On October 8, 2011, we stopped at Petrified Forest National Park on the homeward leg of our multi-week trip out west. We had left Williams, Arizona, earlier that morning and would be camping overnight at Lyman Lake State Park. It was a pleasant day for taking walks through the sparse, desert terrain.
The petrified logs that liter the park lived in the Late Triassic, about 225 million years ago.
Petrified Wood (Wikipedia)
Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning “rock” or “stone”; literally “wood turned into stone”) is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood becomes buried under sediment and is initially preserved due to a lack of oxygen which inhibits aerobic decomposition. Mineral-laden water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant’s cells; as the plant’s lignin and cellulose decay, a stone mould forms in its place. The organic matter needs to become petrified before it decomposes completely. A forest where such material has petrified becomes known as a petrified forest.
Petrified Forest National Park (National Geographic)
A sun-swept corner of the Painted Desert draws more than 600,000 visitors each year. While most come to see one of the world’s largest concentrations of brilliantly colored petrified wood, many leave having glimpsed something more. The current 346 square miles of Petrified Forest open a window on an environment more than 200 million years old, one radically different from today’s grassland.
Colors in the Petrified Wood (Wikipedia)
Elements such as manganese, iron, and copper in the water/mud during the petrification process give petrified wood a variety of color ranges. Pure quartz crystals are colorless, but when contaminants are added to the process the crystals take on a yellow, red, or other tint.
Following is a list of contaminating elements and related color hues:
- carbon – black
- cobalt – green/blue
- chromium – green/blue
- copper – green/blue
- iron oxides – red, brown, and yellow
- manganese – pink/orange
- manganese oxides – blackish/yellow
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona (Wikipedia)
Petrified Forest National Park is a United States national park in Navajo and Apache counties in northeastern Arizona. Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, the park covers about 146 square miles (380 km2), encompassing semi-desert shrub steppe as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands. The park’s headquarters is about 26 miles (42 km) east of Holbrook along Interstate 40 (I-40), which parallels the BNSF Railway’s Southern Transcon, the Puerco River, and historic U.S. Route 66, all crossing the park roughly east–west. The site, the northern part of which extends into the Painted Desert, was declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962. About 600,000 people visit the park each year and take part in activities including sightseeing, photography, hiking, and backpacking.
Averaging about 5,400 feet (1,600 m) in elevation, the park has a dry windy climate with temperatures that vary from summer highs of about 100 °F (38 °C) to winter lows well below freezing. More than 400 species of plants, dominated by grasses such as bunchgrass, blue grama, and sacaton, are found in the park. Fauna include larger animals such as pronghorns, coyotes, and bobcats; many smaller animals, such as deer mice; snakes; lizards; seven kinds of amphibians, and more than 200 species of birds, some of which are permanent residents and many of which are migratory. About half of the park is designated wilderness.
The Petrified Forest is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic, about 225 million years ago. The sediments containing the fossil logs are part of the widespread and colorful Chinle Formation, from which the Painted Desert gets its name. Beginning about 60 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau, of which the park is part, was pushed upward by tectonic forces and exposed to increased erosion. All of the park’s rock layers above the Chinle, except geologically recent ones found in parts of the park, have been removed by wind and water. In addition to petrified logs, fossils found in the park have included Late Triassic ferns, cycads, ginkgoes, and many other plants as well as fauna including giant reptiles called phytosaurs, large amphibians, and early dinosaurs. Paleontologists have been unearthing and studying the park’s fossils since the early 20th century.