The federal government just bought 26,000 acres of land in Arizona, expanding the Petrified Forest National park by more than 10 percent.
The National Park Service paid about $8 million for the land, which was known as the Paulsell Ranch. Much of the newly-acquired land has remained untouched for centuries and likely contains Indian petroglyphs, dinosauer fossils and the famous, rainbow-colored petrified wood the area is known for.
"The opportunity to actually go out into an area that hasn't been worked before by other researchers, the opportunity to find things that are truly new to science — there's a very good chance of that, so it's pretty exciting," Bill Parker, a paleontologist at the park, told The Associated Press. "I think we're definitely going to be able to find some things that are new out there that are really going to enhance the story of the park."
Congress more than doubled the boundaries of the park in 2004, from 93,500 acres to about 218,500 acres. But much of the land within the new border remained in private hands. With the latest purchase, Congress has acqured about a third of the 120,000 acres owned privately within the boundaries.
Petrified wood is scattered throughout the undeveloped ranch land. Mike Ford, of the Conservation Fund, which has worked with the federal government to acquire lands for parks, said he's been working on the deal for more than a dozen years.
"I tell people about this part of the world — it's so rough and crude, it has its own beauty," Ford said. "For people who love the Southwest and love those kinds of landscapes, it's isolated, it's remote, it's out there. That crudeness has a beauty that you have to be a desert rat to appreciate."
About 630,000 people visit the park each year.