Creation - Age Of The Earth
The Yellowstone Petrified Forests
Evidence of Catastrophe
by Jonathan Sarfati
Yellowstone National Park, the oldest
national park in the United States, spans parts of three states:
Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It is famous for its geothermal activity
including 10,000 hot springs and 200 geysers, including ‘Old Faithful’.
There are also mountains, including one of black obsidian (volcanic
glass), cooled and hardened basalt lava flows, deep valleys and
canyons, rivers, lakes, forests, petrified wood (wood turned into
rock), and wildlife.
In some places in Yellowstone Park,
erosion of a hillside reveals layers of upright petrified trees. At
Specimen Ridge, there are said to be 27 layers, while Specimen Creek
contains about 50. This means that the Specimen Creek formation is
especially huge - its total vertical height is 1,200 metres (3,400
feet). This raises the question: how did the petrified tree layers form?
THE EVOLUTIONIST EXPLANATION
Evolutionists and other long-agers usually teach the
- Each layer is the remains of a forest.
- Each forest was buried where it grew
by volcanic ash and other debris.
- Dissolved minerals were soaked up by the trees,
- After about 200 years, the ash weathered into clay,
then into soil.
- A new forest grew on top of where the previous one had
stood. From the well-preserved tree rings, the oldest tree in each
layer was about 500 years old on average.
- The new forest was buried by volcanic ash, and the
- The erect stack of layers was eroded, such that their
edges are now exposed in a cliff.
If this scenario were true, it would have
taken nearly 40,000 years to form the entire series at Specimen Creek.
However, since the scenario is based on the unobserved past,
it is not part of normal (operation) science, as this deals with
repeatable observations in the present. But as we
will see, there are certain features of Specimen Ridge that make no
sense under this explanation. 
PROBLEMS WITH THE LONG-AGE SCENARIO
- Growing trees have extensive root systems, usually
20-30% of the total dry mass of tree. But the Yellowstone petrified
trees have their large roots broken off, leaving ‘root balls’. This
happens when trees are forcefully pushed out of the ground, e.g. by a
- A forest buried in place would be expected to have many
petrified branches and much petrified bark. But the Yellowstone
petrified tree trunks, mostly 3-4 metres (10-12 feet) tall, have very
little bark and very few branches. Something has stripped most of the
bark and broken off most limbs, leaving only knots in the trunks.
- Some of the trees extend into the ‘forest’ layer above.
But if the next layer had to wait hundreds of years for the ash
covering to weather into soil (so the ‘next’ forest could grow), then
the exposed tree tops would have completely decayed. But if the trees
were laid down quickly, this observation should not be surprising.
- When trees fall in forests, especially with a flat
floor, they have an equal chance of laying in any direction. But in the
petrified ‘forests’, the prostrate (lying down) trees tend to align in
the same direction. Also, even the upright trunks are turned so their
long axis is aligned the same way. This is consistent with a common
force, e.g. moving water or mud, having acted on both after they were
- If the layers had been buried by volcanic eruptions
thousands of years apart, the mineral content of each would probably
have been quite different. But the mineral content remains the same
throughout over a kilometre of vertical height. This suggests one or
few volcanic episodes, with many pulses within each episode, all within
a fairly short time frame.
- Growing forests have definite soil and humus layers,
with lots of rootlets as well as thriving animal population. However,
the petrified ‘forests’ lack all these.
- Studies of the Yellowstone plants including pollen
analysis, show that there are many more plant species than would be
expected in a forest. And often the pollen doesn’t match the nearby
trees. However, this would e expected if the trees had been uprooted
and transported from several places.
- In a real forest, plant debris forms an organic layer
on the forest floor. The deeper the material, the older it is, so the
more tine it has had to decay. But the petrified forests lack this
pattern of greater decay with depth. There are also finely preserved
leaves - since leaves do not retain their shape for very long after
they fall off the tree, these leaves were probably buried very quickly.
- Volcanic minerals such as feldspars quickly weather
into clay when exposed to water and air. But the petrified ‘forest’
layers lack clay. This suggests that none of the layers were exposed
for very long.
- The patterns of particle sizes in rock layers often
indicate how they formed. Consider a bag of mixed nuts - often they
will be randomly mixed. Or, if they are shaken, the large brazil nuts
end up on top as the smaller nuts fall through the gaps. But many rock
layers which have been laid under water show patterns different to
these. The large grains have sunk to the bottom, and been covered by
smaller grains - a pattern called graded bedding.
