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Petrified Forest

Calistoga's Petrified Forest is a California Historic Landmark

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fallen petrified tree

A fallen giant turned to stone at California's Petrified Forest

© Betsy Malloy 2003

A remarkable collection of petrified trees up to 8 feet in diameter and 65 feet long, some with their bark texture still visible, the California Petrified Forest has been a tourist attraction since 1870, attracting visitors as varied as author Robert Louis Stevenson and naturalist Luther Burbank.

The petrification process started more than 3 million years ago, when a volcano erupted northeast of present-day Calistoga, California. Its blast was so violent that it knocked down everything in its path, covering it all with pale, yellow ash. Giant redwood trees, more than 2,000 years old when they fell, lay buried under the ash, slowly turning into stone, until a Calistoga-area resident who came to be known as "Petrified Charlie" discovered them in 1870 and opened a tourist attraction to capitalize on his find.

To see the petrified trees, you'll take a short walk uphill from the Petrified Forest entrance. It's easy to mistake the some of the first, smaller ones you see for recent windfalls, but further up the hill, it's obvious that these trees aren't wood, but stone. Compared to northern Arizona's colorful petrified wood, these trees are dull gray, but some are more or less intact and were once as tall as a six-story building, which more than makes up for a lack of color.

Eight feet in diameter and 65 feet long, the largest tree visible on the property is called the Queen of the Forest. This tree and its companions are unique among California's petrified trees; they have bark. They're power-washed every few years to remove moss and debris, so you can see all their details. Security fences protect them from prying fingers, but still allow a good view.

How did the wood turn to stone? Over thousands of years, water carried dissolved silica seeped through the ash and into the decomposing tree fibers, where it deposited, replacing the wood cell by cell.

The Petrified Forest is privately owned. The owners unearth new trees as funds allow, but they don't sell anything they dig up.

Getting to the Petrified Forest

4100 Petrified Forest Road
Calistoga CA 94515
(707) 942-6667
website
From Calistoga, take Highway 128 north. About a mile west of town, turn left onto Petrified Forest Road and follow it for four miles to the Petrified Forest entrance.

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