Chalcedony Park: The Petrified Forest of Arizona-News From the Past

Posted by Chris Parker
Jul 23 2010

“Wood can be petrified in a matter of days or weeks given the right chemical “coctail’. Although the exact recipe is patented by Hamilton Hicks of Greenwhich, Connecticut, the mix includes materials commonly found in areas of volcanic activity. Mineral rich waters containing calcium, magnesium, and manganese as well as some type of acid produce a bath that penetrates the wood and petrifies it.

At the Department of Energy lab wood has been petrified by using an acid bath, followed by soaking in silica then being dried in an argon-filled furnace. In Queensland, Australia there have been numberous examples of fence posts, axe-chopped wood, etc with known dates in the early 1900′s being buried then when later uncovered discovered to be petrified.

It would appear that contrary to the common thinking on the subject of petrification the process does not take millions of years but rather a particular set of circumstances including acids, minerals, and hot and/or dry conditions. This explains how the wood grain is so perfectly preserved in the petrification process. If the process took millions of years the wood would have long since deteriorated and therefore the material which replaced it would not have the look and grain of wood.”

You can still find many discussions of the process of petrification requiring millions of years. In fact, in a circular way, petrification has been used to support the idea of millions of years old earth because if petrification takes millions of years anything petrified must be millions of years old.

There are some mysteries here; how old is this vast petrified forest really? Even more interesting perhaps; what collosal calamity was responsible for its creation. Also, why does the place look like a mining camp with regular cut pieces of now petrified timber?…

Chalcedony ParkH. C. Houeu Scientific American, 1892

Rich as is the far west of our country in natural wonders, it possesses nothing more remarkable in its way than the strange freak of nature popularly called “the petrified forest,” found in Apache County, Arizona.

This name is applied to a marvelous deposit of silicified remains of what was once a vast forest, which may now be traced by its fossilized relics over an area of a thousand acres. The primeval forest itself, of which these stony remains formed a part, of course, was far more extensive, covering according to one estimate, “hundreds of square miles;” but the causes which acted to cast down, bury and mineralize those which have been well preserved, exerted their influence apparently on only the limited area where they are found.

The existence of this extensive deposit of silicified trees in all stages of preservation, from complete trunks a hundred or more feet in length, to innumerable sections of all sizes, was first made known some twenty years ago by the accidental find of a miner who was prospecting in that region. Since the publication in the scientific journals and popular magazines of accounts of its wonderful character, the deposits have attracted great numbers of visitors, being situated along the line of the Santa Fe railway, from which the tourist may readily make the journey and return to the railway station on the same day.

The manner of the occurrence of the silicified deposit is said to be absolutely bewildering. Dr. H. C. Hovey, a capable scientific observer and most entertaining writer, who has written much the best popular account of the deposit, gave the following graphic description of the impression the scene made upon him, in a lecture recently delivered before the Franklin Institute:

“How shall the Chalcedony Park be described? At first one gets the impression that it is a small affair, of perhaps fifty acres. Then he says that it must be a hundred. And after riding over its amazing ruins for many hours in succession he concludes that the area includes a thousand acres; and finally he hardly questions the bold estimate of C. F. Loomis, that the extensive forest now hardened into stone formerly covered ‘hundreds of square miles,’ and accepts without dissent the assertion of G. F. Kunz, that there may here be seen at a glance a million tons of precious stones.

A matter of fact visitor might say that the scene reminded him of a vast logging camp, where the lumbermen had tossed the huge logs from their sleds at random, and then had gone away, leaving them to become rain-soaked and moss-grown. The trees, when standing, were fully 200 feet high, for even now their prostrate trunks measure, when unbroken, from 100 to 150 feet.

The peculiarity already hinted at is that these mighty trunks are as regularly severed into sections as if the work had been done by a cross-cut saw. The lengths vary from disks like cart wheels to logs twenty or thirty feet long or longer. Twigs are found an inch through, and trunks ten feet thick. They lie at every angle, parallel to each other, and at right angles; singly and in great groups; down in gulleys, and perched like cannon on hill-tops.

