The basalt you see in the dry distant hills and the rock under your feet holds a tale of dramatic change. The landscape tells a story of ancient floods, rivers of lava, and the impact of humans along the Columbia River. If you look carefully and take time to explore you will come to understand this story and appreciate the Columbia Plateau as a living landscape.
Lush With Life
Long before the Cascade Mountains formed, this area was a lowland region. Many species of plants grew here creating a landscape lush with life. One of the trees that lived on nearby hills was the Ginkgo tree. Many types of trees, including the Ginkgo, were uprooted and soaked by flood waters, eventually settling to the bottom of lakes.
Trees of Stone
Once living trees are converted into "trees of stone" during a long slow petrification process. It began roughly 12 to 17 million years ago when lava poured out of cracks in the earth. The silica enriched lava flows covered 63,000 square miles (164,000 square kilometers), burying the area where you stand today. One of these flows spilled into an ancient lake that once existed here. As the lava cooled around water soaked logs, the silica from the lava slowly replaced organic cells in the trees. Over time these fallen trees were transformed into the petrified forest of Ginkgo State Park.
A Dry Life
As the Cascade Mountains formed, the moist climate of central Washington changed to the drier climate that we know today. Even on the arid Columbia Plateau life abounds. Sagebrush is common here and covers the rolling hills. During summer most animals are nocturnal, active in the night to avoid the heat of the day. Deer and elk are abundant and find winter refuge along the river. It is common to find a snake or lizard basking in the sun. Within this seasonal cycle there is life, a dry life.