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America the Beautiful: Petrified Forest – Arizona

America the Beautiful: Petrified Forest – Arizona

America the Beautiful

With more than 3.5 million square miles to explore, there is no better time to get out and discover all the spectacular sights the USA has to offer. 

Next Stop: The Petrified Forest National Park ~ Arizona

If you’re ever on a road trip along Interstate 40, you’ll want to take a detour to the Petrified National Forest.  Located in northeastern Arizona, the Petrified National Forest is a national park in Navajo and Apache counties. Spanning 346 square miles, it’s the only national park that includes portions of the historic Route 66. Declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962, the Petrified National Forest extends into the Painted Desert on its northern section.

sweeping view of a colorful desert in Arizona

Painted Desert, Arizona | © Michele Ho

In its earliest form, more than 200 million years ago, the Petrified National Forest was wet and sub-tropical, lush with trees and vegetation. But about 60 million years ago, tectonic forces pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards, exposing it to erosion. Many of the rock layers were swept away by wind and water, leaving behind fossils of fallen logs embedded in the lowlands’ sediment. The petrified logs are made mostly of quartz.

Fossilized log in the desert

Fossilized log in the Petrified National Forest, Arizona | Image Credit @ 4nadia | Getty Images

fossilized log jutting out from a piece of rock in the desert

Fossilized log embedded in the rock at Petrified National Forest in Arizona | © Michele Ho

Over 600 archeological sites have been unearthed in the forest, including petroglyphs. These drawings etched into the rock give us a peek into what life was like in the Petrified Forest. You can view a more extensive library of the images here.

fossilized drawing etched into a rock

Image of petroglyph found in Arizona | Image Credit @ rdparis22 | Getty Images

Fossils date back to the Triassic period, sometimes referred to as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” more than 225 million years ago. The Petrified National Forest is considered to be one of the best places in the world to study fossils from the Triassic period. 

colorful reptile sits on a piece of petrified wood in the desert

A reptile sitting on a piece of petrified wood in the Petrified National Forest, Arizona | © Michele Ho

The Paleoindians were the earliest inhabitants (13,500 to 6,000 BCE.) and lived in the forest at least 8,000 years ago. These early humans used pieces of the natural petrified wood to create stone tools. As the regional climate changed, so did the way of life of the people who lived there, as they became less nomadic and began building permanent structures and communities. Eventually, the communities were abandoned around the 1400s as the climate changed and became more arid. The longer winters and shorter growing seasons may not have been conducive to survival.

Did you know?  

Fun Facts about the Petrified Forest

1. Herbert David Lore built the Painted Desert Inn, which offers a free, live webcam view of the Painted Desert

 2. The striking colors of the fossilized logs are mostly made up of 3 minerals: Quartz is pure white. Blue, purple, black, and brown come from manganese. And the yellow hues, through red and brown, are from iron oxide.  

3. It is illegal to remove or damage the artifacts and petrified rocks in the park, punishable by a fine of up to $325.

4. Remnants of the Agate House, built using fossilized logs by the ancestral Puebloan people, remain in the Petrified National Forest. You can visit the historical structure, but be careful not to sit, lean, or stand on any parts of the house, as it’s very fragile

5. One of the coolest attractions in the Petrified Forest isn’t a fossilized log, it’s a vintage 1932 Studebaker! Donated by Frank and Rhonda Dobell, owners of Arizona Automotive Service in Holbrook, AZ. 

rusted vintage car sitting on the side of Route 66

1932 vintage Studebaker on Route 66 in the Petrified National Forest | © Michele Ho



Know Before You Go

The bookstore and welcome center is your home base, where you can purchase books, apparel, crafts, art, games, maps, and more. You’ll want to enjoy all the wonders of the park on foot, so be sure to dress comfortably and wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes. The park features hiking trails, horseback riding, and guided tours. Currently, no overnight stays are permitted.  

The national park is pet-friendly, but be careful during the hot summers as the ground can burn your pet’s feet, and never EVER leave your pets unattended in your vehicle, as it could lead to severe illness or death.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, operating hours, amenities, and some sites may be closed. Contact the park directly for the most up-to-date information.

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