Petrified Forest is a land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park features one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood, the multi-hued badlands of the Painted Desert, and archeological sites and fossil displays. These 93,000 acres of protected federal land preserve both a dense assemblage of 225-million-year-old fossilized logs and a scenic expanse of the starkly beautiful Painted Desert. Relics of an ancient floodplain forest, the logs were buried under mud and turned to colorful rock by the slow deposition of silica. Fossil remains of enormous amphibians and modest-sized dinosaurs, on display at the visitor centers, give a glimpse into the animal life of the Triassic Period (195-230 million years ago).
Most of the fossilized trees in Petrified Forest are of the ancient tree called Araucarioxylon, which is similar to modern-day conifers. These trees grew to be 200 feet tall, with straight trunks and few limbs. The logs were preserved when volcanic eruptions quickly killed, burned, and buried the trees. Fossilization occurred as silica replaced the wood fragments. The striking colors of the fossil logs, formed 225 million years ago, are the result of impurities -- iron, manganese, copper, and lithium -- present in the wood during fossilization.
The multi-colored Painted Desert is a product of badland weathering. Badland weathering occurs in soft, easily eroded sedimentary rock, such as shale, that is still cohesive enough to maintain steep faces. Rain splash and surface runoff over slopes devoid of vegetation carve myriad steep and narrow features, including columns, spires, and accordion-like folds. Scenic drives and backcountry hiking allow visitors to peek into today’s Painted Desert, a land of soft, easily erodable badlands stained by a palette of bright-colored minerals.
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