As a kid, I was an avid fan of fossils and stones and I rarely left a museum or exhibition without another item for my collection. However, the existence of petrified wood was still news to me – despite it being quite a common type of fossil, as I was to learn during our US-trip.
Once, what we now call petrified wood, was simple plant material, such as branches or logs. Over 200 million years ago this plant material was washed up into rivers and covered by sediment. This protected the organic material from oxygen and organisms so that the logs and branches could not decay. As the groundwater made its way through the sediment, it carried inorganic materials to the trapped plant materials. Due to this, over time the plant material was replaced by the inorganic materials, such as silica or calcite – slowly turning the material into a giant crystal. Impurities of e.g. iron, carbon and manganese in the petrified wood led to the different array of colours and crystals within the fossil.
When hiking through Escalante Petrified Forest State Park you can see entire colourful glistening logs lying around willy-nilly, as if a giant had been playing Mikado with them. Often fragments of the petrified wood can be found as well. However, visitors tempted to take these home are warned of the curse of the Petrified Forest in the visitors centre. Apparently, anyone that dares to take a piece of the sacred Petrified Forest home with him is pursued by misfortune until returning the stolen fossil back to its place of origin. A small exhibition of apologetic letters returning collected fossils and reporting of all the disasters which had occurred since taking the petrified wood home demonstrates the power of the curse.
Despite the overhanging threat of the curse, we had a lovely time in the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. The hikes are beautiful and the camping area is situated next to a wide lake of the bluest blue. Nice views, fossils and “scary” stories – what else could one ask for at a day in a nature park?
If you’d like to read more about petrified wood and Escalante, have a look here: