About 218 million years ago this area was a vast floodplain crossed by many streams. Tall, stately, pine-like trees grew here, sheltering a myriad of reptiles. When the trees fell, they washed into the water to be buried under silt, mud, and volcanic ash. Groundwater seeped through the logs, bearing silica that later crystallized into quartz, which ultimately petrified the wood. After centuries of burial and upheaval, the land became the high, dry Arizona tableland seen today. While the forces of erosion sculpted the Painted Desert, they also brought the petrified wood slowly to the surface. In 1906, the United States established Petrified Forest National Monument. By 1962, the area had been expanded and its name was changed to Petrified Forest National Park. Petrified Forest National Wilderness makes up more than one-third of the park.
The Wilderness and park are bisected by Interstate 40. The larger portion of the Petrified Forest National Wilderness lies north of the interstate and preserves a portion of the Painted Desert. The other, smaller portion of Wilderness lies to the south. In addition to the petrified wood logs, visitors can observe remnants of petroglyphs and stone houses built by early human settlers to this region, dating back approximately 2,000 years. Wilderness backpack camping is allowed in these areas.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.