Sibiloi National Park in northern Kenya is vast, arid, remote and miles from the capital Nairobi and wildlife areas that the country is famed for.
“Next on our itinerary is the petrified forest,” said our guide as he came by our hotel to pick us up. “That’s interesting,” I thought to myself, curious to find out what a petrified forest looked like. We were on a week-long tour to Northern Kenya’s Sibiloi National Park. The drive from our hotel to Karsa Gate (the main entrance to the Sibiloi National Park) was about an hour or so. It took another half an hour from the entrance to reach the site of the petrified forest.
Discovered by researchers in the early ’70s, this site of numerous fossilised sections of trees, dates back to prehistoric times. According to our guide, this scrubland was once covered with lakes, rivers and lush rain forest. Powerful torrential rivers carried fallen trees into a vast swampland. The trees sank deep into the morass absorbing sediment and large amounts of the minerals in the water. Over an inordinate amount of time the trees became fossilised and turned into stone.
We immediately embarked on the trek up the hill. Most of the petrified tree trunks are strewn across hilly terrain. This means the petrified forest is mainly accessible by foot. It was hot. The sun was merciless. Eleven o’clock and the heat of the day was already in the mid-30s. Plodding up, using the protruding roots and rocks as support, I steadily made my way to the top following a marked path. Interspersed with huge logs of stone and countless broken chunks strewn about the ground, the hike gives you an up-close and touchable experience with the petrified trunks.
At the top of the hill, we were able to enjoy uninterrupted views of the petrified forest, the panoramic view gives you an overall lay of the land, with some of the petrified tree trunks looking like small dots from afar. The view was well worth walking through the sweltering heat. We spend a good amount of time up close and personal with the petrified trunks taking pictures, exploring the surroundings, watching the stone tree trunks sparkle in the sunlight and simply savouring the views.
All in all, it was a fascinating experience to hike through this place that was once a forest but vanished aeons ago. I loved this unique natural phenomenon that seemed to be from another world, a place resembling a mysterious cache of natural art frozen in stone. An austere landscape where the past speaks about a history of repeated jolts of climate change.
The petrified forest in Sibiloi National Park is definitely one of Kenya’s hidden gems and I would highly recommend this place to anyone. Get to experience life in this middle-of-nowhere in Kenya’s northern frontier. The remoteness undoubtedly adds to the charm of the destination.
If you are planning a trip to the petrified forest plan to carry your camera for excellent photographic opportunities. It goes without saying that in the blistering terrain you will need to refresh and replenish yourself with plenty of water, but also probably a good idea to pack some snacks. Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen and if possible wear a hat.
A shout out to Abdikadirhe, a curator at the nearby Loiyangalani Museum, who was not only a wonderful guide but gladly shared his wealth of information about the petrified forest.
Also read: Kenya’s Shaba National Reserve: wild Africa at its best
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