Washington’s state gem: A trip through history at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park

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Our sincere thanks to Stacy and Brandon, avid outdoors enthusiasts and bloggers, for sharing their adventure at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park! Read the full version of this blog (and see more or their spectacular pictures and video) and other trips for some inspiration. Visit their Pacific North Wanderers blog, and find them on Twitter! Have you found a history spot at a Washington state park? Tell us about it, and upload your photos here!

July 18, 2018

The Ginkgo Petrified Forest is an intriguing, one-of-a-kind forest. "Why," you ask? There is no visible forest as far as the eye can see.

No trees are reaching to the blue sky. No shade is covering the sage-filled land. Moreover, the only natural water is the nearby mighty Columbia River. The forest is mostly beneath this desertscape, in petrified form.

However, there are some million-year-old gems that have made their way to the surface. Petrified ginkgo is just one of the many types of trees you will discover here. These, along with the ancient petroglyphs, make this a trip worth taking.

“There is nothing new in the world
 except the history you do not know.”

— HARRY S. TRUMAN

A forest discovered in the deserts of Vantage, Washington

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Highway workers began to find  petrified wood in the area around 1927, In the early 1930s, a geologist and the Civilian Conservation Corps came in to investigate and excavate. What was found was many 15.5 million-year-old petrified trees. Between lava flows, the Ice Age Floods, and many other contributing factors, these trees essentially turned to stone. For a quick understanding of how petrified wood is formed we recommend watching a short video by a geologist. He explains the process much better than we can.

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A museum, trail system, interpretive center and ranger residences were all constructed after the discovery, and the park opened to the public in 1938. Professor George Beck was the leading geologist and is credited with recognizing the site's significance and for discovering one of many petrified Ginkgo logs, for which the park is named.

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Petrified wood is Washington's official state gem. The best place in the state to see it is at Gingko Petrified Forest State Park. Maple, Douglas-fir, and elm are among the many other varieties that can be found on display here.

Ginkgo Petrified Forest Museum, petroglyphs and the Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail

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The Ginkgo Petrified Forest Museum was a nice respite from the strongly gusting winds. On display are numerous portions of petrified trees, fossils, imagery and history of the area. Nestled atop a hill overlooking the Columbia River, the park offers great views.

A couple of miles west of the museum is the Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail. Approximately three miles of trails cover these rolling, windswept hills. Along the winding paths are 21 petrified specimens to observe. These trees or logs are protected with grates, making them difficult to inspect carefully.

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The trails lead up and over the hilltops through sagebrush and wildflowers. The day we were there boasted blue skies with streaks of clouds and intense wind gusts. The air was pleasantly scented with the wind-stirred sage, and on the lee side of hills, we could hear the chatter of birds in the underbrush. The taller grasses undulated as golden waves in the steady breeze.

The hilltops gave us panoramic views of adjacent crests and the slip of blue that is the Columbia River. The gently rounded hills of pale green, browns and yellow stood, beautifully contrasted against the nearly cloudless sky.

More to see near Vantage, Washington

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You cannot miss the Ginkgo Gem Shop, just outside the park boundary, with its large dinosaur models out front. The shop has an extensive collection of gifts, souvenirs and petrified wood. Most of it is for sale, some for show only. Completely affordable to incredibly expensive trinkets and treasures fill these shelves. We purchased a piece of petrified cypress.

Hungry? We headed to nearby Blustery's, a burger place with a great menu and vegetarian options. We had two garden burgers, a side of tater tots and a side of onion rings. No frills, just friendly staff and a nice bite to eat. Check the hours ahead of time; we were the last customers before they closed at 5 p.m. on a Sunday.

After that, we drove a couple of miles south on Vantage Highway (which becomes Huntzinger Road south of the Interstate) to the Wanapum Recreation Area, part of the state parks system. This park is a beautiful area with bright green grass, large trees, camping sites and a day use area with plenty of picnic tables. It all edges right up along the Columbia River/Wanapum Lake and has a roped off section for swimming. Visible just south of here is the Wanapum Dam.

One last stop we suggest is the Wildhorse Monument. Follow I-90 across the river and turn off at exit 139. Though we did not make a stop during this trip, we have been there twice in the past. If you look close enough from the Gingko museum, you can spot the ponies atop the ridge.

— Stacy and Brandon
Pacific North Wanderers

Blog editor’s note: This blog was condensed and minimally edited from the original for grammar, punctuation and clarity.