Scientists believe the forest formed 36 million years ago when fir and maple logs floated to the site down an ancient river. As the area continued to flood, water covered the logs with more sand and silt, causing the once-100-plus-foot giants to decay and the petrification process to begin. As the glaciers gradually melted near the end of the Ice Age, the river carried glacial dust, depositing it on flood plains. Dust storms buried the forest, and grass, bushes and trees grew in the soil. Then, wind and rain tore away at the plant life and soil until small gullies appeared. Nature widened and deepened the gullies into ravines, and erosion ate away the lower layer of red sands and silts of the Forest Hill formation. Rain drilled at the grains of sand until some of the petrified logs became visible. As the sands moved away, the logs tumbled into the ravine, creating the Mississippi Petrified Forest.
The petrified forest has more than 20 exhibits, including eroded bluffs that are beginning to reveal more petrified wood, and a dried-out ravine. The trail has signs identifying plants such as the loblolly pine tree. One interesting part about the forest is that, as the weather erodes the area, more of prehistory reveals itself.
After the walk, visitors enter the Earth Science Museum, which has examples of petrified wood, gems, geodes and fossils from Mississippi and across the world. In the back of the gift shop, visitors can search for precious stones in the gem-mining flume, and watch comedic and educational black-light exhibits that feature characters in a mine. The gift shop contains different types of gem stones from across the world, and also, jewelry, toys and other items.
The Mississippi Petrified Forest (124 Forest Park Road, Flora, 601.879.8189) is open Sunday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit mspetrifiedforest.com.