Ginko Petrified Forest State Park

En route to Bloomsday one year, I stopped at Ginko Petrified Forest State Park during my six hour drive from Whidbey Island to Spokane.
Reviews I’d read beforehand were mixed. It sounded like a neat place to see different species of petrified wood…if you didn’t mind viewing them, zoo-like, encased in cages. Because it only required a short detour of a few miles, I decided to stop. As the Columbia River appeared in the distance, I exited the freeway and drove a short distance to the entrance, parked, displayed my Discover Pass and headed towards the water.
The Washington State Park site states, “Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is a 7,470-acre park with year-round camping at Wanapum Recreational Area. The park features 27,000-feet of freshwater shoreline on the Wanapum Reservoir on the Columbia River. Petrified wood was discovered in the region in the early 1930s, which led to creation of the park as a national historic preserve. Ginkgo Petrified Forest is a registered national natural landmark. It is regarded as one of the most unusual fossil forests in the world.”

A was sign conspicuously located near a viewpoint of the river. Unfortunately, folks had defied the law and committed “larceny” by removing chunks of the petrified wood as souvenirs, which was the reason for the cages I’d see later on down the road.

I walked along the path that surrounded the Interpretive center and read the signs that explained such things as the process that led to the petrification of the trees. Inside the Interpretive Center, I checked out the displays that contained dozens of samples of various species of petrified trees and other related items. The friendly gal at the information desk told me that the petroglyphs located outside were authentic and had suffered surprisingly little vandalism during the years since they’d been located at the current site. She gave me a map of the Ginko Petrified Forest Trails, located three miles away along the Vantage Highway, and assured me it’d be difficult to get lost out there as it was entirely out in the open. She said that some of the best samples of petrified wood were just outside the Interpretive Center, like one in the parking lot.

I made my way past the Trail To Indian Picture Rocks 60 Yards and Western Rattlesnake warning signs to the petroglyphs. The upper half of the sign says, “Petroglyphs are figures or symbols which were pecked, abraded or carved into the rock surface. They were usually located near bodies of water, prehistoric campsites or trail crossings. The meanings have disappeared, however, the symbols and figures of man and animals may concern tribal, religious or food gathering events,” the lower, “The Vantage Petroglyphs were originally located along the Columbia River about one mile north of here. At one time over 300 separate figures were visible on the basaltic columns. These petroglyphs are considered one of the best examples of petroglyphic are in Central Washington. They were removed from the original site, now covered by the Wanapum Reservoir.”

The Washington Rural Heritage site includes this image, entitled George Robinson examining petroglyphs on basalt cliff face near Vantage, Washington, September 1941 of the petroglyphs in their original location.
According to a Snohomish Middle School site entry entitled Native American Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest, the following petroglyph is, “An excellent example of the “twins” motif commonly used to depict a supernatural “guardian spirit” of members of Central Washington and Central Oregon plateau tribes. Notice the rays above the heads of both figures. These rays could have represented tribal status (such as a headdress) or deity status (such as the halo concept mentioned earlier).”

Having avoided encountering rattlesnakes, I quickly took a couple of photos of some flowers I’d never seen before, returned to the car and drove about three miles to the Ginko Petrified Forest Trails located behind an enormous, dusty parking lot. I made my way towards the covered entrance to the trails, noting the historic house that is now marked “private residence.”


A family of hikers shared that it’d taken them about an hour to complete the loop shown on the map. I walked towards the right where I saw saw samples 1 (Maple) and 2 (Douglas Fir). Even though I knew it’d be hard to get lost, I tried, ending up near the metal fenced park boundary after missing the turn. I returned to the junction and continued in a counterclockwise direction along the trails, taking photos and stopping to look at the petrified wood. It was warm, dry and a little lonely out there except for some grasshoppers that flew around scaring me. I paid attention to rustling grass as the same warning sign about the Western Rattlesnake that I’d seen earlier at the Interpretive Center was here too.

In addition to the unfamiliar flowers, at or after their bloom cycle scattered along the edges of the trail and beyond, there were many species of lichen and grasses. During the 45 minutes I spent at the site, I encountered about ten persons. Here are some of the caged samples with a couple of my fellow hikers to provide perspective. I think they are numbers 11 (Ginko), 12 (Douglas Fir) and 13 (Spruce). When I’d seen enough petrified wood encased in cages, which, though understandable for safety’s sake, did detract from the experience, I made my way back to the parking lot, taking in the sights of extreme dryness. Once I’d returned to the road, I thought about the hike. My only regret was that I hadn’t arrived about a month sooner, in early April, when the flowers would likely have been in full bloom.

A few miles further along Interstate 90 across the Columbia River, I stopped briefly at the Wild Horse Monument, from which I could see the Ginko Petrified Forest State Park Interpretive Center as well as the river. Now I wish I’d known beforehand about Dori O’Neal’s article Hard Facts on Ginko Petrified Forest State Park published a few years ago in the Seattle Times Travel section that provides information, “If, after visiting the center, you decide to go in search of your own piece of petrified wood, Saddle Mountain, 14 miles east of the center, is the place to start. The mountain is Bureau of Land Management property and open to the public. No permit is required to dig for petrified treasure as long as it’s for personal collection and not for commercial use. Collectors are limited to 25 pounds a day or 250 pounds a year.” A nearly 30 mile detour may have been too much, but at least I could have considered it.

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