Saturday, August 7, 2010

#915 - Petrified Forest

Visit Date: July 12, 2010

For our second landmark, we decided to head north of San Francisco to Sonoma County. Our destination: The Petrified Forest.

Location and Admission Fee
Getting to the forest requires a scenic drive through Sonoma County up winding roads into the hills. the entrance to the forest is hard to miss -- there is a giant roadside sign. The Petrified Forest is not a park (not to be confused with Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona). It is a privately run enterprise and it costs $8 per adult to enter the forest. In 1914, the entrance fee was $.50, which in today's dollars would be $10.91, so maybe $8 is a deal! Entrance fees seem like an unavoidable cost of this blog, so we'll keep track of our costs to visit landmarks as well as comment on whether or not we think the fee is worthwhile or justified.

The Forest
The historic landmark plaque is near the parking lot and does not require paying the entrance fee to view. Our goal, though, is not to merely see historical markers, but rather the landmark they identify. So we paid our entrance fees and took the half-mile walk through the forest to view excavated petrified trees. The trees are truly massive, but the experience was underwhelming and confused. The trail leads from one petrified tree excavation pit to another. Along the way, there are odd distractions like carved bear totem poles and what I can best describe as lawn ornamentation.
An excavated petrified tree.

Why is this here?
Perhaps my biggest issue with The Petrified Forest is that, to me, it doesn't fit the bill as a historical landmark. It is a landmark of natural history, but the significance begins and ends there. Contrast this with landmark #790, Yosemite Valley. Yosemite is also a landmark full of natural history, but it is also significant for its iconic landscapes and its historical importance as some of the first land in the nation set aside to preserve its beauty. Does the petrified meet the criteria for a California Historical Landmark? I suppose it does meet the criteria that it is "the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state" (see the full criteria here), but I'm not convinced that simply being the only or most significant example of something makes it a landmark.

We had brought a picnic and were hungry, but all of the picnic tables had "Reserved" signs on them, though we were the only people around. Perhaps the garden gnomes were having a family reunion later that afternoon. Returning to the car, Alisa and I agreed that The Petrified Forest seemed like the kind of place one would have stopped at during a 1950s family car trip across America in a big Buick without air conditioning. We own a Subaru, but out of nostalgia, we turned off the AC and rolled down the windows as we pulled out of the parking lot.

The Marker
The Petrified Forest, dating from the eocene period is the only known example of a petrified forest in California. Its size, scope and variety of petrification is unique in the world. Opalized wood, obsidian, quartz crystal, petrified coral and fossilized insects number among its wonders.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 915
Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with Ollie Orre Bockee, Jeanette Orre Hawthorne, and David A Conway, August 19, 1978. 

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