Petrified Forest N.P., AZ


During my exploration of Arizona, during December of 2010, I found myself on the Northeastern part of Arizona. I was only 2 hours east of Flagstaff, (on I 40), when I had the opportunity to drive through the Petrified Forest National Park.

Northern Arizona Road Map
Public Domain, Park map for Arizona

The Petrified Forest National Park holds the largest and most beautifully preserved collection of petrified wood ever found. Here, the slow process of fossilization has turned large trees into solid stone.

Petrified Forest National Park in 2010

Some 225 million years ago, these trees were part of an ancient forest, which was home to giant fish-eating amphibians, large reptiles, and early dinosaurs. After falling, the trees were washed downstream onto a flood plain at this location in northeast Arizona, and subsequently buried by silt and volcanic ash.

The ground has petrified trees scattered all over at the Petrified Forest National Park.

Many of these trees rotted away, but the ones that survived were transformed into the beautiful fossilized logs that I’m viewing in 2010. Dissolved silica from the volcanic ash slowly filled or replaced the cell walls, crystallizing the trees into mineral quartz.

I’m standing next to a Petrified Log at the Petrified Forest National Park in December of 2010.

Pictured above, the petrified process was often so precise that it preserved every detail of the log surface and, occasionally, the internal cell structures. Iron rich minerals combined with quartz during the petrification process, to give the trees a brilliant rainbow of colors.

The clay hills of Petrified Forest National Park

Today, fossilized logs lie strewn across the clay hills and exposed in cliff faces, (pictured above).

A giant petrified log found at the Petrified Forest National Park

Pictured above, the petrified trees are hard and brittle and break easily when they are subjected to stress.

Rock art found at Petrified Forest national Park

The Petrified Forest also contains many fine examples of rock art which early people carved on the surfaces of boulders, canyon walls, and rock shelters, (picture above). The range of images is staggering; human forms, feet and handprints, birds, lizards, snakes, bats, coyotes, bear paws, bird tracks, cloven hooves, and cougars, (pictured below).

My favorite petroglyph of all-time, found at the Petrified Forest National Park. “The Cougar”

These petroglyphs may commemorated important events, mark clan boundaries, document natural events such as the summer solstice, and some may even be doodles.

The Painted Desert of the northern part of “The Petrified Forest National Park”.

The heavily-eroded badland hills of the Painted Desert have a multi-layered effect because their soil contains a kaleidoscope of red, orange, pink, blue, white, lavender and gray minerals. In the northern part of “The Petrified Forest National Park”, it’s a feast for the eyes, especially toward sunset when the colors shine at their most spectacular.

The Painted Desert, north of “The Petrified Forest National Park”.

The Painted Desert is part of the Chinle Formation, which comprises soft sandstone sediments from the floor of an extinct water body dating back 225 million years. The rate at which the sediments were deposited determined the concentrations of iron and aluminum minerals in each layer–hence the colors. Slowly deposited soils turned red, orange, and pink, while rapidly deposited soil containing less oxygen created blue, gray, and lavender hues.

The Painted Desert of Arizona; (looking north from I-40) at sunset.

The Painted Desert, is an arid land, sparsely vegetated with flat topped mesas and buttes standing out from the hills. Pictured above, is a vantage point along the rim that gives a sweeping view of the December landscape of northern Petrified Forest National Park.

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