Although a couple hours drive from Cottonwood it was time to visit Petrified Forest National Park and check another NP off my growing list. After meeting up with some knowledgeable Arizona friends in Holbrook we ventured off to spend the day exploring the park.
Petrified Forest was set aside as a national monument in 1906 to preserve and protect the petrified wood for its scientific value. Theodore Roosevelt created Petrified Forest National Monument on December 8, 1906 one of the early monuments after the establishment of the Antiquities Act earlier that same year. On April 30, 1939 the first entrance fee was collected at Petrified Forest – for $.50 visitors could enjoy this special place. Petrified Forest was later designated as a national park on December 9, 1962.
The park currently has over 200,000 acres within park boundaries, with over 50,000 acres of designated Wilderness, spread out between the north and south ends of the park.
About 225 million years ago, this area was a lowland with a tropical climate and covered by a dense forest. Enormous coniferous trees up to 9 feet in diameter and 200 feet tall lived and died here.
“Geologists have a saying – rocks remember.” Neil Armstrong
The park’s namesake, petrified wood, is actually a fossil forming when plant (read trees) material is rapidly buried by sediment and protected from decay due to oxygen and organisms. Then, groundwater rich in dissolved solids flows through the sediment, replacing the original plant material with silica, calcite, pyrite, or another often colorful inorganic material such as opal. The brilliant colors in the petrified wood come mainly from three minerals. Pure quartz is white, manganese oxides form blue, purple, black, and brown, and iron oxides provide hues from yellow through red to brown. The resulting fossil often exhibits exact preserved details of the bark, wood, and cellular structures of the original tree. Overall at least nine species for fossil trees have been identified from the park; all are now extinct.
“A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories.” Andy Goldsworthy
The sediments, plant debris, and volcanic ash found in the area became part of a rock unit known today as the Chinle Formation. In the millions of years after the Chinle Formation was deposited, the area was uplifted and the rocks deposited above the Chinle were eroded away. The petrified wood is much harder and resistant to weathering than the mud rocks and ash deposits of the Chinle. Instead of eroding away, the wood accumulated on the ground surface as the surrounding mud rocks and ash layers were eroded away.
That is why areas of the Park are covered with a litter of petrified wood trunks, branches and fragments many of which you can see from the interpretive trails along the park’s only roadway.
Over 10,000 years of human history can be found in the park, including over 800 archeological and historic sites. Puerco Pueblo was built by the ancestral Puebloan people, occupied between A.D. 1200 and 1400. There are several sites within the park that have rock art examples and the uniqueness of some of the designs was very cool.
Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park site that contains a segment of the Historic Route 66 alignment and of course there is an interpretive display memorializing it.
“If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks, on Route Sixty-six” – Nat King Cole (Route 66)
Route 66 has been called “the most famous highway in the world,” and it remains the ultimate road trip. Within the United States and to travelers from around the globe, Route 66 is on par with the Alamo and the Statue of Liberty as an icon of America.
Route 66 has had many nicknames, such as “America’s Main Street,” and “the Road of Dreams.” But few know that Route 66 is properly co-designated “the Will Rogers Highway.” When he died in a 1935 plane crash, radio stations in many parts of the country went silent for 30 minutes out of respect for their most quoted broadcaster whose musings seem especially true today.
“This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.” – Will Rogers
My first CA State Park assignment (almost 30 years ago) was at Will Rogers State Historic Park in southern California so this history is always especially interesting to me. I am looking forward to visiting the Will Rogers museum in Oklahoma and the memorial site of the fateful plane crash in Barrow Alaska.
For those planning to visit this special place there are some don’t miss stops. The Painted Desert Inn is a beautiful historic site, Puerto Pueblo has great rock art, Agate Bridge is a unique example of a petrified tree bridge and early National Park stabilization efforts, the Crystal Forest has amazing wood examples and both visitor centers (located at each park entrance) have good interpretive displays. Oh and least I forget, this National Park allows dogs on the trails – unusual but awesome! Another National Park checked off the list and a great day spent with friends.