Saturday, April 30, 2011

Plants and Stones: The Petrified Forest

A plant can grow to look like a stone. The desert is slightly spring green today with tiny somewhat camouflaged plants as well as the showier flowering ones among the rocks:



Trees can turn to stone, or once they did so. The back story: once there was a tropical forest full of huge trees and dinosaurs. The trees fell, and were covered by silt, or maybe a volcano or two erupted and covered the broken forest. Eventually, the trees all turned to stone and sparkling, colorful minerals replaced their organic elements.


Around 250,000,000 years later, humans have evolved. Early Indian tribes found the petrified trees, which had by then been delivered to North America by continental drift. At least two groups built pueblos in the area, and left petroglyphs on the rocks that as yet have no translation.




A few centuries later, humans discovered what they could do with mineral resources, invented the steam engine, and began looking for places to put railroads. The explorers and rail planners found the stone trees. Once the railroads were built, a whole industry grew up near the forest, ready to grind up the petrified wood and process it into many things. The railroad shipped tons of petrified rock out of the West, and brought tourists to see the natural wonders that seemed inexhaustible. Also, the beautiful agates, geodes, and other sparkling crystals that sparkle mysteriously in the ancient tree trunks were in time all pried out of the petrified wood and taken away.

By the time the Petrified Forest National Park was founded a century ago, it was almost too late, and the looting didn't stop. What's left of the petrified wood is beautiful and fascinating, but a little sad, especially the area called the Crystal Forest where all the sparkle is gone.


The landscape itself is still utterly beautiful.


And the older park buildings have a lot of their early-20th-century charm.


We had a lovely day in the park, while driving from Albuquerque to Flagstaff.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

This is so gorgeous. That last photo -- the buildings. Wow.