Located in the eastern part of Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is a wonderland of spectacular desolation. Sixty-five miles west of Gallup, New Mexico on Interstate 40, Petrified Forest National Park is less than half-a-days drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Divided into two sections, connected by a half-mile wide strip of land, the Petrified Forest features the Painted Desert to the north, and a variety of ancient ruins, petroglyphs, and incredible deposits of fossilized wood to the south.
The Petrified Forest can be accessed through it's South Entrance off of US Highway 180, and the North Entrance directly off of Interstate 40 by taking exit 311. Made a National Park in 1972, the area was discovered by a United States Army survey team in the mid-1800's with amazing stories of a, "painted desert with trees turned to stone." However, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest's history goes much further back.
Around 225 million years ago, this region was a grand forest of giant redwood trees located in a flood plain. A natural disaster of catastrophic proportion swept a large number of logs into this region where they were buried in fresh water sediments and silica rich volcanic ash. Over time, the silica laden water seeped into the logs, gradually replacing the wood with silica deposits. Due to a lack of oxygen, sunlight, and extreme pressure, the silica became quartz preserving the logs forever as petrified wood. Wind, erosion, water, and time exposed these petrified trees and they can be easily viewed today.
There is evidence throughout the park of ancient Native American activity including Puerco Pueblo, located just south of the Santa Fe Railroad Tracks, and Newspaper Rock, located about one mile south of Puerco Pueblo. Puerco Pueblo is a pre-1400 ruin that at one time would have contained over 100 rooms and a bustling plaza along the banks of the Puerco River. There is evidence that these Native Americans had contact with both the Hopi and Havasupi Indians. It is believed that their culture was absorbed by one, or both of these tribes.
By the late 1800's, western expansion brought modern man into the Arizona desert. Commercial exploitation, treasure hunters, and souvenir collectors were rapidly destroying this natural treasure. A mill was built in near by Holbrook in 1897 to grind the trees into abrasives (although several cart loads of raw fossilized material was delivered, it never did go into operation), and in the region called Crystal Forest, the trees were literally dynamited to bits to extract the semi-precious crystals contained in the wood.
Today the Petrified Forest is over 93,000 acres of reserved lands that receives almost one-million visitors each year. The Painted Desert Visitors Center located in then northern part of the park offers full amenities including a gas station, restaurant, gift shop, a twenty minute film on the park, and a ranger station. The Rainbow Forest Museum located at the south entrance has a small gift shop with a snack bar, and a ranger station. Water can only be found at these two stations. The water at the Puerco Pueblo privy is not potable.