Though it's called the "Crystal Forest," it could just as easily have been dubbed "the wood lot" for all the slabs and trunks of petrified wood you'll find along this easy hike in Petrified Forest National Park.
Located not quite 5 miles north of the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center at the park's south entrance, the Crystal Forest Trail meanders three-quarters of a mile past some of the most colorful stone logs you'll ever see.
This is a particularly great trail for kids: It's not too long to tucker out youngsters, and the close proximity of stone logs, slabs, and trunks along the trail allows kids to not only closely inspect these stones but also rap their knuckles on them to prove that they really are stone.
The verital rainbow of colors -- reds, yellows, greens, browns, whites, and blacks - stems from minerals such as iron, manganese, and carbon, along with heavier concentrations of silica, that infiltrated the wood when the trees toppled into a massive river that once flowed through this region.
Some of the stumps shimmer with crystals embedded in the petrified pulp. They are the result of quartz deposits that formed within the logs as they petrified. It's probably hard to believe these days, but back in the late 1800s and early 1900s people desperate to take some of those crystals home used not just tools, but even dynamite, to wrench them out of the petrified logs!
Another curious aspect of the wood here...and elsewhere in the park, frankly... is the appearance of many logs that appear to have been cut neatly into slabs. How did that happen?
Park geologists have a ready answer:
"Petrified wood is mostly silica—quartz. The logs are very hard (7.8 on the 1-10 Moh scale!), but brittle. During stress after petrification, but while the logs were still encased in matrix rock, the logs cracked. As the logs eroded out, from gravity and ice wedging, the cracks widened and segments separated. Silica naturally breaks on a clean angle."
The trail is nice and easy, an asphalt path that can handle strollers, though in places it might be too steep or narrow to handle a wheelchair. Near the beginning (or the end, depending on whether you walk clockwise, or counter-clockwise), is a sun shade structure where you can escape some of the direct heat in the middle of the day come summer.