Also, if the water is moving horizontally, alternating layers of coarse
and fine grains form.  
The Yellowstone ‘forests’ are associated with rocks which contain these
laminations, consistent with being formed under water. Some beds of
coarse material have tongues of ash penetrating them. Also, such flat
beds would seem to require a lot of water so the material can flow over
such large distances. Some volcanic rocks in New Zealand that are
generally accepted to have been deposited under water look very similar
to the Yellowstone rocks. 
- Under normal circumstances, a tree adds a growth ring
every year. The thicker the ring, the faster the tree grew in that
time, and this depends on the weather, among other factors. So trees
growing at the same time and roughly in the same area should show
matching patterns of thick and thin rings. On the other hand, trees
growing in hundreds of years apart would show different patterns.
Because he believed the biblical framework, geologist Dr John Morris
predicted in 1975 that trees in different layers of the Yellowstone
formation would have matching patterns, rather than completely
different ones. 
Years later, Mr Micael Arct analysed
cross-sections of 14 trees in different levels spanning seven metres
(23 feet). He found that they all shared the same distinctive
signature, and that four of them had died only seven, four, three and
two years before the other ten. These ten had apparently perished
together, and the evidence was consistent with them all having been
uprooted and transported by successive mud flows. 
NEW EXPLANATION NEEDED
As shown above, the slow ‘one after the
other’ explanation for the Yellowstone petrified trees is incompatible
with the evidence. It also clearly contradicts a straightforward
reading of Scripture which teaches a young age for the earth. We
weren’t there to see it happen, and we should not trust such scenarios
when they contradict God’s infallible written Word. Starting from
biblical framework, we should expect that the ‘forests’ were buried
recently, and probably by a catastrophe.
A recent catastrophe has given us some
insight into what might have produced the Yellowstone petrified
‘forests’. On 18 May, 1980, Mt St Helens in Washington State erupted
with the energy of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs. Although tiny by the
standards of most eruptions, this eruption flattened millions of trees
in 625 square kilometres (240 square miles) of forest. The eruption
also melted snowfields and glaciers, and caused heavy rainfall. This
resulted in a mudflow that picked up the fallen logs (some of which
travelled upright), so the both forks of the Toutle River were
log-jammed. An earthquake, Richter magnitude 5.1, caused a landslide
that dumped half a cubic kilometre (one-eighth of a cubic mile) of
debris into the nearly Spirit Lake. This caused waves up to 260 metres
(860 feet) high, which gathered a million logs into the lake, forming a
floating log mat. Most of them lacked branches, bark and an extensive
Since roots are designed to absorb water,
the remains of the roots on the floating logs soaked up water from the
lake. This caused the root end to sink, and the logs tipped up to float
in an upright position. When a log soaked up even more water, it sank
and landed on the lake bottom. Debris from the floating log mat and a
continuing influx of sediment from the land (in the aftermath of the
catastrophe) buried the logs, still in an upright position.
Trees that sank later would be buried higher up, that is on a higher
level, although they grew at the same time. This
was confirmed by sonar and scuba research by a team led by Drs Steve
Austin and Harold Coffin.  
By 1985, there were about 15,000 upright logs on the bottom. Later, the
lake was partly drained, exposing some of the bottom, revealing upright
logs stuck in the mud.
There is ample evidence that petrification
need not take very long. Hot water rich in dissolved minerals like
silica, as found in some springs at Yellowstone, has petrified a block
of wood in only a year. 
Imagine if the logs on the bottom of
Spirit Lake were found thousands of years later. Evolutionists would
probably interpret them as multiple forests buried in place, rather
than trees living at the same time that were uprooted, transported, and
then sunk at different times.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
One historian of science, Ronald Number,
placed his faith in fallible human theories about the past, and used
this as an excuse to apostatise (fall away from his professed faith).
As he said in his book on the history of creationism, 
a supposedly objective study: 
‘I vividly remember the evening I
attended an illustrated lecture on the famous sequence of fossil
forests in Yellowstone National Park and then stayed up most of the
night . . . agonising over, then accepting, the disturbing likelihood
that the earth was at least thirty thousand years old. Having thus
decided to follow science rather than Scripture on the subject of
origins, I quickly though not painlessly, slid down the proverbial
slippery slope toward unbelief.’ 
