Feb 24, 2014

National Parks- Petrified Forest where the trees turned into gems!

Vast desert shrub steppe as far as you can see and the painted badlands emerging out of it with crystalized wood scattered all around is what you see in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The amazement you feel is limitless! Blue Mesa, Painted Desert, Tepees in this eroded badlands are beyond one's imagination. I had never thought the drowned trees might even turn into logs of gems! Yes- it is possible when nature finds a way to do it!

Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona
Cut Petrified wood

I drove from Alamogordo, New Mexico to Chambers, Arizona (600KM) nearest town/village to Petrified Forest National Park. Started in the pleasant sunny crispy morning within an hour I was accompanied by a desert storm. I felt like I was flying my car against those side winds for around 5 hours. Later in the day I watched TV and was shocked to know that my drive was through a pretty bad storm than I had realized. Chambers as I saw, is a town/village with a Days Inn run by a Gujarati so I did get a discount, a gas station and a restaurant. Whatever it was, I enjoyed the much needed rest after the long drive through the storm!

Blue Badlands and Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona
Blue Badlands and Painted Desert

Petrified Forest National Park is the largest concentration of 200 million year old dinosaur age petrified wood! Today's steppe was a large river system very long ago which flooded frequently drowning large tall conifers. Floating trees created logjams. The sediment or volcanic ash carried along the floods buried these tall tree logjams instantly cutting off the oxygen. Colorfully tinted silica quartz from volcanic ash replaced most of the plant tissue. The rainbow colors were caused based on the traces of minerals like iron, manganese, chromium and carbon in the sediment that buried the trees.

Agate House at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona
Agate House
The brittle silica quartz exposed to heat and snow over a long period of time period breaks in clean angle giving an impression that the trees were intentionally cut. Also early explorers cut the large fossilized trees into logs to carry them in wagons. Still there is much scattered all around for us to see. The park is not just petrified wood but also fossils and a window to ancient civilizations.

The park has entrance fees and two visitor centers at each entrance, both have bookstores and gift shops. I entered from Painted Desert as I was driving from Chambers taking I-40. Though the desert was exceptionally colored I was disappointed initially not to find petrified wood! Later learned that the triassic-age logjams were near the southern end of the park! Painted Desert is a vast land comprising brightly colored eroded mounds of mud. As you drive down south the color of the desert changes from red to black to blue based on the minerals present in the soil. There are many stops on the road to enjoy the panoramic views of the painted desert in different angles. It seems a Spanish Explorer named these badlands El Desierto Pintado which in English means Painted Desert, the hills painted with colors of sunset.

Old Faithful at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona
Old Faithful at Giant Logs trail

The park has few short hiking trails, The best is Blue Mesa Trail (1-miles) IMO. But, other trails like Long Logs and Agate House (2.6-miles), Giant Logs (0.4-miles), Crystal forest (0.75-miles) are also good for viewing the petrified wood. I went for something longer into the desert wilderness area beyond Blue Mesa. It is too exposed area to try in summer heat. Crystal and Jasper forests are first entries to the petrified wood areas though you see many smaller logs scattered around on the Blue Mesa trail.

Pictographs at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona
Newspaper rock
At the southern end located is the Rainbow Forest visitor center which also houses a museum. Around this area largest concentration of giant trees are seen. Most popular  attraction of the trail- Old Faithful, a giant uprooted tree, 35ft long and width at the base measuring 10ft, is resting here. The trailhead to Agate house and Long Logs is located near the visitor center parking.

Few other stops with archaeological interest on the same road just before Tepees are Newspaper rock and Puerco Pueblo. Newspaper Rock has too many interconnected designs that the ancient people might have used to communicate or to note events or something else. The ruins of a large 100 room Puerco pueblo is remains of 600 years old walls. The trail also leads to few petroglyphs too. There is a bridge, called Agate Bridge, across a stream essentially built of a long petrified tree.

Ancient people, during 900 to 1200 AD used petrified wood for making arrowheads, tools etc and also blocks of wood were used to build a house. Best example is the Agate House which can be reached by a 2.6-mile hike. Most of the pottery found here during excavation belongs to Anasazis. There is no shade at all on this trail. Painted Desert Inn, a historic museum and bookstore, is built in Spanish Pueblo architecture style with adobe which is a National Historic Landmark. Located at Kachina Point this place was a relaxing point for the travelers on Historic Route 66

Giant Petrified Tree at Petrified Forest National Park Arizona
Petrified Tree at Long Logs Trail

Wonderful nature has millions of ways to amaze us. It would be nice to return from the park in amazement with unbelievably wonderful moments and pictures. It is illegal to pick a piece of petrified wood though it is very tempting. There is a heavy fine if you get caught! The whole park doesn't have any shade and it gets too hot in Arizona summer. Take precautions if you plan to hike even if it is short.

Fossilized giant trees, painted dunes and vast shrub steppe ... that is Petrified Forest National Park.  

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Scrapbook- A Travel Blog by Kusum Sanu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. This is beautiful and interesting. Nice to know about this, Kusum.

  2. I'd love to visit there. Very informative and great shots.

  3. another gem of a place you found here. i've seen petrified wood in napa valley, they are amazing.

  4. It is an interesting park. And neat seeing the petrified trees. I have a seen a small piece in Yellowstone. Great photos!

  5. what a totally fascinating place to visit. I'd have a ball with my camera there too

  6. Such a fascinating place. I was there many years ago with my family. Great photos!

  7. That is really a very informative post, it is nice to see and experience the area through you! I envy your adventurism, as you drove long hours on your own, i wish to tag along with you!

  8. It is so difficult to contemplate something as old and as beautiful as that.

  9. I would love to visit here. I am so interested in the history of natural things and the parks are such a treasure...Michelle

  10. Wow! I've never seen this part of the US but I've heard about it a lot. Your photos and info are wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing with those of us that will probably never see it for ourselves :)


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