A California Petrified Forest ?? Wednesday, 01/28/15
On our way to "Old Faithful" the other day, we passed a sign that read, "Petrified Forest." We didn't know there was any such thing in these parts and we were intrigued enough to want to see it in person. We ran out of time on Monday, so we drove back up to Calistoga for a look-see. Surprised? Yes, there is a real Petrified Forest.
We arrived at 11 am for the docent-led tour, along with one other couple, and a young man named Danny was our guide. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable, he had the perfect job, because he liked what he was doing. First he led us on a delightful upper Meadow Walk, thru Oaks, Madrones and Manzanitas.
The Manzanitas were in full bloom, which attracted bees and Anna's Hummingbirds. We watched one male hummingbird in his dive display, where he zoomed straight up maybe 100 ft, and then plummeted in a vertical dive that ended with an explosive "pop" made by his wings. Of course, he was trying to attract a lady by this display. He flew so fast, he was up and down a couple of times before everyone in the group could spot him. But, you could hear the "crack" each time at the end of his dive. Pretty cool.
Mount St Helena, in the distance, at 4,334 ft is located 7.5 miles NE, and is what remains of the volcano that petrified this forest 3.4 million years ago.
At the end of the 1/2 mile round-trip meadow walk is a 100 ft high ash fall (tuff), which I'm standing on. Basically rock.
Next we came to the area of the petrified majestic redwood giants. A real difference in this forest is these trees are not just in chunks, they're laying where they fell, "in situ." They're the largest petrified trees in the world! Some are so long that their top or bottom is still buried and not seen. Witness the tree below.
Enlarge the picture. In case you cannot read the sign, here 'tis, with stats: The Monarch (or Tunnel Tree). Exposed length - 105', Diameter - 6', Species - California Coastal Redwood, Discovered - 1919. The end of this tree is not seen and the tunnel has become too treacherous to be in, so discovery has been halted. Solid redwood fossil, complete with bark!
This 43' long, 2' in diameter tree is most unusual in that it's the only petrified Pine tree found in this forest. It's called, "The Pit Tree." The far end of the tree, where Jimmy is standing, is in a large puddle of water.
She is called "The Queen." 65' long and 8' in diameter, this Coastal Redwood was approximately 2,000 years old when she was felled by the erupting volcano (similar to Mt St Helens in 1980), and that eruption was about 3,000,000 years ago! The old picture, top right, was taken around 1919, showing the oak tree already growing OUT of (a crack in) the fossilized redwood. Estimated age of the little oak tree in the old picture was 175 years. Petrified Charley is squatting at right with his goat. We heard he was always accompanied by his goat. Go figure.
These trees are a different species called Sequoia langsdorfii, now extinct. This Robert Louis Stevenson tree (above) was the first one discovered by Charles Evans (aka Petrified Charley!!) in 1870. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about this tree and his encounter with Petrified Charley in his book, "The Silverado Squatters," and the tree is named in honor of their friendship.
Returning to the visitor center at the end of our one-and-a-half hour tour, we saw this magnificent Live Oak tree, estimated to be 500+ years old. The petrified forest is privately owned and the VC was once the home of Ollie Orre Bockee, built 100 years ago. The family of Ms Bockee continues to operate the forest as a family business and it's open to the public every day of the year! Fascinating stuff and a beautiful place in NorCal's gently rolling hills ... all pretty much in my own backyard!