Petrified Forest National Park, located just east of Holbrook, Arizona in northeast Arizona, is special for many reasons. The park is home to some of the most stunning highlights of the Painted Desert, a colorful stretch of badlands that run from the Grand Canyon through Petrified Forest. It’s also home to some of the highest concentrations of complete dinosaur fossils found in the world. It’s also home to the remains and petroglyphs of ancient Pueblo civilizations. And finally, it’s home to its namesake, the Petrified Forest, a collection of petrified wood logs scattered across the terrain, that more closely resembles another planet than it does a forest.
Thanks to a cataclysmic event that took place 218-million years ago, (park geologists just recently narrowed this timeline down from 225-million years ago), this former swamp land that was located near the equator saw the fall of the dinosaurs as well as these giant trees. The swamp sediment quickly covered them and protected them from the elements, allowing the wood to petrify before it was able to decompose. The result is a thousands of petrified wood logs that have slowly started to appear as time, wind and rain have removed the sediment around them.
One of the best places in the park to see the result of hundreds of millions of years is in the Crystal Forest. Located in the southern section of the park, this area is easily navigable by a paved loop trail that is wheelchair accessible.
This .75-mile loop trail begins in the Crystal Forest parking area. The easy trail winds past rolling grasslands and badlands. Named for the sparkling quartz crystals that can be found in the region’s petrified logs, the trail offers guests one of the best chances to see the petrified wood up close. The formations are the result of periodic flooding and erosion that took place 218 million years ago, when sediment and ash were carried downstream, settling over fallen trees. Over time, groundwater dissolved silica from the volcanic ash into the porous bodies of the fallen trees, creating the petrified logs on display today.