[Originally published as Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park]
This is part of my series of articles reviewing West Coast fossil museums and is focused on the Ginkgo Petrified Forest in the small town of Vantage, WA. I first visited this museum as a teenager, then again in 2010, and most recently in the summer of 2023. There have not been many noticeable changes over the years, but it is a good place to see indoor and outdoor displays of petrified wood. There are also some spectacular scenic views outside the center that alone make a visit worthwhile.
The ginkgo tree is a living fossil, and numerous specimens have been found in the vicinity of the 7,000-acre state park on the shoreline of Wanapum Lake along the mighty Columbia River. The nearest city is Ellensburg, WA with a population of about 18,000 souls.
As with all government interpretation centers I have visited, they assume deep time and evolutionary processes, but all of the geological and paleontological evidence on display at Vantage can be easily interpreted according to God’s biblical history.
Collecting petrified wood is a highly specialized study. While I have learned about fossils of all types and descriptions, petrified wood hasn’t been a top priority for me, so I am relatively ignorant about the details of this type of fossil. Due to this ignorance, a lot of petrified wood samples look the same to me. However, experts are able to determine much from their inspections of particular samples. There are a large number of displays of petrified wood samples at the Vantage museum.
The inside petrified wood displays at the Ginkgo museum reminded me of the displays in the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, Oregon which also has many similar petrified wood samples on display in their museum.
One of the things I learned about the identification of petrified wood at the Vantage museum was that the various characteristics of wood cells can be identified in petrified wood slabs if the original cell structure is faithfully replaced by minerals such as silica. These minerals are what “petrify” the wood and make samples much heavier than living wood. As with all permineralized fossils, there is a requirement for quick burial by water-laden sediments. Usually, petrified wood experts have to use hand lenses or microscopes to see this structure in the petrified wood before they can identify it.
I know that petrified wood has been found in geographic locations all over the world. Inside the Vantage museum is an interesting display that highlights what is said to be the seven locations in the USA where petrified logs have been found in an abundance great enough for the particular area to be called a “petrified forest.”
- Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Vantage, Washington
- An unidentified area in Custer County, Idaho
- The Petrified Forest in Calistoga, California
- The Petrified Forest in Arizona
- Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado
- Fossil Cycad National Monument, South Dakota
While I have not visited all of these locations, I have visited and studied locations 1, 4, and 5. The locations I have visited can be interpreted to have petrified logs that are a result of the actions of the global Flood at the time of Noah. Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is one of a few places where logs have been found within volcanic rocks.
The Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park did not have petrified wood for sale. However, nearby is a privately owned rock shop that relies on the traffic to the state park. There one can shop for petrified wood, fossils, and associated gifts.
If you do travel to the area of the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Washington, you might like to head on up north on Highway 283 through the town of Ephrata and to Dry Falls Interpretive Center. There you can see spectacular scenery caused by the Ice Age Missoula Flood and a display regarding the famous Blue Lake Rhino Fossil. It will take about an hour to drive there from the state park.
Click here for another article about the Ginkgo living fossil.