What Is Petrified Forest National Park?

Rebecca Cartwright

Petrified Forest National Park is a US National Park in the state of Arizona, 126 miles east of Flagstaff. It was established in 1906, enlarged in 1932, and again in 2004. The park's primary purpose is the protection of the petrified wood deposits found in the area. In addition to that, the park is known for its rich deposits of fossils, animal life, and cross-section of the local environment. Petrified Forest National Park also showcases buildings and other structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corp of the 1930s and includes a section of historic US Route 66.

Coyotes might be seen in Petrified Forest National Park.
Coyotes might be seen in Petrified Forest National Park.

Within the park's boundaries is one of North America's richest deposits of petrified wood, found both buried and exposed on the surface. Petrified wood is fossilized wood in which the original woody cells have been replaced with quartz while retaining the original physical look of each piece. Impurities such as iron in the quartz produce a variety of colors which have sometimes led to the petrified wood being called painted wood. Pieces of petrified wood may be as small as chips or as large as whole logs.

Raccoons are common in the Petrified Forest National Park.
Raccoons are common in the Petrified Forest National Park.

The current park is just over 93,500 acres (about 375 square km.) It includes a variety of terrain from hills covered with dry prairie grasslands to steeply eroded badlands. The driest parts of the park are examples of high desert.

The Petrified Forest is in the state of Arizona, which is located in the American West.
The Petrified Forest is in the state of Arizona, which is located in the American West.

Petrified Forest National Park is home to a wide range of wildlife, including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Larger mammals resident in the park include mule deer and pronghorn. The swift fox and bobcat, as well as coyote, are among the park's predatory animals. Badgers, raccoons and skunks are common, along with rabbits and at least nine species of mice.

The most common birds in the park are raptors, also called birds of prey. These include the turkey vulture, northern harrier and red-tailed hawk as well as the greater roadrunner. All the birds of prey hunt the park's smaller mammals and reptiles, including the 15 or more varieties of snakes and lizards. Several species of toads are found in the park, spending the dry parts of each year hibernating underground.

Vegetation in Petrified Forest National Park is typical of high desert and dry grassland areas. Indian rice grass and blue gramma are some of the most common grasses found there, while larger plants include snakeweed, New Mexican saltbrush and narrow-leaved yucca. Humans have lived in and around the park for thousands of years and the park includes hundreds of archeological sites dating from various periods of human habitation.

The Petrified Forest showcases rich deposits of petrified wood.
The Petrified Forest showcases rich deposits of petrified wood.

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Discussion Comments


I know the Petrified Forest National Park takes part in geocaching, so if you are going there with your kids (or even just yourself!) and you want to do a bit of a treasure hunt, you should look it up.

Geocaching is hiding something in a particular place, then noting the GPS co-ordinates down so someone else can find it.

In this case they do earthcaching which involves noting down the co-ordinates of a natural land form for people to find and learn more about the earth.

It sounds like a really great way to explore the park and there are probably quite a few "treasures" the rangers note down in the co-ordinates that you might not otherwise get to see.

Of course, you'll need a GPS but they aren't that expensive these days.


@umbra21 - I'm not an expert and I can see why desert conditions might help to preserve rock, but I can also see how they might not.

There would be much more of a temperature change in the desert than by the ocean, for example. From the heat of the day to the cold of night the stone must be affected a little bit.

And if there are sand storms, or even just ordinary wind, the sand can act like sandpaper against stone.

I think quartz is quite hard though and that's what the forest are supposed to be made from for the most part, so I'm sure they survive just fine.

I hope you manage to get out there some day and see the National Park.

Not just for the forest, it's actually quite beautiful for wildlife and landscapes as well.


I've always wanted to go to this National Park. Unfortunately, I find it's quite difficult to get to various National Parks in the United States if you don't have a car and I can't drive.

I have seen the petrified forest in New Zealand though and it was wonderful. I went there on a road trip with a bunch of friends (who obviously did the driving for me!).

It was right by the ocean so I imagine it was entirely different to the experience of the National Park petrified forest since that is situated in desert and near desert conditions.

The New Zealand forest wasn't anything like what I expected. I suppose the word forest made me think it would still look like it was standing.

But seeing the imprints of leaves was absolutely fascinating. And that was in conditions where the seas had no doubt erased some of the detail.

In the desert it must all be very clear and beautiful.

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