Petrified Forest National Park -- Crystal Forest Trail (4-15-17)
The Crystal Forest is one of those places you've probably heard of, and likely seen pictures of, but upon experiencing it first-hand completely blows away your expectations. Located in the southern portion of Petrified Forest National Park, the Crystal Forest (along with the nearby Jasper Forest), marks your entry from the north into the true heart of the parks namesake 'forest'. The Crystal Forest, which can been seen in its entirety by walking and easy 0.8 mile paved loop, contains one of the highest concentrations of petrified wood in the entire park. Stone logs of every shape, size, and color litter the landscape here. In fact, one of the most striking things to us was the extent and variety of petrified wood seen here. We had no expectation of such before visiting for ourselves.
Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona and is home to a fantastic landscape marked by desert buttes, mesas, badlands, and of course huge concentrations of ancient petrified wood. The park encompasses some 146,000-acres (230 sq. mi.) and was originally established as a National Monument in 1906 through the Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Over the intervening years much of the parks infrastructure was built through the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Monument received National Park status in 1962.
Though rich in natural and cultural history, the main attraction of the park are the huge numbers of ancient petrified logs which literally cover the landscape in the southern sections of the park. These logs are actually fossils, remnants of trees which grew in the area some 225 million years ago. The cause of their formation is actually quite interesting. Back in the time in which the landscape here was covered in huge forests some of the trees fell in river channels and were subsequently buried in silica-rich sediments containing volcanic ash. Over the eons this silica ever so slowly replaced the organic materials contained in the logs and replaced them with quartz crystals containing numerous other trace elements resulting in what we call petrified wood. The colors of these preserved logs are a result of the types of the trace minerals which they contain. The bright reds, oranges, and yellows are primarily caused by concentrations of iron and manganese while blue and green wood is created by traces of cobalt, chromium, and copper.
So, come on along with us on a short but remarkably diverse and exciting walk through one of the more unique landscapes I've ever experienced. As always...ENJOY!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.863752, -109.792018
Route Type: Loop
Mileage Hiked: 0.8 miles Hike Duration: 0:45
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 50-100 people
Min. Elevation: 5,430' Max. Elevation: 5,550'
Total Vertical Gain: 200' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 250'