By Sarah Amador
‘“I was cleaning up the pasture for my beasts, when I found this”—kicking a great redwood seven feet in diameter, that lay there on its side, hollow heart, clinging lumps of bark, all changed into gray stone, with veins of quartz between what had been the layers of the wood.’
— Robert Louis Stevenson
“The Silverado Squatters,” 1883
Have you ever seen a 3-million-year-old-tree that is really stone or walked through a redwood forest that sparkles? You’ve probably seen a waterfall, but have you ever seen a solid ashfall? (An ashfall is made up of volcanic material. This one is fused together, and created by tuff, rhyolite, iron, petrified wood chunks and obsidian.)
Robert Louis Stevenson had not seen a petrified tree (a tree that has been turned to stone) until he visited the Petrified Forest in Calistoga in 1880. The author of Treasure Island wrote about the unusual forest and his meeting with owner Petrified Charlie Evans in his travel memoir The Silverado Squatters.
You too can see these natural wonders of the world by visiting the Petrified Forest. It’s been 100 years since Ollie Bockée bought the Petrified Forest and helped develop it into a national tourist attraction. It is due to her efforts that the forest is preserved today. In honor of Ollie and all the people who have devoted their lives to the forest, a two-day anniversary celebration will be held this weekend.
On Saturday, May 17th, admission will be free. On Sunday, admission will be $5 for children, $9 for seniors (62 and older) and juniors (12-17), and $10 for adults. Children 6 years old and younger are admitted free. The celebration begins at 9:00 am and continues to 7:00 pm each day. There will be classical acoustic music, guided tours and food for purchase. From 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, docents will be stationed around the new trail.
On Saturday at noon, Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning will talk about his connection to the property and officiate the opening of a new public meadow trail that offers guests spectacular views of the giant ashfall and Mount Saint Helena. The trail is open for self-guided and docent-led tours throughout each day. Guests have the option of walking the 20 minute moderate trail or continuing to the half mile longer meadow trail. The new meadow trail is twice as long as the original public trail, extending the public paths by half a mile. Wildflowers such as Shooting Stars, Indian Paintbrush, poppies, lupine, buttercups, and phlox can be seen here.
To give guests an idea of what the forest used to look like, historic photos will be displayed throughout the property. An actor will portray Robert Louis Stevenson and share what he wrote about the petrified trees. Guests will also be able to view the old diner, which was open from 1951-1965. In the gift shop’s museum cabinet, guests will be able to view rare rocks and fossils.
As you walk the trail, make sure to look down at the pale yellow sandy ash. These are the remnants of the ash from the molten lava that erupted from the volcano and coursed down the valley over three million years ago! You’ll also probably notice the glittering redwood giants. The stardust sparkle isn’t dewdrops. It’s druzy, a large collection of minute crystals that form on the surface and in the gaps of the trees. At least 10% of the wood in the forest is druzy.
Since 1999, one of the petrified logs from the forest has been on display in the “Hall of Planet Earth” at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Each year, guests from around the world and students of all ages come to view this wonder of the world. In the fall and spring, several school groups visit the property each week. Last Tuesday, 173 students came to view the forest!
This forest is a must-see for any geologist—make this unique experience one of yours! When you’re there, go back in time and imagine the volcano eruption, how magnificent the blast had to have been in order to push 2,000-year-old trees to the side, and then the long 3.4 million year process that turned the trees to stone.
For more information, visit http://www.petrifiedforest.org or call 707-942-6667. The Petrified Forest is located at 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga.