The caption on the information board reads ‘The Melting Hills’. The central and northern parts of the park are badlands where rapid erosion makes life difficult for plants. These ever changing conical hills have are being carved by by wind and rain which reveals colours created by iron and manganese deposits.
This is one National Park that undersells itself because Petrified Forest is only one of its many attractions. While the original National Monument set up in 1906 covered just the area where the petrified forest is most abundant, its scope has been broadened by subsequent expansions before and after National Park status was given in 1962. So now the southern end of the park has plenty of fossilised trees, but rest of the park has some spectacular scenery including part of the colourful Painted Desert, plus historic ruins and petroglyphs. In 2004 plans to more than double the size of the park were approved.
The Painted Desert
In the northern part of the National Park the badlands become even more colourful. The Painted Desert is coloured red by iron oxide deposits. Even though this area has very low rainfall, heavy thunderstorms occur that wash away the loose surface of the soft clay, keeping the Painted Desert clean, bright and free from vegetation. Up to 75 millimetres (3 inches) of the surface will be washed away in 10 years.
In the centre of the National Park, the badlands at Blue Mesa have more muted colours giving then a lunar appearance. There are no trails within Blue Mesa as they would cause serious erosion problems.
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Petroglyphs near Puerco Pueblo Ruin
The Puerco Indians who lived in this area in the 12th and 14th centuries left behind evidence of their time here in the form of both ruined buildings and petroglyphs. The best known of petroglyph site in the Petrified Forest is Newspaper Rock, a large boulder covered with petroglyphs, but there are many others to be seen. The desert climate has over many thousands of years left a dark coating on the rock which the Puerco Indians cut through to create petroglyphs that still look bright even though they are 600-800 years old.
Petrified wood, Jasper Forest
Scattered across a desolate valley are thousands of petrified logs. After millions of years buried in the rock, erosion has brought the fossilised trees back to the surface. When on the surface and exposed to the elements, the petrified trees tend to break into small sections and eventually roll away to form log piles that look almost man-made. Early prospectors removed many petrified logs and even now the theft of petrified wood remains a significant problem for the National Park.
A rotting tree trunk lies on its side spanning a chasm in the rock. Not so, this is a tree that turned to rock more than 200 million years ago. In the Late Triassic era 225 million years ago this part of Arizona was near the equator and had a lush canopy of coniferous trees. Some of these trees became petrified after they died, leaving an enduring record of their time. While there is an old photograph of a cowboy riding his horse across the petrified log, it has long since become weakened and in 1917 had to be supported by a concrete beam. The beam is just visible underneath the petrified log, but the angle of this shot was chosen to hide as much of it as possible.