PETRIFIED HISTORY: Mississippi Petrified Forest offers a unique glimpse into our history

Published 11:39 am Monday, May 16, 2016

Forty-five minutes northeast of Vicksburg in Flora lies a natural wonder 36 million years in the making.

The Mississippi Petrified Forest was opened in 1963 by R.J. “Bob” and Shirl Schabilion who sought to preserve the forest and share it with the public.

The process of petrifying wood occurs over millions and millions of years, assistant manager Nicole Bright said.

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“It has to have a lack of oxygen,” she said. “Once it’s under water it would naturally decay, but because the silica is so high in the soil here, it buried underneath it and it kind of crystalizes. It seeps into the pores of the log to crystalize and becomes hard over time.”

Geologists over the years have been able to identify multiple trees on the property that have since become extinct.

“Some of those would be extinct types of palm trees, firs and sequoias,” she said. In 1976, a resolution was passed, establishing petrified wood as the Mississippi state stone.

“I enjoy the fact that the family has worked so hard to preserve the place for generations to come and enjoy and see,” she said. “It is a natural wonder.”

The main attraction is a six-block nature trail, including the oft-photographed Caveman’s Bench, which offers guests a glimpse into prehistoric times.

Nothing has been moved in the self-guided trail, barring natural movement from nature through erosion.

“Generally it takes people 30 minutes, but sometimes longer,” Bright said. “Occasionally we have visitors that see wildlife — deer or baby fox — and that’s always interesting.”

At the end of the trail, visitors enter a science museum filled with rocks, minerals and fossils from around the world.

The museum includes mastodon bones found nine miles from the park, remnants of the cousin to the elephant that roamed the land more than 10,000 years ago.

One of the major attractions is the gem-mining flume, Bright said.

“It’s kind of like how they used to pan for gold,” she said. “We have these pre-made bags and buckets that already have gems and minerals inside. It’s fun for all ages.”

Bright said visitors often take advantage of the picnic area by packing a sack lunch to enjoy after a morning of touring the facilities.

The park has a large gift shop with “a little bit of everything,” including souvenirs, rocks, minerals, fossils, and jewelry.

“The most popular item is the petrified wood from Mississippi,” she said. “We also have rock soaps that are really popular. Those are just natural, organic soaps made from herbs.”

The park, 124 Forest Park Road, is open seven days a week, from 9 to 5 p.m. during winter and once the time changes, until 6 p.m. The park is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

The park offers camping sites with RV hookups or sites for tent camping. For more information, call 601-879-8189.



• The Blue Rooster, established in 2008, is a small restaurant in Flora featuring award-winning burgers and homemade deserts. The burgers are hand-pattied daily and come in options such as build-your-own, the flamethrower, the big nasty or a veggie burger. The restaurant is open weekdays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information, call 601-879-3289.

• Indian mounds can be found in the neighboring town of Pocahontas, eight minutes from Flora. Found on the National Register of Historic, Pocahontas Mound A is a rectangular platform mound, 175 feet across at the base and about 22 feet high. The mound was built during the Mississippian period, between 1000 and 1300 A.D. Remains of a mud-plastered log-post building have been found atop the mound. This structure was used as a ceremonial temple or as a residence of a chief. An extensive former village area surrounds the mound. The site, located on U.S. 49, is open to the public daily dawn to dusk, free of charge.