International Dark Sky Park
PO Box 2217
1 Park Rd
Petrified Forest, AZ 86028 USA
Petrified Forest National Park is a 594.6 km2 (146,930-acre) IUCN Category II site located in northeastern Arizona, U.S. The Park preserves a landscape dominated by semi-desert shrub steppe and a series of colorful, highly eroded badlands. Its name refers to the presence of many well-preserved trunks of trees that grew in a humid and subtropical forest near the edge of the supercontinent Pangaea during the Late Triassic period of the Mesozoic era, about 225 million years ago. Downed trees were quickly covered by sediment washing out of mountains in the continent’s interior, creating anoxic conditions that promoted fossilization among alternating layers of mudstone, silt- stone, and claystone. Because the colorful, mineralized interiors of the trunks are highly valued when cut and polished, protection of the site from destructive fossil hunting became a priority in the early twentieth century, leading to its establishment first as a U.S. National Monument in 1906 and a National Park in 1962. In addition to preserving its geological resources, the Park also boasts many kilometers of trails for hiking and mountain biking, and visitors enjoy other activities such as photography and wildlife viewing.
Given its location in a rural area of Arizona, and that roughly half of its territory is designated wilderness, Petrified Forest is increasingly recognized as a valuable reservoir of nighttime darkness. In the last decade, the Park began offering nighttime programming highlighting the value of the night sky to wildlife and other natural resources; more recently, outreach has directly addressed the issue of light pollution and external impacts to the Park’s night skies. Further, the Park has begun to remedy problematic outdoor lighting in order to better serve as an example of proper lighting practices. Designation as an International Dark Sky Park not only recognizes the Park’s efforts to protect its nighttime resources, but complements the value of other International Dark Sky Places in northern Arizona that keep pressure on governments from the municipal to state levels in pursuing policies that promote preservation of dark night skies across the region.
Click here to find ideal environmental conditions for viewing the night sky at Petrified Forest National Park (34.97841, -109.47944). Don’t forget to plan your trip during the new moon and astronomical twilight to enhance the viewing experience!