Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Time and Transmutation

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Time and Transmutation
Petrified Forest National Park
August 2016

Last August we drove through the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Unlike most national parks there is no lodging there or even close by. It is a day trip park. Two visitor centers bookend the 28-mile tour through a diverse landscape.

Now a stark desert, it once was a lush jungle, watery and verdant. Large trees and ferns populated the area as well as prehistoric beasts such as the huge crocodile-like phytosaur. In these barren hills, geology is exposed and is remarkable in its naked beauty. Colorful pink painted badlands, layers of textured earth from changing epochs, dried river beds silently winding their way to the horizon. I was visiting for a brief moment in the vast expanse of time. But perhaps I contain molecules that once were in the needles of a ancient living tree or were in the blood of a mammoth amphibian who swam here 225 millions years ago. I superimposed the green image of a primeval forest over what I actually saw, and was awed by the contrast and endless potential of nature.

Petrified logs were tossed everywhere as if only recently felled and sliced into sections by loggers. But the organic woodiness of these fossils has long been replaced by quartz and other minerals transforming them into multi-colored boulders. Originally buried in mud and volcanic ash, the changing climate and millennia of erosion have brought them to the surface again.

Along the route, ravens greeted us at most scenic stops. Clearly they associated humans with handouts. A favorite bird, we took advantage of their curiosity for photo ops. (I was recently pleased to discover that an early meaning of my Irish surname Brennan, is raven. Perhaps they were the ancient animal familiar of the Brennan Clan.) Preparing for a nap after lunch, a friendly and talkative raven amused us with his conversational skill at the picnic table. He gave the distinct impression that he was trying to communicate something important to us. To see his video go to:

Millions of beautifully colored petrified wood shards littered the ground. I had to hold back my rockhound and jewelry-making instincts and refrain from gathering any. It is illegal to take fossils from the park. At one end of the drive, we were grilled by a ranger to make sure we had collected none. I did buy several polished legal pieces from the gift shop and have since transformed them into necklaces.

Please do not reproduce any photographs without permission. Prints are available for purchase for some photographs. If you are interested, contact Carla at: You can also find Carla’s photographs, paintings and jewelry on her Etsy site (Stones and Bones):

One thought on “Time and Transmutation

  1. Thank you, Carla! Robin and I visited the park several years ago, in March. We too loved the amazing fossilized tree trunks, with their beautiful colors. We too were welcomed by very friendly ravens. And I’m glad you found the petroglyphs. The Painted Desert at the north end at sunset is stunning. A special place. Your photos bring it all back beautifully.

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