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Petrified Forest National Park

by Peg Matteson, Maverick Arizona Historian

In May, NBC aired a program titled Trips Through America’s Treasures showcasing our National Parks. Of course, they bypassed our Petrified Forest National Park. Why? Well, one reason might be because it is not only ugly but also a mess. There will be NO forest fires in THIS forest.

Actually, lots of people still think of Arizona as a great expanse of Sahara-like desert, inhabited by gun-toting cowboys and mebbe a few vanishing injuns with scorpions and gila monsters and rattlesnakes most everywhere. Well, Arizona does have deserts… some with sand of every color of the rainbow and some with foliage growing so thick you couldn’t ride a horse through it, but, fly over Arizona and what do you see? You are amazed to see pine forests, which actually cover an area twice the size of Massachusetts (Give or take a few forest fires…).  You can also view from your airplane seat the sand painted southern border of the Navajo-Hopi country—a 150-mile semicircle following the north side of the Little Colorado River. It’s known as the Painted Desert.

Now here is some REAL history for you: Quite a few million years ago this country was the floor of the ocean. Successive layers of sediment were stained or dyed by the mineral laden waters. Then the ground slowly lifted and the water drained off. Erosion chewed out great gullies, exposing vari-colored cross sections of cliffs and filling stream beds with sands of every hue. The choicest views of the Painted Desert are in the Petrified Forest National Park, which may be seen on a short but spectacular scenic drive north of US 66 and Interstate 40. There are a series of viewpoints that will tax your color film (or digital storage…) and leave you breathless.

Besides the Painted Desert, there are six distinct forests within the 141 square miles of Petrified Forest National Park, but we are a couple of million years too late to find any wood or shade among the thousands of trees. If the name of the park hasn’t already tipped you off, all the trees have turned to stone and the trees are really logs, which now lay on the ground. Just remember this, any disappointment you may have will disappear when you see the beauty of the stone woods. Each of the six forests has its individual characteristics and color scheme. The petrified logs, usually broken into short lengths, display every shade of the spectrum, with reds predominating.

The Petrified Forest National Park, 19 miles east of Holbrook, may be entered from either US 66 or US 206. It is wedged between the highways except for the Painted Desert drive north of US 66. There is a park museum near the south entrance and it is a must see attraction in its own right as it explains the fossilized remains of strange critters and plants which lived here when it was a vast swamp. There are more than a hundred prehistoric ruins in the National Park and most of them are constructed of petrified wood.

Now here is a special treat I pass on to you dear Maverick readers: a recipe for making petrified wood. (I can’t guarantee it will work because I have never tried it on my own). Take one tree and immerse it in water. Stir gently until it becomes waterlogged and sinks to the bottom of the pan. Stir in generous quantities of silica, manganese, aluminum, copper, lithium, and carbon. For coloring, add iron as desired. Now pour in a layer of sediment about 3,000 feet deep. Allow the mixture to settle for a couple of million years and then gradually (probably another million years) drain off the water. Set it out to dry in a strong breeze and when the wind has blown away the 3,000 foot layer, you will find that the minerals have soaked into the trees, replacing the cell structure of wood with stone. By the way, there’s a money back guarantee if it doesn’t work.

Now have something special and rare from our wonderful state of Arizona—our state not only with a heart, but also petrified wood.

See you next month!