? There is a lot to see here and I would recommend a full day for sightseeing and looking round the Visitor centres. We started off at the north end at the Painted Desert visitor centre. Here we saw a brief 20 min film on how the trees were fossilised and the history of the park itself. There were also dinosaur fossils and representations of how the area looked in the time of these fantastic animals. After the visitor centre we drove into the park itself. Admission was $10 per vehicle and this included a free map listing the major sites and viewpoints. I should also mention that this admission was valid for 7 days so you could come back as often as you liked. In the Painted Desert section there were plenty of panoramic viewpoints g
iving fantastic photo opportunities over the desert. As you could drive to all the viewpoints, pop out and take a photo or admire it from your car, you were never far from air conditioning, which is heaven in the desert! The desert is an amazing site of different coloured layers of soil. This is due to the sun reflecting off different minerals such as sandstone, carbon and iron oxide. It really is an amazing site which photos cannot do justice! One site of particular interest was the Painted Desert inn, which is a National historic landmark. This was the original tourist facility for the early visitors in 1906. It is now a museum for cultural history as well as having some interesting artefacts from the first days of tourism! There are some short trails that you can walk but please be careful! Even though the trails are short at 1 - 3 miles it is incredibly hot out there. We made sure we took plenty of water, wore hats and had plenty of sunscreen on. I would not recommend these trails for young children or elderly people due to the heat and rough walking conditions. The park then crosses the main interstate (I40) to the south where you enter the Petrified Forest. Again there is a well maintained road with various look out points and photo opportunities. The first main attraction here was a 100 room Indian pueblo dating from before 1400. It has been partially stabilised but when you think that it is made from mud, it's a miracle it survived at all. All over the park there are petroglyphs left by ancient Indian civilisations. In the desert rocks can acquire a dark blue-black layer called desert varnish. This is due to iron and manganese oxides leaching out of the rock over hundreds of years. This leaves a thin shiny polish that the ancient Indians chipped away using rocks to expose the lighter areas underneath. This rock art is known as petroglyphs. One amazing example of this art is "Newspaper" rock, whic
h is absolutely covered in petroglyphs. It must have taken years for the Indians to cover this huge boulder in drawings. I would highly recommend taking binoculars to get a good look at the drawings. We walked the Blue Mesa trail, which was a 1 mile self-guiding tour through petrified wood and clay hills. This was a very surreal experience. Although the landscape was totally barren with hardly any sign of life, it was quite beautiful in its own way. You felt as though you were on another planet with all these strange coloured rocks and soil. The petrified wood was beautiful and it was very hard to believe that it was rock and not wood. You really had to touch it to convince yourself otherwise. The wood came in various shades of blue, red and multicoloured. The polished specimens at the visitor centres were beautiful. One word of warning - don't even think about taking home a small piece of petrified rock as a souvenir, not even a sliver. It is a violation of federal law to remove any piece of wood from the park. There are signs every where reminding you of this and even emergency telephones so you can report any thefts immediately. If you want to take a piece home with you, there are hundreds of rock shops all around the edge of the park that sell wood collected from private land. The Painted desert and Petrified Forest National park is a very beautiful place in its own way and I would definitely recommend a visit. INSTALMENT NO. 4 OF MACHARS TREK AROUND THE SOUTHERN US! :)
P.O. Box 2217, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ 86028. Visitor Information - 520-524-6228. Fax- 520-524-3567. Email: PEFO_Superintendent@nps.gov