A visit to Petrified Forest National Park takes you back millions of years in time

Petrified Forest

Many must-see natural wonders await you

I’ve seen some amazing things in my travels around Arizona but this place really takes the cake. When I first visited Petrified Forest National Park in September 2019, I fully expected to see brightly colored chunks of petrified wood from a bygone era. What I was not prepared to see was remnants of massive trees like the one above, remaining almost exactly as they fell over 200 million years ago.

Large petrified trees lie in pieces in a section of Arizona's Painted Desert
Large petrified trees lie in pieces in a section of Arizona’s Painted Desert

To fully appreciate what you’re experiencing when you visit Petrified Forest National Park, imagine a time long before humans inhabited the area now known as Arizona. It’s safe to say that millions of years ago, the landscape resembled the jungle scenes in the Jurassic Park movie.

large petrified tree next to asphalt walkway
Walking path at Petrified Forest National Park leads visitors past massive, colorful, petrified trees.

It’s impressive enough to walk around the park and see the sights. But the wow factor becomes more real after you stop in the visitor center to watch the educational park movie and learn a few of the mind-blowing facts about the petrified trees, ancient ruins and other fossils that remain here.

Mind-blowing facts about Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona:

  • Land that now makes up Petrified Forest National Park was once located near the earth’s equator during the Triassic Period
  • Many of the petrified trees here fell over 200 million years ago, then were covered with mineral-rich soil
  • Back then the climate and topography would have resembled that of current-day Costa Rica
  • Heavy minerals in the soil “petrified” the trees, turning them into stone-like matter
  • Trees that remain here as petrified wood once stood over 150 feet tall
  • Ancient ruins provide evidence of human occupation going back at least 13,000 years
  • Dinosaur fossils reveal that the area was once teeming with prehistoric life

Video: See why the Petrified Forest should be on your Arizona Bucket List

Scientists theorize that a magnificent event of some sort caused major disruptions to the landscape. The massive trees fell and were covered with mineral-rich soil. Rather than decay as most plant material does, the trees absorbed the minerals from the soil and were turned into stone-like matter. In other words, they were petrified.

Large pieces of petrified trees lie in pieces in a section of Arizona's Painted Desert
Large pieces of petrified trees lie in a section of Arizona’s Painted Desert

But wait, there’s more

In addition to the large deposits of fossilized wood that remain, Petrified Forest National Park also features hundreds of acres of the Painted Desert that stretches from the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon to this region of Arizona. Spectacular, brilliantly colored mounds of sandy soil dot the landscape in the northern third of the park.

Brilliant colors from ground to sky make Petrified Forest National Park a photographer's dream
Brilliant colors from ground to sky make Petrified Forest National Park a photographer’s dream
Colorful mounds soil like this one are the result of millions of years of erosion
Colorful mounds soil like this one are the result of millions of years of erosion

Related: If you want to see and photograph Arizona’s Painted Desert head to one of these spots


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In addition to magnificent displays of petrified wood and sections of the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park serves as a world-class scientific laboratory for the study of fossils. Park records preserve everything from fossil pollen and spores to some of the earliest dinosaurs. A recent 40,000-plus-acre addition to the park has resulted in the discovery of many more fossiliferous layers. Bones of numerous fish, giant amphibians, and reptiles at one new site reflect life in an ancient lake setting.

Thinking of going? Check out the official National Parks Service website for hours, costs, etc. then click the map below for directions from your location.

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