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Notes from the National Park Vagabond: Petrified Forest National Monument (Park)

Oct 12, 2017

This year the TR Center is joining with Valerie Naylor, former superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, to hunt out the TR related collections in parks dedicated by him. "My goal is to get items that are critical but that we haven't seen before," Naylor states. We will post updates of her travels and finds.

I cruised into Flagstaff in late June, on a scorching Arizona day. I was ahead of schedule, and decided to spend an extra night in Flagstaff because the place I was headed was well over 110 degrees. Why not stay in the cool shade of the pines in a Flagstaff campground?  I camped, but I didn’t stay put. I was so close, that it made sense to take a 260-mile detour to Petrified Forest National Park to check out their archives. But the detour was not planned; I didn’t have an appointment. I tried calling the park multiple times. I got no answer. I figured a drive to Petrified Forest would not be wasted, even if I couldn’t meet with anybody. I drove back into the heat and thought about the place I used to live.

In 1994, I was sitting at my desk in Badlands National Park when I got a cold call from the Chief Ranger at Petrified Forest National Park. He offered me a special assignment for 2-4 months, supervising the interpretation and fee collection operations. What a great opportunity! I accepted with gusto. I lived and worked in Petrified Forest that fall, spending evenings and weekends exploring the area, riding my bike along old Highway 66, and getting to know the Petrified Forest. It is said that Theodore Roosevelt National Park has the third largest concentration of petrified wood in the country. The second largest concentration is at Yellowstone National Park and the largest concentration of petrified wood is, of course, at Petrified Forest National Park. Visitors love the huge, petrified logs. I was always surprised when a visitor was disappointed because she expected to see giant, standing, petrified trees... I came out of my reverie.

When I arrived at Petrified Forest, I found out that the phones had been out of service all morning. I asked for the park curator. Matt Smith was available. When I explained my goal of finding out about Theodore Roosevelt’s role in the establishment of Petrified Forest National Monument, he introduced me to the Chief of Resource Management, Dr. Bill Parker. I spent an hour with two experts on the park’s history and museum collections.

Petrified Forest is a fascinating place. A recent expansion of the park, improved exhibits, and numerous renovations make it better than it was during my stay there. The park hosts an abundance of petrified wood and other fossils from the Late Triassic Period. There are also over 1000 archeological sites - remnants of 13,000 years of human history. Pueblos, pottery, petroglyphs and other artifacts teach us about the early Puebloan people who lived in the area prior to 1400. The region was a natural travel corridor for 10,000 years; Route 66 was built through it in 1926.

Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Petrified Forest a National Monument on December 8, 1906 – the same day that Montezuma Castle and El Morro National Monuments were proclaimed. Just prior to that, from 1905-1906, John Muir spent a lot of time at Petrified Forest. Did Muir inspire Roosevelt to proclaim the national monument? I might do some research on that. In 1962, an Act of Congress and John F. Kennedy’s signature made Petrified Forest a national park.

The park doesn’t keep archives on site. They are stored at the Western Archeological Center in Tucson, and it doesn’t appear they have much. I will have to go to Tucson to be sure. I am always up for another TR detour.

Petrified Forest National Monument

Petrified Forest has badlands, similar to the badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Petrified wood

Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified log

An example of the huge and wondrous petrified logs at Petrified Forest National Park.

Posted by Valerie Naylor on Oct 12, 2017 in Current Events  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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