Petrified wood is a common type of fossil that is found all over the United States. Many people have picked up a cool looking rock and been surprised to find that that it looks like it has tree rings, branches, or even bark. These beautiful, desirable, collector pieces can be fun to hunt and are common enough that many people often know spots near their own homes to find them.
Where To Find Petrified Wood In Texas
Texas is a rockhounds dream for collecting petrified wood! With petrified wood found in over 30 counties, and plenty of private land for collecting, much cataloging of rockhound locations has been done.
Below are several locations that allow public collecting of petrified wood. The best samples are found exposed on the surface, but the easiest pieces to find are with the help of water! Try the following regional locations next time you’re driving through Texas.
Texas River Beds
River beds are the easiest places to find petrified wood in Texas. In countless rivers across Texas stones travel many miles and are washed clean and polished by the water. Often times, petrified wood cobbles and stones can be found while searching through river stones.
These are often identified by the rings and cells of wood, though surface features have been polished away by years tumbling in the rivers. My favorite river is the Brazos River, but other rivers include the Rio Grande River, the Canadian River, and the Pecos River. All of these rivers have an abundance of stones.
Amarillo, Texas (North West Texas)
Just to the southeast of Amarillo, Texas, is a small lake called Lake Mackenzie. To the east, north of the town of Silverton are many gullies and small river tributaries that have eroded.
This hilly area is known to have many pieces of fossilized wood that have not been tumbled by the river. Beautiful pieces of petrified wood can be found in the dirt poking out into the surface, and smaller pieces make their way to the river to be collected along the banks in the gravel.
Any petrified wood found in the lake or rivers is your to keep, but remember to ask for permission if you travel onto private property or ranches here!
Toledo Bend (East Texas)
The petrified wood from the Toledo Bend area close to Louisiana is from a very popular collecting location. The Catahoula Formation is a coal rich formation stretching from Mississippi, across Louisiana, and all the way to central Texas.
Famous for its palm tree fossils, this formation outcrops periodically and very unique petrified wood from the Carboniferous period is exposed and washed out into river beds and flood plains. This type of petrified wood is famed for its pineapple like texture and its yellow color.
Llano Uplift/Texas Hill Country (Central Texas)
The Llano Uplift is the area around Austin, Texas, known as the Hill Country. The limestone here weathers easily and exposes the petrified wood found below. With lots of ranches, rivers, and lakes in this area there is plenty of places to go rockhounding for petrified wood. Wood on the surface is easily recognizable because it hasn’t been tumbled in water for generations. Lake Travis and the surrounding tributaries have even been known to expose large tree trunks and stumps of petrified, opalized wood. Dripping Springs Reservoir is also a famous spot for finding petrified wood exposed by the river.
Rio Grande Valley (South Texas)
Near Roma, Texas, and Starr County proper, a vast petrified forest once existed near the surface. Over time, many pieces were collected and hauled away, prized for their beauty and their size. Still today, smaller pieces can be found all over the valley both in hillsides, in the dirt, and along the river banks. The town of Rio Grande City, and other small cities, has many homes with large pieces of petrified wood. Asking locals and business owners will provide more detail on the history of petrified wood in the area, and just maybe they will share a secret if they know the best rockhounding spots.
College Station (East Central Texas)
Brazos County is home to many rivers that contain petrified wood. The Little Brazos has easy entry from bridges, and walking the creek sides should yield new pieces after every rain storm. Bryan, Texas contains several homes that are built out of petrified wood. According to history, the wood was collected from the river near Cooke’s Point, which still yields large pieces of petrified wood today for collectors from all over. Remember to stop by Texas A&M University Geology Department and look at the museum of minerals to see fantastic examples of petrified wood.
Searching the West Texas Desert from Big Bend national park all the way to the Guadalupe Mountains near the New Mexico border will yield scattered petrified wood. In Big Bend/Guadalupe Mountain national parks, collecting or removing fossils from their natural place is illegal, but petrified wood can still be observed. Outside of the park, collecting is legal. The best places to look are in dry stream beds, but occasionally large boulder sized petrified tree trunks can be found sticking out of the hard pan dirt. Outside the perimeter of the national parks on both private and BLM land less than 15 lbs. may be collected.
Petrified Wood Tourist Sites in Texas
What Is Petrified Wood, Really?
Petrified wood is a type of fossil, it is no longer wood. All the wood has been replaced by stone. This makes petrified wood a “replacement fossil” and not a trace fossil or an impression fossil. What remains is a surprisingly accurate copy of what the wood looked like when it was “petrified” (fossilized.)
Read More: Ultimate Guide To Petrified Wood
How Is Petrified Wood Fossilized?
Wood undergoes fossilization just like any other living organism. The wood is buried in by mud or sediment that produces an environment with little to no oxygen or organisms. The lack of oxygen and organisms to deteriorate the wood means it is preserved long enough for the sediment to settle around it. Then, groundwater flows though and dissolves and replaces the wood with minerals. A “Carbon Copy!”
What Type Of Locations have Petrified Wood?
Many different locations all over the world can have petrified wood, as long as there was previously wood or trees that were buried under sediment. This sediment can be from a flood, a land slide, or even volcanic ash and mudflow. Petrified forests are found all over the world in many counties, and in many different surface environments.
Legality Of Collecting Petrified Wood
Petrified wood is a type of fossil and is protected from collectors by the government. Many people have gone to jail for collecting petrified wood from protected locations. Refer to your local state guidelines and do not collect fossils from public land if it is prohibited. Try to stick to private land, or ask a park ranger if collecting is allowed.
How To Identify Petrified Wood In The Field
Identifying petrified wood can be as easy as looking at it. It may look almost exactly like a piece of wood with rings or bark. The second test is to strike it lightly with a piece of metal and hear if it “rings” or “chimes” like a piece of metal. The third test is a little dirty. Clean your specimen and touch it to your tongue. Wood will not stick to your tongue, but fossil bone is porous and will lightly stick to your tongue.