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Petrified Forest National Park

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Petrified Logs at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2015.

This image available for photo prints HERE.


History & Information (See Below)

Agate Bridge

Agate House

Painted Desert Inn

Puerco Pueblo

Old Route 66

Painted Desert & Petrified Forest Slideshow





History & Information


Located in northeastern Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park is located between Navajo and Holbrook in northeast Arizona, along I-40 and old Route 66. The park is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science featuring one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, the multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation known as the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites, and displays of 225 million year old fossils.


The park consists of two large areas connected by a north-south corridor. The northern area encompasses part of the multihued badlands known as the Painted Desert. The southern area includes colorful terrain as well as several concentrations of petrified wood. Several American Indian petroglyph sites are also found in the southern area.


The natural world of Petrified Forest is far more complex than it seems on the surface. Located near the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the park is part of an amazing geological region which also includes other famous geological parks such as the Grand Canyon, also in Arizona, and Zion, Bryce, and Arches National Parks in Utah. Each has its own character, including which layer of the geological story is featured by that park.


More than 200 million years ago, large trees and rich vegetation flourished in northeast Arizona. At that time, the region was a tropical wetland with abundant streams and rivers. During heavy rains, the waterways would flood, sweeping fallen trees into the sandy floodplains. Later, volcanic lava destroyed the forest, and the remains were embedded into sediment comprised of volcanic ash, mud, and water. Trees are transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization, a process of fossilization in which the organic materials are replaced with minerals, such as quartz, making a "cast" of the original organism. Millions of years later, the petrified logs were revealed by erosion.


Route 66 Postcard Coloring BookMuch of the striking banded coloration of the Chinle Formation badlands that make up the Painted Desert region is due to soil formation during the Late Triassic period. The soil suggests that the climate was once dramatically seasonal, with distinct very wet and very dry seasons. This climate was probably similar to the modern monsoon of the Indian Ocean region.

The colorful mudstones and clays of the Painted Desert badlands are composed of bentonite, a product of altered volcanic ash. The clay minerals in the bentonite absorb water, and the expansion and contraction properties of the bentonite cause rapid erosion. This prevents vegetation from growing on the slopes of the hills.

Other prominent features created by erosion are the plentiful mesas and buttes located throughout the park. Both have flat tops of more erosion-resistant sandstone over softer clays. Mesas are quite broad but not very tall, while buttes are taller and more narrow.


The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert are also rich in human history, which dates back more than 13,000 years. More than 600 archeological sites have been found in the park. Folsom-type spear points, the earliest artifacts of Paleo-Indians, which lived during the final glacial episodes, have been found, as well as many more artifacts, petroglyphs, and the remains of pueblos from later inhabitants. - See: People of the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest




From the 16th through the 18th centuries, explorers looking for routes between Spanish colonies along the Rio Grande to the southeast and other Spanish colonies on the Pacific coast to the west passed near or through the area, which they called El Desierto Pintado, the Painted Desert. However, the park's oldest Spanish inscriptions, left by descendants of the region's early Spanish colonists, date only to the late 19th century.


The Petrified Forest area was designated a National Monument on December 8, 1906. The Painted Desert was added later, and on December 9, 1962, the whole monument received National Park status. Today, the park covers 93,532.57 acres.


Painted Desert Inn, ArizonaThe Painted Desert Inn was built in 1924 on a high perch overlooking the Painted Desert by a man named Herbert Lore in 1924. The two-story inn, nicknamed named the Stone Tree House, due to the petrified wood used in its construction, was operated as an inn and tourist attraction.


This isolated oasis was purchased by the Petrified Forest National Monument in 1936 and began updating the structure. It would later become the headquarters of the park and service thousands of Route 66 travelers. It closed in 1963 and sat vacant and deteriorating for years. Today, it is fully restored and serves as a museum. (see full history of the Painted Desert Inn on Page 2).


The petrified wood of the Petrified Forest is the "State Fossil" of Arizona. The pieces of permineralized wood are from a family of trees that is extinct in the Northern Hemisphere today, surviving only in isolated stands in the Southern Hemisphere.


During the Late Triassic period, this desert region was located in the tropics and was seasonally wet and dry. In seasonal flooding, the trees washed from where they grew and accumulated in sandy river channels, where they were buried periodically by layers of gravelly sand, rich in volcanic ash from volcanoes further to the west. The volcanic ash was the source of the silica that helped to permineralize the buried logs, replacing wood with silica, colored with oxides of iron and manganese.


