U.S. Army Lt. Amiel Whipple, surveying for a railroad route along the 35th Parallel about one mile south of here, passed down the broad sandy wash below in December 1853. Impressed with the deposits of petrified wood visible along the banks, Whipple named it Lithodendron ("stone tree") Creek.
Although American Indians have long used petrified wood for projectile points, knives, scrapers, and other tools, Whipple was one of the earliest explorers to report its presence in this area. The expedition's artist, Balduin Mollhausen, published accounts of his visit and the first illustrations of petrified wood. Jules Marcou, a geologist who accompanied the expedition, published the first professional description of Triassic plant fossils and rocks found in the Southwest.
Between 1857 and 1859, Edward Fitzgerald Beale and his surveying expedition established the Beale Wagon Road along the 35th Parallel. In an interesting army experiment, camels were used to transport men and supplies along this route. Today, Interstate 40 lies close to the 35th Parallel line surveyed by these early explorers.
"We really thought we saw before us masses of wood that had floated hither, or even a tract of woodland where the timber had been felled?On closer examination we found they were fossil trees that had been gradually washed bare by the torrents?"
-Balduin Mollhausen, Diary of a Journey from the Mississippi to the Coasts of the Pacific with a United States Expedition, 1853.