Petrified Forest: A Living Rainbow

After hearing a podcast about stealing petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park that Jules and Steve recommended, we knew we had to have a look. Especially after hearing that people would return their petrified wood years later, believing they were cursed by it.

(Photo taken at Rainbow Forest Visitor Center)

What do you expect to see when you hear the phrase ‘petrified wood?’ I imagined hard wood that was really old. Not that interesting.

They say you should “find your park.” This one has been my favorite so far. The place is, quite simply, a giant rainbow filled with crystals. The painted mountains and crystallized wood seem like a scene thought up by a small child before drifting off to sleep. You could almost imagine a unicorn prancing off in the distance.

The first stops we made were the Painted Desert overlooks, where pink and red mountains stretched out under a blue sky with perfectly fluffy white clouds.

We took in a few vistas and learned about how the wood we would soon see was created.

Petrified wood is made when minerals, carried by water, slowly replace the wood of the tree. The end result is a shimmering crystal log. It sounds simple but looks otherworldly.

Logs and cross-sections, pieces and fragments are strewn about all over the park.

Iron, copper, quartz, manganese, and chromium give the petrified wood a rainbow of colors.

As we drove on, we rounded a corner and came upon the Blue Mesa. “What the…?” and “What?!” was all that came out of our mouths (over and over again). We had to stop and pull over to take in its beauty.

We looked at each other, faces illuminated with awe.

How does something like this exist? How could we have almost missed this, thinking a park with hunks of wood couldn’t be that interesting…

We soon realized we would be hiking throughout this candy land landscape (Blue Forest).

Walking through the layered rock showed not only a variation in color, but texture too.

The Chinle Formation is characterized by bands of sedimentary rock deposited over 200 million years ago. And here we stood, 200 million years later, in this prismatic land- a grand accumulation of rock and mineral.

We had the chance to see more rainbow wood in the Crystal Forest. Here, the wood was seemingly flung all across the desert by a giant petrified wood wielding fairy.

Some pieces looked like your average slice of wood, but a simple step around it could reveal blues and reds twinkling in the desert sun.

We also learned about the prehistoric people who once called this land home. We were able to see their petroglyphs in more than one place in the park. The most fantastic location was called Newspaper Rock, and contained petroglyphs one on top of the other. Ryan was able to take a photo through the telescope, to the amusement of a gentleman nearby.

We also saw an astronomically aligned petroglyph where the sun only shines on it during the summer solstice.

The park also has another layer of interest as it was once part of historic Route 66.

The Painted Desert Inn, with its soda counter, restaurant, and bar, once welcoming weary travelers, is now a national historic monument.

The inn was restored by the CCC (thank you, FDR) and the artwork was created by local First Nations artists.

These large murals once surrounded diners in the Inn’s restaurant.

The last site we visited was Agate House, about a mile walk from the visitor center.

The eight room Pueblo, constructed with petrified wood, was built and occupied by Ancestral Puebloan people some time between 1050 and 1300.

The park, like its layers of rock, is a historical timeline. People put their human stamp here and left something behind, be it pottery piece, solar calendar, or soda counter. Human hands can surely make beautiful things. But with all our strength and power, we can never create the majesty of a rainbow mountain carrying crystal logs gleaming in the desert sun.

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