We just left the Petrified Forest National Park. I think I am a different person now.

In order to appreciate how epically surreal the place is you’re going to have to get into your Way Back Machine. Travel back a long, long, long, long, long time. All the way back to when there were no people and just one continent – Pangea. That’s roughly 225 million years ago.

At about three degrees above the equator (right around where Costa Rica is now) is where the Petrified Forest National Park – IN ARIZONA – got its start. It was a lush rainforest back then; lots of trees and rivers and lakes and also dinosaurs and giant crocodiles (which for some reason aren’t classified as dinosaurs even though they were around back then).

But the dinosaurs and crocodiles aren’t the focus of this story. The trees are.

The trees in the Way Back Rainforest died the same way they die today. They lost their foliage and their branches, and eventually they fell down. A lot of them fell into a nearby river, which would carry the dead logs downstream until they got caught on something and would slowly get buried under sediment.

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You have to use your imagination to see it, but this was all once a vast rain forest. Photo credit: T

Over time, water and sand would seep into the wood. The wood pulp rotted away, but the silica in the sand stayed and hardened, leaving a replica of the tree made out of quartz. E voila! Petrified wood.

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Petrified wood up close. Photo credit: T

But there is so much more to this place than just the petrified wood. The way that the climate changed over millions of years as the continents shifted and were lifted up by other continents sliding underneath it – makes the 170 square miles of the park a kind of wonderland of color.

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The Painted Desert. Photo credit: T

The Painted Desert is vast and beautiful. Parts of it are filled with pastel pinks and then you go a bit farther and it’s blue and purple. The photos don’t really do it justice. If you get a chance, go see this place.

It’s about the most perfect road you’ll ever drive. Photo credit: R.
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Plenty of petroglyphs and ancient ruins from the Puebloans to be seen along the drive. We’re pretty sure that’s a stork with a frog in its beak. Photo credit: T

This park is out of the way, so pair it with a trip to the Meteor Crater and potentially even Flagstaff (a dark night city with a cool observatory).

The badlands, or the Petrified Forest’s blue period. Photo credit: R

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