Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is located in the state of Arizona in the United States. The park holds 221,552 acres of land, of which 50,260 acres are comprised of a designated wilderness. The area was once inhabited by Native American tribes including the basket maker and pueblo peoples. The first American explorers to enter the area arrived while searching for good routes leading from east to west. This group, led by Army Lieutenant Amiel Whipple, surveyed the northern area of the petrified forest. A wagon route was later built along this same area between the years of 1857 and 1860 and settlers moved in during the late nineteenth century.

The establishment of Petrified Forest National Park began in 1895, after citizens became concerned that increasing tourism could harm the area. The Arizona Territorial Legislature contacted Congress in order to push for the protection of the area, but this first attempt was unsuccessful. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt designated the area as Petrified Forest National Monument, after which time the area was expanded and developed, but it was not until 1962 that the area was designated as a national park. In 1964, several areas of the park became came designated wilderness areas.

Petrified Forest National Park is well known for its fossils, mainly its abundant fossilized trees, which are thought to have lived during the Late Triassic. These trees lined riverbeds, which were periodically filled with sediment that contained volcanic ash. Once the water reached the root systems of these trees, the silica within the ash dissolved, creating crystals of quartz that ultimately replaced the living matter within the trees. Most of these trees, as well as fossilized animal bones, only retained their outer shell, but some fossils did retain cellular matter within their interior. These are known as permineralized fossils. The park is also known for its chinle, a colorful grouping of sedimentary rocks, most notably occurring in the Painted Desert.

Petrified Forest National Park extends across an area of about thirty miles and is bordered by the Navajo Nation in the north and northeast. The park is bordered by farming lands that are federally, state, and privately owned in the east, west, and south. The elevation within the park varies between 5,340 and 6,230 feet, although the average elevation is about 5,400 feet. The terrain in the park varies depending upon the area from arid badlands, to gentle hills, to areas with abundant petrified wood deposits. The Puerco River runs through an area of the park, and many of the streams within the park run into this river.

The climate in Petrified National Forest is arid and temperatures vary depending upon the season. During the summer months, average temperatures range between 90 °F and 100 °F during the daytime. Nighttime temperatures during the summer can be as low as 40 °F, due to the clear skies that occur often occur in the area. During the winter months, temperatures can vary between 21 °F and 48 °F, and winds often average a speed of 60 miles per hour. The park receives most of its rainfall between the months of July to September.

Petrified Forest National Park supports 447 plant species, of which 57 species are invasive. These plants are supported by grasslands and semi-desert habitats and are well protected against overgrazing and human encroachment. Plant species within the park include blue flax, mariposa lily, sagebrush, blue grama grass, willow trees, and cotton wood trees. This area supports a variety of animal species including pronghorns, Gunnison’s prairie dogs, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, golden eagles, common ravens, Anna’s hummingbirds, collared lizards, and bull snakes.

Petrified Forest National Park can be accessed by I-40 and although visitors cannot stay inside the park overnight, there are many nearby cities that offer lodging including Holbrook. The park offers many activities including hiking, sightseeing, and backpacking. Although personal vehicles can be used for sightseeing throughout the day, only backcountry backpackers can park vehicles overnight with a proper permit. The park holds many manmade structures including the Painted Desert Inn, the Painted Desert Visitor Center, and the Rainbow Forest Museum as well as bookstores, a gift shop, a restaurant, a gas station, a post office, and public restrooms. The park is open throughout the year, with the exception of Christmas Day.

Image Caption: The Tepees in Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, United States. Credit: Finetooth/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)