Landmarks in the park include the Agate House Pueblo, built of petrified wood; the Agate Bridge, a petrified log spanning a wash, the Painted Desert Inn, designated on the National Register of Historic places, an old segment of Route 66, and the Puerco Pueblo, as well as numerous scenic formations and hiking trails.


Agate Bridge


Agate Bridge, Petrified Forest, ArizonaSome 225 million years ago, numerous tall trees washed into the floodplain, where a mix of silt, mud and volcanic ashes buried the logs. The sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs decay. Silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs and replaced the original wood tissues with silica deposits.


Eventually the silica crystallized into quartz, and the logs were preserved as petrified wood. Later, centuries of scouring floodwaters washed out the arroyo beneath this 110-foot long petrified log and formed a natural bridge. The petrified log, harder than the sandstone around it, resisted erosion and remained suspended as the softer rock beneath it washed away.


Enthusiastic visitors, fascinated by the bridge worked to preserve it through the establishment of Petrified Forest National Monument in 1906. Conservationists felt this ages-old natural bridge needed architectural support and in 1911 erected masonry pillars beneath the log. In 1917 the present concrete span replaced the masonry work.


Current National Park Service philosophy allows the natural forces that create unusual features to continue. If discovered today, Agate Bridge would be left in its natural state.


The Agate Bridge, Petrified Forest, 1895

The Agate Bridge before architectural support was added, photo 1895.


Agate Bridge, Petrified Forest, 1911

The Agate Bridge in 1911 after masonry pillars were placed beneath it.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE.


Agate House


The ancestors of the modern Pueblo people used petrified wood for a variety of purposes including tools such as projectile points, knives, and scrapers. Agate House demonstrates another innovative use of petrified wood, as a building material for masonry structures. The ancestral Pueblo inhabitants constructed this small, eight-room pueblo about 900 years ago in a location near to both agricultural fields and petrified wood deposits. The size of the structure and time necessary to build and maintain it indicates that this was not a temporary residence or field house, but, more likely a year-round residential structure for a family unit. Others have suggested that this structure served solely ceremonial purposes and did not serve as the residence for a family group. Like most structures from this time period it likely remained in use for less than a generation or thirty years.

It is estimated that Agate House was constructed and occupied between 900 and 1200 AD. This determination is based on the ceramic assemblage discovered at the time of excavation, including coiled utility ware and various black-on-white painted ceramics with a few examples of black-on-red. Most of the pottery appears to be associated with ancestral Puebloan people (Anasazi), although some of the pottery has southern origins, perhaps associated with the Mogollon.


According to the 1933-34 site excavation report, Agate House was constructed using medium to large pieces of petrified wood, which were presumably carried to the top of the knoll. The walls were originally constructed of petrified wood held in place by mud mortar and chinked with smaller pieces of petrified wood. The eight room pueblo is thought to have been occupied for a brief time due to the small amount of cultural debris found in the area. Reconstruction of its rooms occurred after archaeological excavation in 1934.


Agate House, Petrified Forest, ArizonaThe Agate House is located on top of a small hill within the Rainbow Forest. Some questions remain about the accuracy of this reconstruction, but, it still enables us to envision the daily lives of the ancestral Puebloans. Agate House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

To get to the Agate House, there is a two mile round trip trail from the Rainbow Forest Museum parking area. The first half-mile of this trail is paved and suitable for strollers and various mobility equipment (power and manual). The rest of the trail may be negotiated out to Agate House, but, it is narrow width and very rough surface, not suitable for some wheelchairs and other equipment. Upon reaching the Agate House, leave all archeological artifacts for all to enjoy. Also note, this dwelling is fragile. Do not sit, stand, or lean on the walls.



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From Legends' General Store

Route 66 Books from Legends' General StoreRoute 66 Books - Legends of America and the Rocky Mountain General Store has collected a number of Route 66 Books for our Mother Road enthusiasts. As great as Route 66 is, if you aren't armed with a few good tools on your journey, you'll miss great attractions, eateries, places to stay, and wind up on the wrong path. To see this varied collection that includes "how-to" books, travel guides, photograph books, attractions, and more, click HERE!

Route 66 Books from Legends' General Store