Petrified Forest National Park: It’s a Wood! It’s a Rock! It’s a Fossil!

Petrified Forest National Park - colorful petrified wood

Our visit to Petrified Forest National Park was part of our road trip to the southwest region from three years ago. When we got there, it’s closed to 4 pm. and we weren’t sure what time it got dark. There are two entrances to this park: South Entrance and North Entrance, and the distance from one end to the other end are 28 miles (45 km) that takes about an hour of driving. Since we came from Tucson, we entered through the South Entrance.

 

Petrified Forest National Park - South Entrance - Two Worlds Treasures
At the South Entrance.

 

Petrified Forest National Park: South Entrance

After taking quick pictures at the entrance, we drove to Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center which was also the first stop you would make when entering from the South. We picked up the Junior Ranger book program for our son and strolled through the paleontological exhibits in the museum, followed by watching the park film. Then we walked the Giant Logs Trail located right at the back of the building. An easy 0.4-mile paved trail with stairs.

 

Wow! How amazed we were with thousands of petrified wood deposits rested all over the ground with their stunning color, from small ones to giant ones. Our little Paleontologist felt like in heaven; touching, hugging, and examining them with wonder. He even tried to pick the giant one.

Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. “Old Faithful”, at the top of the trail, is almost ten feet wide at the base!

 

Petrified Forest National Park - the Old Faithful
The Old Faithful. Photo credit: dassel.

 

From the museum parking lot, there’s a trail that leads to the Agate House. Over there you would see remains of the house built by the Ancestral Puebloan people who used petrified wood as a building material. The eight-room home was built and occupied sometime between 1050 and 1300. Looked interesting, but the trail was 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip and we didn’t think we had enough time to do it, because we wanted to drive all the way to the North Entrance before dark. So, we hopped on to the car and continued exploring the park to the North side.

 

Petrified Forest National Park: from Crystal Forest to Historic Route 66

Our next stop was Crystal Forest (0.7 mile = 1.2 km loop). It named for the presence of beautiful crystals that could be found in the petrified logs. Here, we saw more petrified wood deposits rested all over the ground.

 

Petrified Forest National Park - fossil
Photo credit: dassel.

 

Then we stopped at the Agate Bridge, a large petrified log spanning a gully. You can see it, but not cross on it.

 

Petrified Forest National Park - Agate Bridge - Two Worlds Treasures
No crossing at the Agate Bridge.

The Tepees awaited us on the left side of the road on the way to the North Entrance. Basically, it’s a rock formation shaped like a cone with its beautiful layer of blues, purples, and grays color created by iron, carbon, manganese, and other minerals. Incredibly beautiful!

From there we checked the Newspaper Rock where hundreds of petroglyphs etched on the stone. You need the spotting scope on the overlook to see them, but you can keep your quarter in your pocket. It’s free.

Then, we stopped at Puerco Pueblo. This is a site of 100-room village built by Puebloan people over 600 years ago. Through the short paved trail along the site we saw some petroglyphs, too.

Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park site that contains segment of the Historic Route 66 alignment. That was our next stop before we reached the North Entrance. Here we could see traces of an old roadbed and weathered telephone poles that mark the path of the famous “Main Street of America”.

Petrified Forest National Park - Historic Route 66 - Two Worlds Treasures

 

Petrified Forest National Park: Kachina Point

By the time we arrived at the end of the park, the Painted Desert Inn and Painted Desert Visitor Center were already closed. Painted Desert Inn is a national historic landmark functions as a museum now, where displays inside highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. A restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie could be found here as well.

We walked to Kachina Point to get a panoramic view of the Painted Desert. It was spectacular! It’s like looking at a gigantic painting without a wooden frame. Amazing!

When we left the parking, it’s already dark. Fortunately, the park ranger at the gate could check our son Junior Ranger Program book and sworn him in as a certified Petrified Forest National Park Junior Ranger. They already anticipated this would happen to the visitors with children. Thank you, thank you!

 

What is Petrified Wood?