Of course, he was not following ‘science’,
in the sense of repeatable observations in the present;
that is, the type of science that sent men to the moon.
Most importantly, he presumed that he knew
all the facts, which he obviously did not. We should remember the
lesson of ‘Piltdown man’. Before the hoax was discovered in 1953, this
convinced many that evolution was true. Those convinced included the
eminent English Christian surgeon Arthur Rendle Short, who unlike
Ronald Numbers never apostatised. But Rendle Short agonised over long
ages of death and suffering, which clearly conflict with the biblical
teaching that there was no death before the Fall (Genesis 1:29-30,
3:19; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).  There is
evidence that his view was moving back to biblical creation, although
he didn’t quite live to see ‘Piltdown man’ exposed as a hoax.
We now have answers to both the Piltdown
and Yellowstone challenges. We should remember, if confronted with
other ‘unanswerable’ challenges to the biblical world view, that even
if we don’t have all the answers, God does. And He, in His good time,
may raise up godly scientists to discover them.
- Much information
comes from Harold Coffin (with Robert Brown), Origin by
Design, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington
DC, 1983. Return to First Text Reference
to this note. Return to Second
Text Reference to this note.
- Don Batten,
‘Sandy stripes: Do many layers mean many years?’ Creation
19(1):39-40, 1996. Return to Text.
- P Julien, Y.
Lan and G. Berthalt, ‘Experiments on stratification of heterogeneous
sand mixtures’, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal
8(1):37-50, 1994. Return to Text.
- Guy Berthault,
‘Experiments on lamination of sediments’, Creation Ex Nihilo
Technical Journal 3:25-29, 1988. Return
- H. A. Makse, S.
Havlin, P. R. King and H. E. Stanley, ‘Spontaneous stratification in
granular mixtures’, Nature 386966230:379-382, 27
March, 1997. See also Andrew Snelling, ‘Nature
finally catches up’, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal
11(2):125-6, 1997. Return to Text.
- John Morris, The
Young Earth, Master Books, Colorado Springs, CO, 1994, pp
112-117. Return to Text.
- Michael J. Arct,
‘Dendroecology in the fossil forests of the Specimen Creek area,
Yellowstone National Park’, Ph.D. Dissertation,
Loma Linda University, 1991; Dissertation Abstracts
International 53-06B:2759, 1987-1991. Return
- Steve Austin,
‘Mount St Helens and catastrophism’, Proceeding of the First
International Conference on Creationism, 1:3-9, ed R. E.
Walsh, R. S. Crowell, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, USA,
1986; Ken Ham, ‘I got excited at Mount St Helens!’ Creation
15(3):14-19, 1993. Return to Text.
- H.G. Coffin,
‘Mt St Hellens and Spirit Lake’, Origins
(Geoscience Research Institute) 10(1):9-17, 1983. Return
- A. C. Sigleo,
‘Organic chemistry of solidified wood’, Geochimica et
Cosmochimica Acta 42:1397-1405, 1978; cited in J. Morris, ref
6 p. 113. Return to Text.
- Ronald Numbers,
The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific
Creationism, University of California Press, 1992. Return to Text.
well-researched, his prejudices are evident. The book majors heavily on
personalities, with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) character
assassinations, while the high scientific qualifications of many
creationists are downplayed. He invariably gives the last word to the
evolutionist, which often leaves an impression contrary to the facts as
can be seen upon checking the sources. However, he exposes the
‘strained efforts' of reinterpreting Scriptures to fit evolution, and
the deceit of some theistic evolutionary college professors
‘[s]tretching the truth to the breaking point’ (p. 182) when trying to
hide what they really believed from conservative parents and donors.
See also review by Prof. Edgar Andrews, Origins (Journal of
the Biblical Creation Society) 8(20):21-23, 1995. Return to Text.
- Ronald Numbers,
Ref 11, p. xvi. Return to Text.
- See the book by
his son, Prof. John Rendle-Short, Green Eye of the Storm,
Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1998, Part 3; and the shorter account
‘From theistic evolution to creation’, Creation
19(2):50-51, 1997. Return to Text.
from CREATION ex nihilo
Volume 21 Number 2
March - May 1999
The information on this page has been obtained from Creation Ministries International,
a non-denominational ministry.
© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2013. Last updated July, 2020.
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