This is an essay I wrote as an assignment for an Environmental Studies course I took at a Community College in Tucson, USA. I’ve altered it and added pictures from the trip to make it read less like a Scientific paper and more as a travelogue.
As I read through the essay, I realized I had forgotten most of the things we saw and experienced at the Petrified Forest National Park. I’m so glad I recorded the events, even if it was just for an assignment. I’m also glad that I continue to record our BIG and small moments as blog posts ’cause my memory is never to be relied upon!
October 2009, my husband and I visited the Petrified Forest National Park which is a 6 hours drive from Tucson.
At first glance, the park appears to be strewn with huge boulders. But a closer inspection reveals that they are logs that have turned into stones, as if the Gods had cursed them! They were trees once and turned into fossils over time. The park has over 200 million year old fossils and hence the name “Petrified”(changed into a stony substance). Petrified Forest was set aside as a national monument in 1906 to preserve and protect the petrified wood for its scientific and aesthetic value.
That they were trees once upon a time cannot be denied at close proximity. The “boulders” have an outer layer that looks like the bark of a tree. They have tree-rings too. But when you touch them, it feels like Granite.
It is hard to believe that about 225 million years ago, during the Triassic period, even before the Dinosaurs began arriving, a floodplain existed here littered with fallen trees. Periodic flooding buried these logs under layers and layers of silt. Over time, silica-laden waters filtered through these deposits and petrified the wood by encasing the trees’ organic material with minerals. Iron oxides give the petrified wood its distinctive red, yellow and orange hues; manganese oxides produce blues, purples and deep blacks, while the original carbon produces shades of gray.
It is believed that Geologic forces similar to those of the Triassic period still shape the earth’s surface, and may create the preliminary conditions for future petrification.
Before being set aside as a national treasure, the forest was plundered in the 19th and 20th centuries by commercial collectors seeking petrified wood to sell as souvenirs. Completion of nearby railway line provided early travelers and relic hunters easy access to the forest. Vandalism exists even to this day but measures are put in place to curb them.
We explored many sites on foot. One of those hikes took us to the Blue Mesa. It is the best place in the park to explore Badlands. Badlands are found around the world, usually in arid regions where poorly consolidated rock undergoes infrequent but torrential rains. Bentonite clay within these formations can swell up with moisture, shrinking and cracking as it dries, creating an “elephant-skin” surface.
Remnants of a village and rocks with petroglyphs on them are proof that people once homed in this arid, mostly barren area.
The sparse vegetation here does not have the luxury of shelter, running water and climate control. But , by using a variety of specialized growth forms, plants have adapted to these challenging environmental conditions. While hiking along the rim it was exciting to observe the tactics each plant had adopted to survive. We learnt that the prickly pear has shallow wide-spreading root system to gather surface moisture from brief showers; the salt bush has fine hair covering light-colored leaves which give protection from intense sunlight; Mormon tea has scale-like leaves and waxy skin which help in retaining moisture; the yucca’s leaves are arranged to channel moisture to the plant’s center and so on.
There were boards explaining what medicinal properties some of these plants had and what other uses were they of to the inhabitants. These plants must have made their lives bearable and livable.
To top off an enlightening experience, we were bid adieu with a spectacular sunset, which left us planning another visit to the park.
The notes I took at the Park and the website www.nps.gov).