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
Molhausen, 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.
Lithodendron Wash passes through the Painted Desert below
Whipple Point. Explorer Amiel Whipple named it for the deposits
of petrified wood found in the area.
Heinrich Balduin Molhausen's etching depicts the
Whipple Expedition of 1853 through Lithodendron Wash.
"We really thought we saw before us
masses of wood that had floated hither,
or even a tract of woodland where hte
timber had been felled... On closer
examination we found they were fossil
trees that had been gradually washed
bare by the torrents..."
-Balduin Molhausen, Diary of a Journey
from the Mississippi to the Coass of the Pacific
with a United States Expedition, 1853.