Arizona is home to the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, crazy desert wildlife, and very hot summers.
Petrified Forest National Park is just one among many of the national parks and monuments that Arizona has to offer. It’s undoubtedly one of the coolest! Here’s are some facts you might not know.
#1 The Petrified Forest has been a national monument since 1906, but didn’t become a national park until 1962.
Encompassing 170 square miles, the park extends into the Painted Desert in the north. Each year, about 800,000 people visit to sight see, hike, and backpack. To say this is a photogenic location would be an understatement.
#2 Not everything in the Petrified Forest is petrified.
The Petrified Forest might be most recognizable by its petrified, fallen trees, but the park is actually teeming with life! Tons of animals like coyotes, pronghorns, deer mice, and bobcats live here, not to mention snakes, lizards, amphibians and over 200 species of birds. On top of all that, you can find over 400 species of plants.
#3 The fossils that make the Petrified Forest famous are about 225 million years old!
Because of tectonic forces about 60 million years ago, the park was subjected to increased erosion which has unearthed the beautiful layers we are able to see today. In addition to petrified logs, we’ve discovered a range of fossils dating back to the Late Triassic Period. From ferns and Gingkoes to phytosaurs and dinosaurs, paleontologists are constantly studying this fossil rich area.
#4 Humans lived in the park at least 8,000 years ago.
These ancient inhabitants were quite the builders. They left behind pit houses and also above ground pueblos. All in all, after being forced to abandon their communities due to climate change, the inhabitants left behind over 600 archeological sites for paleontologists to explore.
#5 The Chinle Formation is the name for the sediments that contain fossil logs.
The Chinle is up to 800 feet thick in the Petrified Forest. That means 800 feet of colorful sedimentary rocks like sandstone, mudstone, siltstone, claystone, and limestone. Abundant iron and manganese compounds are what make these rocks so vivid. Wind and water combine to erode the Chinle and create the unique, ever changing badlands that people flock from far and wide to see.
#6 You can see petroglyphs in the park.
Petroglyphs are images, symbols, or designs that have been left behind by previous settlers. You can see them in various locations, scratched or carved into rock surfaces. Paleontologists believe these markings are between 650 and 2,000 years old.
#7 There is a section of highway preserved within the park.
You might be thinking, highways are hardly ancient ruins, but the section of roadway found in the Petrified forest isn’t from just any old road. In fact, it’s a section of the famous Route 66 transcontinental highway. In the 1800’s, train tracks traveled alongside the park. Between 1926 and 1985, Route 66 ran parallel to the tracks. These days, Interstate 40 has replaced Route 66, but a chunk of this historic road still remains.
#8 The park has 7 maintained hiking trails.
When their trails are named things like “Painted Desert Rim,” “Blue Mesa,” or “Crystal Forest,” you know you’re in for a scenic stroll. The park invites hikers, backpackers, and pets (on leashes!) to wander along the trails and take in the natural beauty. Horseback riding and some bicycling is allowed, and if you take the time to obtain a free permit, you can even stay overnight.
#9 The visitors center at the park shows their educational orientation video every half hour.
Titled “Timeless Impressions,” this video is designed to share some of the awe-inspiring facts about the Petrified Forest with it’s many visitors. Some of the other exciting opportunities include fossil exhibits and an interactive Triassic virtual tour. You’ll also find a variety of programs about the park hosted by park rangers who are more than willing to share their knowledge of the area.
#10 12 tons of fossil wood are stolen from the Petrified Forest every year.
Theft of petrified wood has been a problem since the 1800’s and continues to be to this day. Nowadays, there are warning signs, fences, 7 vigilant park rangers, and the threat of a $350 fine. If you’re ever lucky enough to visit this beautiful place, remember to take lots of pictures, and leave nature’s masterpiece intact for the next visitor! Mother nature thanks you!