Petrified Forest National Park

This is an essay I wrote as an assignment for an Environmental Studies course I took at a Community College in Tucson, USA. I’ve altered it and added pictures from the trip to make it read less like a Scientific paper and more as a travelogue.

As I read through the essay, I realized I had forgotten most of the things we saw and experienced at the Petrified Forest National Park. I’m so glad I recorded the events, even if it was just for an assignment. I’m also glad that I continue to record our BIG and small moments as blog posts ’cause my memory is never to be relied upon! 

October  2009,  my husband and I visited the  Petrified  Forest  National  Park  which  is  a 6  hours  drive  from  Tucson.

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At  first  glance,  the  park  appears  to  be  strewn with huge  boulders.  But a  closer  inspection  reveals  that  they  are logs  that  have  turned  into  stones, as  if  the Gods had cursed them! They were trees once and turned into fossils over time. The park has over  200  million  year  old  fossils  and  hence  the  name  “Petrified”(changed into a stony substance). Petrified  Forest  was  set aside  as  a   national  monument  in   1906 to  preserve  and  protect  the  petrified  wood  for  its  scientific  and  aesthetic  value.

That they were trees once upon a time cannot be denied at close proximity. The “boulders” have an outer layer that looks like the bark of a tree. They have tree-rings  too.  But when  you  touch  them,  it feels like Granite.

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It  is  hard  to  believe  that  about  225  million  years  ago,  during  the  Triassic  period,  even before the Dinosaurs began arriving, a  floodplain  existed  here  littered  with   fallen  trees.  Periodic  flooding  buried  these  logs  under  layers  and  layers  of  silt.  Over  time,  silica-laden  waters  filtered  through  these  deposits  and  petrified  the  wood  by  encasing  the  trees’  organic  material  with  minerals.  Iron  oxides  give  the  petrified  wood  its  distinctive  red,  yellow  and  orange  hues;  manganese  oxides  produce  blues,  purples  and  deep  blacks,  while  the  original  carbon  produces  shades  of  gray.

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It  is  believed  that  Geologic  forces  similar  to  those  of  the  Triassic  period  still  shape  the  earth’s  surface,  and  may  create  the  preliminary  conditions  for  future  petrification.

Before   being  set  aside  as  a  national  treasure,  the  forest  was  plundered  in  the  19th  and  20th  centuries  by  commercial  collectors  seeking  petrified  wood  to  sell  as  souvenirs.  Completion  of  nearby  railway  line  provided  early  travelers  and  relic  hunters  easy  access  to  the  forest.  Vandalism  exists  even  to  this  day  but  measures  are  put  in  place  to  curb  them.

We  explored  many  sites  on  foot.  One  of  those hikes  took us  to  the  Blue  Mesa. It is  the  best  place  in  the  park  to  explore  Badlands.  Badlands are  found  around  the  world, usually  in  arid  regions  where  poorly  consolidated  rock  undergoes  infrequent  but  torrential  rains.  Bentonite  clay  within  these  formations  can  swell  up  with  moisture,  shrinking  and  cracking  as  it  dries,  creating  an  “elephant-skin”  surface.

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Remnants  of  a  village  and  rocks  with  petroglyphs  on  them  are proof that people once homed in this arid, mostly barren area.

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The sparse vegetation here  does not  have  the  luxury  of  shelter,  running  water  and  climate  control.  But ,  by  using  a  variety  of  specialized  growth  forms,  plants  have  adapted  to  these  challenging  environmental  conditions.  While  hiking  along  the  rim  it  was  exciting  to  observe  the  tactics  each  plant  had  adopted  to  survive.  We  learnt  that  the  prickly  pear  has  shallow  wide-spreading  root  system  to  gather  surface  moisture  from  brief  showers;  the  salt  bush  has  fine  hair  covering  light-colored  leaves  which  give  protection  from  intense  sunlight;  Mormon  tea  has  scale-like  leaves  and  waxy  skin  which  help  in  retaining  moisture;  the  yucca’s  leaves  are  arranged  to  channel  moisture  to  the  plant’s center  and  so  on.

There  were  boards explaining  what  medicinal  properties some  of  these  plants  had  and  what  other  uses  were  they  of  to  the  inhabitants.  These  plants  must  have  made  their  lives bearable and livable.

To top off an enlightening experience, we  were  bid  adieu with a spectacular sunset,  which  left us planning another visit to the park.

 

Sources :-

The notes I took at the Park and the website www.nps.gov).

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