PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL MONUMENT
This protected area was created in 1954 to conserve one of the best examples of petrification - here of the forests which once covered Patagonia.
It is in the NE of the province of Santa Cruz some 150 km from the town of Puerto Deseado in a WSW direction. The nearest locality is Jaramillo 135 km away.
At present the area is of 13,700 ha, but the National Parks Administration has bought two neighboring estancias to be included in the future, giving a total of some 60,000 ha.
Some 130 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, the climate in this area was wet and stable. Forests of giant trees with species akin to present day Araucarias (monkey - puzzles) prospered here. At the beginning of the Cretaceous massive volcanic activity connected to the uplifting of the Andes, buried vast areas of Patagonia in ash. Many of the forests thus covered underwent the process of petrification. Much later, water and wind eroded the dry steppe that the area now is and uncovered the petrified trees, some of which were still standing.
Low basalt hills are further remains of that volcanic activity of yore and can be seen in the Madre e Hija mount that dominates the area and can be seen from where the tree-trunks lie.
The nature of the present landscape offers interesting features for the visitor. The sparse, low vegetation demonstrates the capacity of plants to live in such a hostile environment. Plants of very different origin adopt growth strategies, which give them compact, semicircular shapes, like cushions. Growing in this way are cactuses, which bear large orange flowers, composites with yellow, or, more rarely, pinkish white flowers. In sheltered valleys and gullies grow a series of bushes, including a Berberis with its fleshy edible fruit.
Though the fauna is scarce and shy, thanks to protection some animals are becoming accustomed to man's presence around the trails through the petrified logs. Troops of guanacos and the Patagonian gray fox are examples. The rufous-collared sparrow and several species of lizard are easily watched. On the road one could come across a Patagonian pichi armadillo or the lesser rhea, a large ostrich-like bird, greyish with white tips to the feathers. The males do the incubating and rearing of the chicks for a bunch of females.
In prehistoric times the area was used by hunter-gatherers, evidence of which is found in the surface sites where they worked the stone, burial sites and quarries where they got their raw material from the petrified wood. In this respect they preferred the material from the Araucaria trunks for making their arrowheads.
Their economy was benefited by the proximity of microhabitats in the area which could be reached with ease - valleys, shallow lakes, marshy bottomlands, high mesa, grasslands - the whole offering a gamut of resources throughout the year: water, shelter, fire-wood, fauna (guanacos and the rhea), look-outs and the availability of raw materials for making tools and weapons.
How to get there
Access to the area is from route 3 half way between the localities of Caleta Olivia in the north and San Julián in the south. At kilometer post 2063 route 49 heads west for 50 km to the ranger station.
Of interest to the visitor
There are no camping facilities in the Natural Monument. The visitor must take water, food and gasoline, as the nearest place to obtain these is some 200 km away.
There is a 1000-yard trail through the area where the tree-trunks lie on the surface and one can see giant petrified specimens of the forest of bygone eras.
Bosques Petrificados National Monument
Superintendent: Carlos Zoratti
Address: Hipolito Yrigoyen 2044
(9011) Caleta Olivia, Santa Cruz.