On December 9, 1962, Petrified Forest National Park was established in Arizona.
Erosion- and weather-sculpted badlands, buttes, and mesas add their own surprising layers of colour from sedimentary iron and sulfate minerals in painting the desert biomes at the north end of this national park. Many dozens of lichen species work the rocks. It is dry and windy.
Hundreds of animals make their homes throughout the park’s 380 km2 (146 mi2 ). Reptiles, insects, spiders, amphibians, mammals and birds are all represented here; from beetles, bullsnakes, and bobcats to hummingbirds, hawks, and golden eagles.
Much of the park contains one of the largest intact old grasslands in the country that is recovering from former livestock grazing. Plants either resist drought with adaptive strategies or they escape it by hiding out and biding their time to grow. There are dozens of grass species. Some grasses that bunch adapt by growing in scattered groups then spread out to win water and available soil nutrients. Other grasses form sod patches that support other botanical growth. Many dozens of wildflowers of every colour grab suitable spots and apply their range of survival strategies – hiding in soil until rains soak the ground; sending long taproots as deep and close to moist soil as possible; developing thick and waxy or needle-like leaves; or holding blooms until late in the day.
The water miserly conifers of pinion and juniper grow in wind-sculpted shapes on windswept rock. Shrubs like sage, horsebrush, and snakeweed fill out the grassland roundup of usual suspects and the ever-willing willows edge reliable streams and rivers.
Yesterday’s wood, the petrified “forest”, is almost solid quartz and if its sparkle in the sun doesn’t catch your eye, the incredible colours will. The colours are the result of minerals and impurities from volcanic ash that dissolved, were absorbed by the wood, then replaced the wood as they crystallized. It acquired its stone-like quality from over 200 million years of burial after being encased in ash, without decay by oxygen, and buried under incalculable pressures. The “forest” is actually a concentration of logs – mostly conifers, tree ferns and gingkoes – that scientists estimate jammed together after floating down Triassic Period waterways. This is considered one of the largest lodes of petrified wood in the world. Add in the fossil plants and fossil animals of every size, this is the park for paleontologists of every age.
Archaeological sites and petroglyphs or rock drawings are proof that the park’s arresting beauty has attracted visitors for millennia.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage