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THE most spectacular display of petrified wood known in the world, as well as some of the most colorful portions of the Painted Desert, are included in Petrified Forest National Monument in northastern Arizona. Unique in its vivid and varied colors, the petrified wood of this area has long attracted visitors from all parts of the world. Within the monument are six separate "forests" where giant logs of agate lie prostrate on the ground and where numerous broken sections and smaller chips and fragments form a colorful ground cover.

The area is a part of the Painted Desert of northern Arizona, a region formed of banded rocks of many hues carved by wind and rain into a landscape fantastic in color and form. Here and there are beds of shale containing perfectly preserved fossil leaves of plants of a remote age. Occasionally the bones of giant reptiles and amphibians are washed from their burial place in the rocks.

Many Indian ruins and petroglyphs are found, evidence of Indians who lived in this area long before America was discovered. The Petrified Forest is a convenient base for visits into the land of the modern Indians—the Navajos, Apaches, Zunis, and Hopis.

West from Petrified Forest, by short detour on the way to Grand Canyon National Park, travelers may visit Walnut Canyon National Monument, a colorful area with many well-preserved cliff dwellings; the lava fields, cinder cones, and ice caves of Sunset Crater National Monument; and the interesting Citadel and Wupatki Ruins of Wupatki National Monument. A hundred miles northeast is Canyon de Chelly National Monument, an area of deep, branching canyons whose protecting walls and caves were once the stronghold of prehistoric Indians. In these canyons today Nayajos pasture their flocks, build their hogans, and weave their rugs.


We have no knowledge of the petrified forests from the early Spanish explorers. Apparently the first man to report the "stone trees" was Lieutenant Sitgreaves, an Army officer who explored parts of northern Arizona in 1851, soon after Arizona was acquired by the United States. Two years later an Army expedition, under Lieutenant Whipple, visited the present monument area, camped near the Black Forest, and gave the name "Lithodendron" (stone tree) Wash to the creek which drains the Painted Desert. In 1857 Lieutenant Beale led an exotic caravan of camels across the area en route to California.


The petrified forests remained largely unknown, however, until the starting of the settlement of northern Arizona in 1878, and until the Atlantic and Pacific, now the Santa Fe Railroad, was completed across northern Arizona in 1883. During the following years the existence of the petrified forests was threatened by souvenir hunters, gem collectors, commercial jewelers, and abrasive manufacturers. Entire logs were blasted to obtain the quartz and amethyst crystals often found within the logs, and much agate was carried away for making jewelry. The most serious threat, however, came with the erection of a stamp mill near the forests for the purpose of crushing the petrified logs into abrasives. Alarmed, the citizen of Arizona through their territorial legislature petitioned Congress to make the area a national park "so that future generations might enjoy its beauties, and study one of the most curious effects of nature's forces."

Accordingly, Lester F. Ward, of the United States Geological Survey, was instructed to investigate the area, and his report was instrumental in causing Congress to pass "An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities." Under authority of this law President Theodore Roosevelt established Petrified Forest National Monument by proclamation on December 8, 1906.

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Last Updated: 14-Aug-2009