Petrified Forest has hosted paleontologists from all over the country for the last 100 years. They may be researching animals of the late Triassic era, fossil leaves, petrified wood, climate change, or any number of questions that the late Triassic rocks can answer.
The animals available to research include early dinosaurs, early mammals, and the ancestors of today’s crocodiles who were common in the large river system that was here at that time.
All the researchers who have used the park as a source of answers have found it to hold a wealth of data about the late Triassic, be accessible to their scholarly efforts through an active research permitting program, and valuable as a source because it is expected to be available for continued research in perpetuity.
And while scientists have been coming to the park for decades project by project, it is only in the last 15 years or so that the Petrified Forest Triassic environment has been understood well enough to provide a detailed context for all the research that has been conducted.
Dr. Bill Parker has been the park’s staff paleontologist for those 15 years, a permanent member of the staff since 2007. Bill is the only staff paleontologist the park has ever had. Since 2007, Bill and others who have helped him, have been able to place all the various layers exposed at Petrified Forest into their relative time period—placing the oldest ones at about 227 million years old and the youngest at about 205 million years old and all the rest in between in their proper time slot.
Petrified Forest is not like Grand Canyon where the layers stay generally in the same order wherever you encounter them. At Petrified Forest, the oldest layers are in the middle of the park, the mid-range layers are in the south, and the youngest layers are in the north.
Besides doing his own research every year, Bill has also expanded the number and frequency of university partners who conduct field work at Petrified Forest. He has been able to coordinate the work of a variety of institutions with a variety of interests in such a manner as they are all contributing to an aspect of the overall story while utilizing a portion of the park that is unique to their work. This keeps the work of each partner proprietary to their organization but contributing to the greater good.
This system, involving at least a dozen research institutions along with the work of NPS staff each year, has led to a quickening of the pace of scientific discovery in recent years. The result of that is that Petrified Forest National Park has become one of the most important places in the world for late Triassic scientific research.