Petrified Forest National Park

National Parks Image Gallery Layers of marsh sediment buried and transformed these petrified logs over millions of years. See more pictures of national parks.
©2006 National Park Services

Petrified Forest National Park

PO Box 2217

Petrified Forest, AZ 86028




Petrified Forest National Park offers one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, as well as incredible 225-

million-year-old fossils from the Late Triassic period. Located in northeastern Arizona, the park is about 31/2 hours from both Phoenix and Albuquerque.

Driving through the park takes 45 minutes, but to get a real look at its many treasures, visitors can go hiking or even horseback riding through the forest. And don't miss out on the museums and visitor center to get an in-depth history lesson about this natural wonder.

Entrance fees: $10/vehicle for 7 days or $5/individual for 7 days

Visitor center: Painted Desert Visitor Center is open daily except December 25.

Other services: Museum and food service

Accommodations: Camping or lodging is not available in the park.

Visiting the Petrified Forest

Most travelers come to the Petrified Forest to see both its colorful badlands and its rich paleontological treasures. Quite often on cross-country airline trips, an hour or so east of Los Angeles, the pilot will come on the intercom and direct the passengers' attention to a colorful stretch of desert on the ground below.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

People will crowd to the windows, and there will be considerable oohing and ahhing. Much of this spectacularly eroded landscape of red, pink, yellow, bluish-gray, purple, brown, and black sand dunes and badlands is contained within Petrified Forest National Park.

The columns of petrified wood scattered across the desert date from 200 million years ago. Floods and lava flows originally uprooted the trees, washing them down the surrounding highlands and burying them in silt and volcanic ash. Water seeped through the wood and replaced decaying organic material, cell by cell, with multicolored silica.

The fossils, some of which can be seen literally littering the ground, include petrified conifers (up to three feet in diameter) and fossilized Metoposaurs (a kind of amphibian), Phytosaurs (something like a crocodile), and Placerias (a rhinoceroslike animal).

Find out how to get up close and personal with all the amazing sights and activities this park has to offer by going to the next section.

Sightseeing at Petrified Forest National Park

©2006 National Park ServiceThis pedestal petrified log in the Blue Mesa rests high above even more trees that lived over 200 millions years ago.

The best way to enjoy and experience Petrified Forest National Park is on foot. Maintained trails range in length from less than a half-mile to almost three miles. You can also opt to meander the trails on bicycle or horseback and with or without a guided tour.

The southern section of the park contains one of the world's largest concentrations of petrified wood. Here, great logs of jasper and agate are interspersed with smaller pieces and fragments glistening in the sun like immense jewels.



The northern part of the park encompasses the colorful mesas and buttes of the Painted Desert, where sun, sand, and rock create a dazzling range of color and pattern.

The park also includes a number of early pit houses and pueblo ruins, which are up to 1,000 years old. The high desert prairie region of the park is known for its antelopes, coyotes, golden eagles, western meadowlarks, roadrunners, and white-tailed prairie dogs.

Petrified Forest Photo Opportunities

The Petrified Forest attracts landscape photographers and fine artists from around the world. Get some incredible pictures for your family album by visiting the following scenic areas:

  • Painted Desert: The name, Painted Desert, was given to describe the Technicolor dreamscape of the Chinle Formation rocks that cover the park. What's so cool is that the landscape changes as wind and water continually erode the surface. Quick -- snap a picture before it changes again.
  • Old Faithful: In some sections of the park you'll, come across fairly large sections of trees. The largest is "Old Faithful" in the Rainbow Forest in the southern section of the park. This specimen has a diameter of 91/2 feet.
  • Newspaper Rock: This remarkable petroglyph is probably one of the best examples found in the southwestern United States. The drawings were probably carved by the Anasazi.
  • Puerco Indian Ruin: You can snap picture of more petroglyphs at the Puerco Indian Ruins in the center of the park. One of the most detailed is of a large wading bird.

Exploring the Woods Time ForgotThe Petrified Forest is more than large mineralized trees. It opens a window on an environment that is more than 225 million years old.

Visitors who walk one of the park's hiking trails get a real sense of this forgotten age. It's easy to imagine a marshy wetland where leather-winged pterosaurs soared above rivers filled with giant amphibians, and dinosaurs foraged for food on the banks.

Giant Logs Trail leads to the park's largest fossil log, whimsically called Old Faithful. This great multicolored trunk has a diameter of nearly 10 feet.

Long Logs Trail, another walking loop, goes to the park's largest concentration of petrified logs. Some of the logs are more than 100 feet long; all are piled in a great logjam.

Other trails lead deeper into the park, giving visitors an even firmer grasp of the past.

It's hard to even imagine how all these incredible natural formations were created. We provide this information in the following section. 

History: How the Petrified Forest Was Formed

©2006 National Park Service These and other great trunks line the landscape of the Petrified Forest.

The history of the Petrified Forest area goes back more than 225 million years. Scientists believe that, eons ago, great herds of dinosaurs roamed through forests of tall conifers, while nearby rivers teemed with armor-scaled fish. The great columns of petrified wood scattered across the desert date from around that time.

Nature produced the mineralized wood under very special circumstances. The trees were uprooted by great floods or perhaps flows of lava, then washed down from the highlands and buried by silt and volcanic ash. Water seeping through the wood replaced decaying organic material cell by cell with multicolored silica.



Eventually, the land where the great logs were buried was lifted up by geological upheaval, and wind and rain began to wear away the overlying sediments, finally exposing the long-buried, now petrified wood.

Each piece of wood is unique, burning with the colors of the Painted Desert, of which Petrified Forest National Park is a part. Some of the great trunks still bear the annual rings that reveal their life histories in prehistoric times.

Petrified Forest History: Inhabitants and Exploration

The Paiute believed that the petrified logs were the great arrow shafts of their thunder god, Shinauv. The Navajo said they were the bones of a mythological giant, called Yietso.

After American explorers found these great "stone trees" in the mid-nineteenth century, a steady stream of visitors began making the trek to Petrified Forest. A military survey party passed through the region in 1851, and its members filled their saddlebags with pieces of the petrified wood.

By about 1870, great quantities of glistening rock were being carried off by souvenir hunters and commercial developers, who cut slabs from the logs for tabletops and mantles. Petrified wood was also blasted apart in search of valuable amethysts or quartz crystals that some of the wood contains.

A mill was built to grind the great logs into abrasives. Concerned citizens went to the Arizona Territorial Legislature to seek federal protection for the area, and Petrified Forest was declared a national monument in 1906.

So take a road trip and check out what the U.S. government so rightly wanted to protect. It's not every day you can witness natural beauty that's more than 200 million years old.

©Publications International, Ltd.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles