By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/23/2019
Topics/Keywords: #PaintedDesert #PetrifiedForestNationalPark #Travel #USA Page Views: 1523
Photos and narratives of trips I've made to see 220 million year old wood.

Petrified Forest National Park is a United States national park in Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona. Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, the fee area of the park covers about 230 square miles, encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands. The park's headquarters is about 26 miles east of Holbrook along Interstate 40 (I-40). The site, the northern part of which extends into the Painted Desert, was declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962. Typical visitor activities include sightseeing, photography, hiking, and backpacking.

Averaging about 5,400 feet above sea level, the park has a dry windy climate with temperatures that vary from summer highs of about 100 °F (38 °C) to winter lows well below freezing. More than 400 species of plants, dominated by grasses such as bunchgrass, blue grama, and sacaton, are found in the park. Fauna include larger animals such as pronghorns, coyotes, and bobcats, many smaller animals, such as deer mice, snakes, lizards, seven kinds of amphibians, and more than 200 species of birds, some of which are permanent residents and many of which are migratory. About half of the park is designated wilderness.

The Petrified Forest is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Period, about 220 million years ago. The sediments containing the fossil logs are part of the widespread and colorful Chinle Formation, from which the Painted Desert gets its name. Beginning about 60 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau, of which the park is part, was pushed upward by tectonic forces and exposed to increased erosion. All of the park's rock layers above the Chinle, except geologically recent ones found in parts of the park, have been removed by the erosion of wind and water. In addition to petrified logs, fossils found in the park have included Late Triassic ferns, cycads, ginkgoes, and many other plants as well as fauna including giant reptiles called phytosaurs, large amphibians, and early dinosaurs. Paleontologists have been unearthing and studying the park's fossils since the early 20th century.

Phytosaur, a crocodile-like animal that lived in the Triassic Period in what is now Petrified Forest National Park.

The park's earliest human inhabitants arrived at least 8,000 years ago. By about 2,000 years ago, they were growing corn in the area and shortly thereafter building pit houses in what would become the park. Later inhabitants built above-ground dwellings called pueblos. Although a changing climate caused the last of the park's pueblos to be abandoned by about 1400 CE, more than 600 archeological sites, including petroglyphs, have been discovered in the park. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers visited the area, and by the mid-19th century a U.S. team had surveyed an east–west route through the area where the park is now located and noted the petrified wood. Later, roads and a railway followed similar routes and gave rise to tourism and, before the park was protected, to large-scale removal of fossils. Theft of petrified wood remains a problem in the 21st century.

Theft of fossils, especially petrified wood, is an ongoing problem. Most people who steal a piece regret it; thousands have mailed the stolen fossils back to the Park. There's an exhibit in the Rainbow Museum of many pieces and the letters of abject apology accompanying them. However, there are far too many pieces to keep them all there.

Lauren Carter, a ranger at Petrified Forest National Park, stands next to a pile of petrified wood that has been confiscated or returned.

The irony is that petrified wood is not rare. The processes that make it have occurred world-wide, and there is at least one outcropping of petrified wood in every state. That's where the pieces of petrified wood come from, that are sold in the gift shops just outside the park gates. You can have as much petrified wood as you wish, as found or polished and built into furniture. Just buy it; don't steal it from the Park!

Visits to Petrified Forest National Park can last a day or more for the most enthusiastic, or just the hour or so it takes to drive from the South Gate to the North Gate (or vice versa). The museum and thickest concentration of petrified wood is about a mile north of the South Gate; so visits even shorter than an hour are possible.

Prime Day at Petrified Forest

By: Paul S. Cilwa Occurred: 7/10/2017
Topics: #Arizona #PaintedDesert #PetrifiedForestNationalPark #Travel #USA Page Views: 1069
Keith, Michael, Ella, and my son John visit Petrified Forest National Park just to take pictures.

Today was 'Prime Day', based on the fact that the date—7/10/2017—as a number (1102017), is a prime number. Even if one leaves out the century from the date, 11017 is also prime. Plus, the full date is a palindrome, as it reads the same forwards and backwards. On such an auspicious day, my son John suggested that we pile in his truck and head for Petrified Forest. John is currently sharing a house with my ex, Michael. So Keith, Ella (our dog) and I drove there in the morning, since their house in Mesa was actually along our way and the five of us headed out.

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A Visit To Dead Wood

By: Paul S. Cilwa Occurred: 9/8/2004
Topics: #Arizona #PaintedDesert #PetrifiedForestNationalPark #Travel #USA Page Views: 907
Photos of Surya and Zach's first visits to Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert.

One visits the Petrified Forest once for the novelty of seeing trees turned to stone. Subsequent visits are for the purpose of enjoying the soft, ancient energy of this place. This time, the trip include Michael and me, Zachary, and Michael's sister, Surya.

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Christmas at Petrified Forest

By: Paul S. Cilwa Occurred: 12/26/1998
Topics: #Arizona #PetrifiedForestNationalPark #Travel #USA Page Views: 920
Photos of the Christmas trip to Petrified Forest National Park.

During the Christmas season of 1998, with all four of my kids having come to visit Michael and myself, we managed to fit a little sightseeing into the schedule. John, Karen, Michael and I went to visit the Petrified Forest, located less than an hour from our home in Snowflake.

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