CHINLE FORMATION sediments that make up the Painted Desert were deposited during the end of the Triassic Period. Tall trees such as Araucarioxylon arizonicum--a relative of today's star pine--flourished then. Their fossilized remains, often cracked by the land's uplift, can be seen throughout Petrified Forest National Park. Image: PHIL SCHERMEISTER Corbis
The land and its trees are yellow, pink, putty, purple, periwinkle, orange, gray, lichen green and the green of young grass. White, too, if there is a sprinkling of snow. And the colors, those of the land at least, are always changing--flat in midday, deep and glowing at sunrise and sunset. But the trees are unchanging, stranded on mesas or hillsides or washes, broken and beautiful, made of stone.
The Painted Desert is part of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, and both are part of a landscape that today is sere and denuded but that 225 to 220 million years ago was lush and swampy, thick with towering conifers and busy with crocodilelike creatures and small dinosaurs. When the trees fell, they were buried under mud, and over millions of years silica from volcanic ash percolated through the water and covered and then hardened them.
This article was originally published with the title Trees of the Triassic.