Sometime between God's geological third day of creation (Genesis 1:9 -13) and the early "hours" of the sixth day (Genesis 1:24) 300 million years ago - - long long before the arrival of mankind or beings such as Adam, Noah, Abraham or David, a great forest grew literally within a stone's throw of Hazard, Kentucky, now nestled in the ever-winding steep slopes of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Pre-historic creeping animals moved about this woodland; and the continents of the world had not separated at this time. Then the land in this area was level at a height hundreds of feet below the present hilltops. Various kinds of trees, small and large grew here much like our forests today. But suddenly, something happened about 300 million earth solar obits ago. Some catastrophic upheaval rolled a great body of water over this forest. Most of the forest was broken, crushed, and obliterated, losing its identity as eternity continued to roll.
One section, at least of this original forest, remained intact except to have many of its upper parts stripped. The roots, trunks, and some limbs up as high as ten feet stayed in place long enough to harden into rock. As these trees stood upright immersed in this sea, the wood inside the bark began decaying. As sediment in the water began to slowly drop down, it gradually replaced the decayed wood fibers, thus minerals finally crystallized into rock. The outside bark on the trees, being of a tougher chemical composition lasted long enough to fossilize into coal.
In this way, the remains of the wood forest became a petrified forest, retaining its shape as sediment continued to fall around the trees, eventually forming a sea of mud that in time became strata or a layer of shale at the bottom of an ancient sea. Layer upon layer of various muds continued to pack down while stresses and strains of up warpings and down warpings of various areas of the earth were in motion in different places over the planet.
After millions and millions of years, possible shifting of the crust of the earth around its liquid core or new tilting of the earth's axis itself, volcanic eruptions, etc., caused ever changing conditions with each age laying down its own "mud" which hardened into strata. This strats eventually extended upward above where the tops of the Hazard hills now are. By this time the sea had receded, but more recently earthquakes and upheavals had created uneven terrain and cracks which became wider and deeper with each rainfall. So the rain finally cut out the valleys and left the hilltops. Proof of this can easily be found by observing the pattern of the formation and layering of minerals (coal, sandstone, limestone, etc.,) from a cut on the mountain and then going across the valley and making a similar cut at the same elevation. The pattern will be so nearly identical that you will look across the valley and know that the hills were once connected.
But back to the forest. How do we know the forest stands there waiting to be excavated? Well - a lot of us saw this forest several years ago when a cut in the mountain was made for Highway 15 (an extension of the Mountain Parkway) between the Walkertown section of Hazard and Combs, KY.
Mr. Willard Logan, then the construction foreman, noticed strange looking rocks coming from a level near the top of the present roadbed. Machinery had already pretty well mutilated them where the last grading had been done. Fossils were good enough, however geological souvenir hunters who came to Hazard from the University of Kentucky and sped away with car loads of broken parts of trees. Mr. Logan called upon me and drove me down to the "cut through" of the mountain when the road was completed.
"Here, Mr. Petrey, is a fossil they overlooked," he said as he took a hand ax out of his truck, struck the shale from around the petrified stump (machinery had previously cut the top of the tree off), and finally sliced it off above the roots and handed it to me. After washing it carefully. I sprayed it with three coats of varnish. It has withstood handling as it has been sitting on public display in Don's Restaurant in Hazard since 1969.
Mr. Logan and I stood on the highway in that cut and gazed steadily toward both mountainsides of the road. Then we began to see outlines of the fossilized trees of various sizes and different kinds of bark that happened to be partially exposed near the surface of both sides of the highway. They seemed to have sprung from a common level. We were standing in the midst of a 300 million year old forest.
"Sanders," said Willard, "I'm sure this forest extends right on into the mountain on both sides of this highway." Souvenir hunters, erosion and filling in of soil have erased all present evidence of the edges of the forest. But back in that mountain, untold numbers of trees of many different types and sizes are preserved, packed in shale, awaiting discovery.
Willard Logan, now doing construction on the Daniel Boone Parkway, and just recently promoted to Superintendent, tells me from his many years of experience, "I've seen all sorts of fossils - but I've never seen anything like this!" "Don't you think," I asked, that extensive coal tunneling has probably removed the other parts of the forest in the mountain?"
"No," he answered, "the coal is on another level entirely. It wouldn't be hard to excavate around those trees, knock the shale from around them and leave them standing. And we could coat them with some type of protective covering, preserving the different colors, resod the old forest floor, and show what it was like 300 million years ago!"
The Petrified Forest of Arizona consist of logs which washed down out of a canyon and petrified in a lying down position. The Fossilized Forrest of Hazard, though much less extensive, and small timber, is erect and intact and the trees are spaced as they were 100 million years ago awaiting excavation.
How many prehistoric creatures will be found trapped in the same fossilization?