Pilot Rock, highest point in Petrified Forest National Park, is reached by hiking seven miles across the Painted Desert.
Photograph © Stewart M. Green
- Elevation: 6,234 feet (2,228 meters)
- Prominence: 524 feet.
- Location: Northwest corner of Petrified Forest National Park, Navajo County, Arizona.
- Coordinates: 35°15'22" N 109°87'68"W
- First Ascent: First ascent by Native Americans in the distant past.
- Pilot Rock is the high point of Petrified Forest National Park, the 37th highest national park high point, and the 1,566th highest ranked peak in Arizona.
- Pilot Rock is located in the northwestern corner of the Painted Desert Unit of 50,260-acre Petrified Forest Wilderness Area.
- Petrified Forest National Park, established on December 8, 1906 as Petrified Forest National Monument and as a national park on December 9, 1962, protects one of the world's greatest fossil areas. The area is notably covered with colorful petrified logs from an ancient forest that covered the region over 225 million years ago. At that time all the world's continents were bonded together, forming the super-continent Pangaea.
- The environment in the Late Triassic when the forest flourished was tropical with wet and dry seasons. Periods of flooding washed the trees from river banks and deposited them in sandy rivers where they were buried by layers of sand, gravel, and volcanic ash from nearby erupting volcanoes. Over eons of time, the wood cells in the trees were slowly replaced by silica, creating petrified wood. The petrified wood is almost solid quartz, weighing 168 pounds per cubic foot.
- Most of the petrified logs are a pine-like species called Araucarioxylon arizonicum from a tree family called Acaucariaceae, which is now extinct in the Northern Hemisphere but is still found in isolated stands in the Southern Hemisphere. When hiking out to climb Pilot Rock, you pass many areas of petrified logs in what is called the Black Forest.
- The petrified logs are found in the colorful Chinle Formation, which forms layers of clay, shale, and sandstone. Besides petrified wood, lots of fossils are found in the formation including leaves, invertebrates like snails and clams, early dinosaur species, and large vertebrates including phytosaurs, a giant crocodile-like creature, and metoposaurs or large salamander-like amphibians.
- Pilot Rock is volcanic in origin. Note the black volcanic cliffs and boulders below the peak's summit.
- About 12 tons or 24,000 pounds of petrified wood are stolen from the park each year, despite warning signs, rangers, possible fines, and fences. Visitors pick up the wood, especially along popular trails at Blue Mesa, Crystal Forest, and Long Logs. The areas alongside these trails are almost totally denuded of petrified wood. People hide the precious bits of wood in their pockets, pants, underwear, handkerchiefs, packs, drink cups, and anywhere else they think they can hide the stolen goods. Pilfered pieces range from small nuggets to baseball-sized chunks to larger pieces that are hard to hide or carry.
- Rangers confiscate about 100 pounds a month from guilty visitors as they depart the park. Others with a guilty conscience mail pieces back with a note of apology. If you're tempted to pick up petrified wood on your trek to Pilot Rock, leave it in place. Remember that these public lands belong to all Americans. You can easily buy petrified wood souvenirs that were collected on nearby private land at numerous area rock shops.
For More Information
Petrified Forest National Park
P.O. Box 2217
Petrified Forest, AZ 86028
Petrified Forest National Park Website