Claim to fame: One of two petrified forests in the eastern United States
Location: Flora, Mississippi
Drive time from downtown Chattanooga: 5 hours, 50 minutes
Formed 36 million years ago in an ancient flooded riverbed, the Mississippi Petrified Forest is a National Natural Landmark filled with petrified trees preserved where they naturally fell or washed up as driftwood.
When they were living, the trees in the forest were estimated to be more than 100 feet tall and probably more than 1,000 years old. Knocked down in a river flood and buried in layers of displaced sand and silt, the trees decayed slowly over the ages while minerals replaced the original organic materials, forming the trees into stone fossils called petrified wood.
Throughout the forest, you can see and touch sections of the same trunks broken into pieces and moved apart under the weight of the layers of sand — sand that formed during the Ice Age and which now makes up the trail through the forest. One particular remnant, "Caveman's Bench," serves as a popular photo-op.
Out of only a dozen petrified-wood sites in the United States, the Mississippi Petrified Forest is the only one located in the Southeast. The next-closest is Gilboa Fossil Forest in New York.
Walk this Way
Guide posts along the trail point out the fossilized remains of extinct trees that have no living ancestors.
In the museum, you can peruse the park's collection of petrified wood from every state and some from other countries. The collection also includes fossilized leaves, bark, fruit and cones, dinosaur footprints, whale bones, turtle shells and a complete prehistoric-camel cast.
At the gem-mining flume on the museum's patio, you can wash and screen your own "mine muck" and keep what gems and minerals you find inside.
Spend the Night
If you want to spend some more time among the trees, you can choose to camp for the night. The campground includes both primitive sites and those offering water, sewer and electricity.
The forest trail is paved, and dogs are welcome to explore with you as long as they are on a leash.