Not long into our road trip we noticed that the Petrified Forest was extremely close to the Wigwam Village, and we decided to visit after we checked into the Wigwam. What we didn’t realize was that the park closed so early! Leaving us only about two hours to drive through and enjoy the park! So we blitzed through, gazing upon the bizarreness that is the Petrified Forest. But, like the Grand Canyon visit, a believe a longer visit to the Petrified Forest needs to happen, especially since one of the interesting buildings we came upon had already closed for the day.
Today, the Petrified Forest is a desert landscape, with colorful hills and mountains, which is dubbed the Painted Desert, and the ground is dotted with large chunks of petrified wood. But once upon a time, about 225 million years ago, back when the world had only one super continent, Pangaea, this area was actually subtropical, and very humid, oh, and it was inhabited by dinosaurs.
But just how does wood become petrified? When the trees in the area died, many fell into rivers, and were buried by various sediments in the river. Then volcanic ash dissolved in the groundwater, providing silica, and when it reacted with the trees began to crystalize them, turning them to quartz.
During our drive we came upon the Painted Desert Inn, which was sadly closed when we arrived, but it has a unique history, and I want to explore it during a future visit. While it may appear like an ancient Native American dwelling, it was in fact a product of the 20th century. The Painted Desert Inn was made of petrified wood and other stones of the area by Herbert David Lore in the 1920s. For about 12 years Lore called this place the “Stone Tree Inn” and here tourists could dine, purchase Native American items, stay the night, or even be taken on a tour by Lore in his own car. However, Lore’s Inn was built on unstable ground, and in 1936 it was purchased by the Petrified Forest National Monument, and through the Civilian Conservation Corp, they worked on restoring it, and it reopened in 1940. After World War II it was a Harvey House under Fred Harvey, who was known for his profitable railroad tourism. However, structural issues continued to plague the Inn, and by 1975 it was slated for demolition. But public outcry saved it, and in 1976 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside is said to feature murals by a Hopi artist, and even an ice cream parlor during the summer months. So a revisit is definitely in order!
The area has also been home to humans since the last Ice Age, and the Petrified Forest includes evidence of their history, including ruins and petroglyphs. I particularly like one of a large bird with a humanlike figure in its beak. Archeologists have worked with current members of Native American tribes in the area to hopefully understand what some of these petroglyphs mean. The Zuni believe it to depict a mother from the Crane Clan and a father from the Frog Clan, while the Hopi believe it to be an illustration of a story about a giant bird that ate naughty children. I personally like the child eating bird story.
Gaze upon the colorful hills of the Painted Desert and bizarre remnants of the Petrified Forest, roughly 20 miles outside of Holbrook, Arizona.