To expand further upon my experience at the Petrified Forest National Park, I want to talk briefly about the research that has happened in the area: who was there and what they found. Like most literature, it doesn’t really mention anything about the native populations who were there and how they felt about things, which is a bit frustrating, but I’m hoping to find out more about that at a later date.
The Whipple Expedition, Ynez Mexia, and Alexander and Kellog
The man they credit with identifying the trees from the Triassic era was Jule Marcou, a member of the Whippple Expedition, which set out to explore the area in 1853. He is also credited with writing a report to the U.S. Geological Survey extolling the importance of establishing a national park on the site to better preserve the petrified wood. Almost 70 years after Marcou came Annie Alexander, who found the Paleontology collection at the University of California fascinating (partly because she was the founder). She particularly liked a phytosaur skull discovered by Ynez Mexia back in 1919. Alexander, with her good friend and companion Louise Kellogg, set off to Ynez’s original site of the Blue Forest, located in what is now the Petrified Forest National Park. They were able to excavate the remainder of the phytosaur’s skull and a few other specimens as well. Others came after these pioneers, such as Charles Camp and Walter Hough, which paved the way for future research in the park.
The Phytosaur: Triassic Fossil
Remember the phytosaur? The one that was dug up by the combined efforts of Mexia, Alexander, and Kellog? Well, one such skeleton is proudly on display in the Southern gift shop and entrance of the park. The phytosaur was a semi-aquatic beast that skulked the forests that once budded across the land. It resembles a modern-day alligator or crocodile, and lived much the same way: lunging out of the waters to snap up unsuspecting prey. Seeing the size of the skull and skeleton was an awesome sight: It literally looms large over you as you gaze upon it. The land it inhabited, back when our continents were still Pangea, was around the same latitude as current-day Puerto Rico, so you can imagine what the climate there once was: Perfect for these cold-blooded hunters.
It’s fascinating to see these Indiana Jones-esque characters existed right here in Arizona, braving the harsh desert climate to discover more about out planet. What they discovered has become a point of pride for the region, as it marks a uniqueness in history that establishes the importance of the land.