About the Site
Petrified Forest National Park  


Park History

Petrified Wood

Painted Desert

Blue Mesa


Petroglyphs and Ruins

The Tepees

Scrub and Grasslands



Rainbow Forest

Crystal Forest


One of America's most interesting national parks is located in northeastern Arizona not far from the more well-known Grand Canyon. The 93,533 acres of Petrified Forest which contain America's largest deposits of petrified wood, a rich and colorful desert, many fossils of dinosaurs and other creatures, and more than 500 archaeological sites including amazing petroglyphs left by ancient cultures.

There are currently two portions of the park. The southern section includes most of the petrified wood as well as striking geological formations at Blue Mesa and in other places. The northern section is most notable for the spectacular Painted Desert.

Park History

Despite the dry conditions which currently exist in the Petrified Forest it has been inhabited for as long as 10,000 years. At least three prehistoric cultures--the Anasazi, the Mogollon, and the Sinagua--lived for a period in the area. The Anasazi occupied the land in the years between 1100 and 1400, living as farmers and cultivating corn, beans, and squash. It seems likely, however, that droughts in the 13th century and beyond spelled the end of the Indian civilization in the park area as inhabitants moved elsewhere to other areas.

By 1540, when the first Spanish explorers passed through the area, Indians no longer inhabited the area. Additional exploration continued; a U.S. Army officer passed by in 1851. Captain Lorenzo Silgreaves of the U.S. Army was the first person to publish information about petrified wood in the area near the park, and the first geologist to visit the park area was Julius Marcou in 1853. The Whipple Expedition, led by Lt. Amiel W. Whipple and including 100 scientists, engineers, soldiers, and teamsters, discovered the existence of petrified wood in the park itself.

Unfortunately, the beautiful and interesting wood specimens proved irresistible to collectors and business people, and large quantities of the petrified wood was removed. The arrival of the Atlantic and Pacific Railway in 1883 brought settlers and others to the area and more pressure on the wood. In the 1890's people were even dynamiting some of the preserved logs to gain access to the gems inside. By 1899 travel writer Charlers Lummis was writing about the desctruction of the unique natural resources of the park.

The major impetus for creating a park came from a desire to protect the rapidly diminishing store of petrified wood in the park. Arizona legislator Will Barnes succeeding in persuading the territorial legislature in 1895 to request the U.S. government to create a national park in the area. Famed naturalist John Muir, who also spent time in the area, also called for creation of a park. U.S. Geological Suurvey paleobiologist Lester F. Ward examined the area in 1899 and recommended it be withdrawn from homsteading and saved as a national park. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt created the nation's second national monument in the southern portion of the current park, including only the Rainbow and Jasper Forests at that time. In 1932 the Painted Desert and Blue mesa areas were added to the monument.

After 56 years as a national monument Petrified Forest was finally made a national park on December 9, 1962.

Petrified Wood

The name of the park, and its major reason for creation, is the rich collection of petrified wood found mainly in the south portion of the park. It is the most spectaclular collection of petrified wood ever found. In many areas large logs, stumps, and chunks of crystal may be found lying freely around the ground.

The petrified wood found in the park began its existence as large trees from an ancient forest some 225 years ago. After falling, the trees were washed downstream from as far as 50 miles away onto a flood plain which lay on the current area of the park. The logs were covered by volcanic sand and silt sometimes to a depth of 1100 feet.

Over time, as water seeped toward the buried logs waterborne silica slowly replaced the wood, creating the petrified logs.

In some sections fairly large sections of trees can be found lying about. The largest is "Old Faithful", found in the Rainbow Forest in the southern section of the park. This specimen has a diameter of 9 1/2 feet.

In some cases the process of petrification duplicated the microscopic structure of the original tree, while in other cases the cell walls were dissolved in the process of petrification. In the picture below the inside has crystallized while the shape of the log is still visible.

The chunk shown here doesn't look much like a tree at all.

Unfortunately, pilfering and removal of the specimens of petrified wood continue to this day. Some 25,000 pounds of wood are removed from the park each year. A number of security measures, such as closing the park before sundown, have been implemented to try to control this problem. Fortunately, it is difficult to remove the larger pieces, such as the petrified logs shown below.

Additional pictures of and more information about the petrified wood in the park can be found on another page.

Painted Desert

The other well-known feature of Petrified Forest National Park is the Painted Forest found in the northern section of the park. Here the desert lands are brilliantly colored, as can be seen below in the view looking north from Tiponi Point.

The colors in the desert result from the minerals in the soil; the characteristic red color is due to iron oxides. Below is another view from Tiponi Point.

In the view below some different colors are visible from Tawa Point.

A view to the northwest shows another section of the Painted Desert from Pintado Point, once known as "350 Degree Knoll." Strong winds frequently race across the flat lands of the park. In the top middle section a dust devil can be seen moving across the landscape. Also visible is Pilot Rock, the highest point in the park at 6,235 feet.

Many of the views of the Painted Desert presented in this document are along the Painted Desert Rim Drive, including the next two shown below. First, the ridge above the desert can be seen from Nizhoni Point.

On clear days the visitor may be able to see for 100 miles from the rim of the Painted Desert.

A view toward the northeast is shown below from Kachina Point, the location of the Painted Desert Inn (discussed on the next page).

More views of the Painted Desert are shown below. The first is from Kachina Point (as above).

Below is Lacey Point. Portions of the Painted Desert were declared the nation's first wilderness are in the National Park System in 1970.

Blue Mesa

One of the most striking areas in the park is the fabulous Blue Mesa in the east central section. This area features other worldly, almost lunar landscapes with wildly sculpted hills and striated rocks. The picture below shows the nature trail which runs through the middle of the area.

The signature bands of the badlands of the park result from the sedimentary layers deposited in the area. This can be seen in additional views of the Blue Mesa area displayed below.

These views are among the most spectacular in the park.

The mudstone cliffs have been sculpted by the combined erosive effects of strong winds and occasional downpours. Heavy erosion is the rule here; as much as 3 inches of clay may wash away from the surface in 10 years.

Naturalist John Muir called this area "Blue Forest." One more view of the mesa is shown below.


The largest mammal found in the park is the pronghorn antelope, pictured below in the southern section of the park. These animals, which have keen eyesight and a swift running ability, flip their characteristic white tails to warn of danger.

Similar to the Roosevelt elk in Redwood National Park, these animals teetered on the brink of extinction early in the century. The pronghorn have made an excellent comeback and may now be found in many places throughout the park.


In the picture below two of the animals butt heads on the desert. Not really an antelope, the pronghorn possesses horns, not antlers. They feed on the grasses in the park.

The park features a number of types of birds, not the least of which is the raven which is common here and in other portions of northern Arizona. In the picture below on such bird can be seen perched on the cliff overlooking the desert scrub.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com