This is our second stop on our quest to visit all the national parks. If you missed the previous piece you an find it here:
Route 66 passes right through Petrified Forest National Park. It’s a pretty unmemorable stretch of the road in the northeast corner of Arizona: flat, monotone, without much vegetation. But, as is the case when you enter any national park, that all changes in the blink of an eye. Suddenly the nondescript turns into an unbelievable scene.
In the past when I’ve thought of Petrified Forest National Park, I’ve always put the emphasis on the word petrified. It’s not every day you get to see a tree that’s turned into stone with all of its details perfectly preserved over millions of years.
But as soon a you enter Petrified Forest National Park, you realize that the emphasis is on the word forest. There aren’t a few stone trees scattered about as monuments to a distant past; there are acres upon acres of petrified trees piled on each other as far as they eye can see testifying to an ancient forest.
Trees in this forest were buried in mud beneath water millions of years ago. The wood was slowly replaced with silica beneath the surface of the water until only stone remained — stone perfectly preserving all of the detail of the original tree.
Over time, the stone trees cracked into evenly spaced logs — a phenomenon analogous to dropping a piece of chalk on the ground — giving the appearance that they were felled by an ancient logger preparing for a giant campfire that never occurred.
Over time, the soil that the stone trees were buried in eroded away and revealed the ancient forest. What was once flat, nondescript land revealed its ancient secret and became a National Park. It makes you reflect on the history and secrets and wonders beneath our feet in even the most boring of locales.
That brings us to the second incredible phenomenon in Petrified Forest National Park. As the soil eroded and revealed the petrified forest, an area of spectacular badlands were created. This stretch of land had a vibrant past: forest, swamps, rivers, and plains. Each era deposited different soils over the petrifying logs.
In more recent history the elements carved through this land to reveal the petrified forest. In the process, spectacular badlands were created and revealed layers of unique oranges and purples in the soil deposited by history.
In moderation, Matthew