Gingko Petrified Forest
Vantage, Washington. http://parks.state.wa.us/288/Ginkgo-Petrified-Forest
Article by Thomas Baurley on 12/3/2016 ~
Enroute to a archaeological survey I was doing, we stopped the night at Wanapum State Park only to discover next door was the GIngko Petrified Forest. What a treasure trove lying within the Washington desert for any paleontology enthusiast. The park is approximately 7,470 acres including over 27,000 along the shoreline of the Wanapum Reservoir on the Columbia River. This petrified forest was once a tropical jungle that after cataclystic events became hardened into stone by volcanic activity and lava during the Miocene Period. It is located right off of Interstate 90. We took a hike along the “Trees of Stone” interpretative Trail, just down the road from the interpretive center. You have the option of the longer 2.5 mile loop or a 1.5 mile loop. Dotted along the trail are metal cages containing in situ various tree stumps and logs that were petrified long ago. There are over 22 species of trees that can be found on the paths. The petrified trees were discovered by a highway crew in 1927 led by geologist George F. Beck. In 1938 the Civilian Conservation Corps completed Beck’s excavations, built a museum here, and opening the park to the public. In 1965 it was designated a National Landmark by the National Park Service.
The interpretative center and museum tells the story of the forest, how it was formed, what life was like when it existed and how it is now. During the Miocene of the Neogene period (15.5 Million years ago), this area was a semi-humid jungle that was affected by volcanic fissures and lava flows that once came across the Columbia Plateau. These flows leveled the landscape that once was here, flattened and encased in basalt rock. During the burial, a chemical transformation converted the wood to stone by process of petrification when the minerals and silica from the volcanic ash mixes with ground water, penetrates and soaks into the wood, and mineralized it enough to make it rock. By the end of the last ice age, the catastrophic Missoula Floods around 15,000 BPE, the basalt was eroded and exposed some of the petrified wood. There are over 50 species found within the park including sweetgum, ginkgo, redwood, douglas fir, walnut, spruce, elm, maple, horse chestnut, cottonwood, magnolia, madroe, sassafras, yew, and witch hazel.
The Wanapum peoples lived in this region from the Columbia River to Beverly Gap onwards to the Snake River. They welcomed the white settlers during Lewis and Clark’s expedition. They used the petrified wood for lithic tools, carved petroglyphs in the basalt cliffs, and lived here by fishing or agriculture.
Nearby is the Wanapum campground for visitors to stay and be able to explore the ground over the course of a few days. Near the Interpretive center is a Gem shop where visitors can buy souvenirs and stones for their collections. There is collecting permitted on Saddle Mountain 14 miles away where collectors can gather up to 25 pounds a day or 250 pounds a year for personal use.
- Seattle Times 2008 “Hard Facts on Gingko Petrified Forest”. Web site referenced 12/3/16 at http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/hard-facts-on-ginkgo-petrified-forest-state-park/
- Washington Parks n.d. “Gingko Petrified Forest”. Website referenced 12/3/16 at http://parks.state.wa.us/288/Ginkgo-Petrified-Forest
- Washington Trails n.d. “Gingko Petrified Forest Interpretative Trails.” Website referenced 12/3/16 at http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/gingko-petrified-forest-interpretive-trails
- Wikipedia n.d. “Gingko Petrified Forest”. Website referenced 12/3/16 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo_Petrified_Forest_State_Park