Over 200 million years ago, tall, stately conifer trees grew along the banks. At one time the tress fell, and swollen streams washed them into adjacent floodplains. A mix of silt, mud, and volcanic ash from distant volcanoes buried the logs deep into the earth. This sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs’ decay. Then silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs, replacing the original wood tissue with silica and petrifying the logs.

Since then, continents moved to today’s position, the region uplifted, and climate changed. Over time, wind and water wore away the rock layers and exposed these fossilized ancient.

That’s why we can still see them in the form of wood or wood pieces but they’re hard as a rock. Because they are fossils.

 

Petrified Forest National Park - two petrified woods
Photo credit: werner22brigitte

 

Why the color?

Petrified wood’s brilliant colors came from minerals in the silica-saturated water. Pure quartz is white, manganese oxides form blue, purple, black, and brown, and iron oxides provide hues from yellow through red to brown. They are very heavy, weighs up to 200 pounds per cubic foot.

 

Petrified Forest National Park - crystal wood
Photo credit: werner22brigitte

 

Tips:

– The highest concentrations of petrified wood are found in the southern end of the park, while the northern end showcases the human story and Painted Desert vistas. Start at an entrance that interests you more.

– Never ever collect or remove any petrified wood from the park even if it’s as small as your finger nail.

– You can buy petrified wood collected from private lands outside the park at the rock shops in nearby communities.

– The park’s website offered trip itinerary that you can always accommodate to your interests.

– Use your America the Beautiful National Park pass.

 

Address: 1 Park Road, Petrified Forest, AZ 86028.

 

Visited: June 2014.

 

Have you been there? Tell me about your experience. Or, let me know if this article makes you want to pay a visit to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

 

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Comments

  1. Anouska says:

    This looks so fascinating and seeing your great photos makes me twitch because I want to go and do a junior ranger programme (even though I’m 21!) Love this post and how immersive it it!

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      How I wished to have things like this when I grew up. Hmm… maybe they have to make an Adult Ranger Program. Haha..

  2. Kate Rebel says:

    Oh wow I haven’t heard of this place before but the pictures look amazing! Thanks for sharing all this useful information, too, I didn’t even know about petrified wood. Didn’t know that minerals can do such things and result in those beautiful colors! Definitely need to add this park to my Travel List 🙂

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      I didn’t know about petrified wood either until my son fell in love with rocks and fossils. Haha…

  3. Stacey says:

    This is definitely on our list of places to go! We had scheduled a trip here when we were planning to go to the Grand Canyon, but when we read that that Arches National Park was going to redo their roads, we switched gears and went to Gettysburg and Virginia instead. We do plan to go. Maybe we can fit it in on our road trip to California.

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      Yeah, you should stop here. Btw, is Arches NP still working on their road? That’s what they were doing or starting to do when we went there 3 summers ago.

  4. this article, and these beautiful pictures totally make me want to visit this part of the US! I have been to Phoenix, but not outside the cities. I would love to take my kids here they would learn so much – those fossils are amazing
    Harmony, Momma To Go recently posted…Great Wolf Lodge Southern CaliforniaMy Profile

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      It’s a place of learning. We could stay there for a day if we didn’t have to catch up with our itinerary.

  5. Beautiful pictures! I have heard of this place and would probably spend at least one whole day looking at the petrified wood as it has always been a fascination of mine. Thank you for the information about how it came to be.
    Exploring Curiously recently posted…Visiting a Fairy Tale Castle in DenmarkMy Profile

  6. Tara says:

    I was about your son’s age when my family went to the petrified forest! I still have really good memories of the visit. For years afterwards, I loved finding tiny pieces of petrified wood!

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      That was really cool! I hope my son will always remember our trip there.

  7. amit says:

    I had never heard of this place before I read this post, in reading this it has really intrigued me. I love visiting places like this. I also think the junior ranger program is a great idea (do they do an adult version haha) – Definitely adding this to my must visit list 😀
    amit recently posted…Next budget backpacking destination…My Profile

    1. Umiko Buhl says:

      I like Junior Ranger Program. Every National Park and most of State Park in Texas has that program. I liked to go through it since I’ve never done things like that in my childhood. Yeah, I wish they have the adult version.

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