“And all these myriad of trunks, stumps, logs, branches and tiny twigs are solid stone. And on inspection they prove to be precious gems of almost every known variety. Those that remain intact have been weathered to a dark red, rich brown or a sober black. But time’s relentless axe, aided by the geologist’s hammer, has made havoc with so many of them that the ground is thickly strewn with their fragments from rocks like boulders down to chips and minute splinters, that show- their brilliant colors under the fierce Arizona sun with kaleidoscopic effect.

At every footfall you tread on gems, some of which might grace a ducal coronet, while the most plain and least attractive would be worthy of an honored place in the finest cabinet. There are no rubies, sapphires nor diamonds here (as has been incorrectly reported), but the amethyst abounds, and the red and yellow jasper, chalcedony of every hue, the topaz, the onyx, the carnelian, and every imaginable variety of agate.

No log, nor fragment is limited to a single kind of gem. Many are massive mosaics of all the kinds named above. The material breaks pretty easily into cubical forms, but it is extremely hard, and takes a brilliant and durable polish.

“Under a magnifying glass the cellular structure is plainly visible, and experts state that the ancient forest was made up of trees analogous to our pines and cedars. The region is decidedly volcanic, lava beds and extinct craters being in sight in every direction.

Some catastrophe doubtless felled the ‘forest primeval,’ which was subsequently buried in volcanic action. Floods of hot siliceous waters were poured over the ashes, possibly from geysers. The pure silica, as Mr. Kunz suggests, would form the limpid quartz, while the rich colors of red, brown, yellow and purple would be due to iron and manganese held in solution.

I found one block of wood that had changed to solid iron.

“Spurring my horse from the valley to the summit of the mesa, mainly formed of light gray sandstone, I followed a trail to its further side, where it is cut by a small canon about fifty feet deep. And here is the Agate Bridge, the most wonderful object of its kind in existence. This unique bridge is simply a huge trunk spanning the canon where it is sixty feet wide.

The trunk itself is a hundred feet long, and tapers down from a thickness of five feet to diameter of three feet. Its entire mass is made up of agates, jaspers and other precious materials. At a point two-thirds of the way across it is fractured, whether naturally or by violence I could not determine. At the bottom of the canyon is a pool resorted to by the cattle of the plains and around it grow the only living trees to be seen for miles.”

This charming pen-picture will give the reader a vivid and truthful impression of this wonderful deposit which excites the unbounded enthusiasm of every intelligent visitor.

The late World’s Fair at Chicago for the first time afforded the public an adequate idea of the beauty and diversity of this fossilized wood. In the Arizona Building, and more extensively in the Manufacturers’ Building, were remarkable exhibits of the material. In the Manufacturers’ Building, the Drake Company of St. Paul. Minn., made a superb display of the material sawn into slabs and polished, to form table tops and other pieces of furniture. The beauty of these polished agate surfaces cannot be adequately described, and they naturally attracted the admiring attention of thousands.

The Drake Company, which has made a special business of preparing the silicified wood for decorative purposes, has erected costly machinery for sawing, shaping and polishing the material at Sioux Falls in South Dakota. There is nothing in the whole range of nature’s mineral productions that exceeds these superb specimens in beauty, if, indeed, there is anything capable of being adapted for similar purposes that can compare with it.

Extensive as the deposit is, it contains comparatively little material sufficiently perfect to be adapted for the production of large and flawless slabs, and the comparatively limited supply, to which should be added the cost of working the material on account of its extreme hardness, must always render it a costly luxury, but one which must enhance in value with years from its growing rarity, its practical indestructibility and surpassing beauty.

The task of selecting specimens from a million tons of gems is less easy than it is agreeable. Each crystal, or moss agate, or amethyst, or onyx, seems most desirable till it lies in your pocket or saddle-pouch, and then others assert their superiority. At last my load was as heavy as could be managed on horseback.

With reluctance I left the enchanted forest, made my way back to Hanna’s ranch, crossed the perilous arroya, flagged an approaching train, gained permission to take my sackful of treasures on board, and sped on my journey, convinced that whatever marvels may have existed in the days of the Arabian Nights’ entertainments, none in these more modern times could rival, in its way, the petrified forest of Arizona.”

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