The Curse of the Petrified Forest
When visiting, the Petrified Forest
National Park, folks are enamored by the beauty and uniqueness of
the petrified wood. It has been that way for centuries, since the
first explorers came through the area, the first routes were blazed
through the region in the mid-1800s, and up until today. Travelers
have long carried off pieces as keepsakes, and in the past, wagons and
trucks were filled to the brim, and hauled away to be sold.
But, since the time the Petrified Forest became a National Monument, it has been illegal to remove
any specimens of petrified wood from the park. Today, theft of
petrified wood can result in a fine. But, does that stop people from removing a piece of history
from the park? No!
many who thought no one would notice that one little rock missing, or were
absolutely sure they hadn't been seen, often find out later, it really
wasn't a good idea.
Evidently, they were unaware of the Curse of the Petrified Forest.
More than 200 million years ago, large trees and rich vegetation
flourished in northeast Arizona. At that time, the region was a
tropical wetland with abundant streams and rivers. During heavy rains,
the waterways would flood, sweeping fallen trees into the sandy
floodplains. Later, volcanic lava destroyed the forest, and the
remains were embedded into sediment comprised of volcanic ash, mud,
and water. Trees are transitioned to stone by the process of
permineralization, a process of fossilization in which the organic
materials are replaced with minerals, such as quartz, making a "cast"
of the original organism. Millions of years later, the petrified logs
were revealed by erosion.
The Petrified Forest area was
designated a National Monument on December 8, 1906. The Painted Desert
was added later, and on December 9, 1962, the whole monument received
National Park status. Today, the park covers 93,532.57 acres.
In the 1930's, visitors to the Petrified Forest began to report that after taking a piece of
petrified wood from the park, they were seemingly cursed with bad luck.
This curse continues to today, and is now a part of the park's
In fact, there is a room dedicated to these hundreds of cursed thieves
in the Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park. From divorce, to being jailed,
medical conditions to car problems, unemployment to generally terrible
lives, and even death, the Petrified
Forest National Park has received bucket loads of confessions,
tales of tragedy, and returned petrified wood from those who lived to
regret it. Like the curse of the Hope Diamond, or the allegedly ruined
lives of those who have tampered with Egyptian Pharaohs, bad luck
comes to those who possess stolen petrified wood from the park,
prompting thousands to send it back.
For decades, the Petrified Forest
has received pilfered samples in the mail, returned by visitors who regret
having stolen them. Notes included with the fragments describe lives
wrought with misfortune since the rocks' theft. In the letters, filchers
plead with park officials to return the pieces to their rightful place.
One visitor described a piece of petrified wood he had taken more than
10 years earlier. "It was a great challenge sneaking it out of the
park," he wrote. "Since that time, though, nothing in my life has gone
Another pleaded, "My life has been totally destroyed since we've been
back from vacation. Please put these back so my life can get back to
normal! Let me start over again!"
And another says, “Take these miserable rocks and put them back, they
have caused pure havoc in my love life.”
the southern entrance to the park is a pile of conscience rocks, and
it is not the only one. There are other piles throughout the park.
Unfortunately once the rocks are moved, they cannot be put back in the
park because they are out of “scientific context”. The park is a
thriving site for archaeological, geological, and paleontological
research. Moving rocks and other artifacts affects the value of the
In the Rainbow Forest Museum, the display is called "Mystery of the
Conscience Wood." A large piece of petrified wood sits on a bench. It
was returned by a man who said he had stolen it 66 years ago. A
three-ring binder sits beneath the display, that contains letters from
all over the world. Comprising some 1,200 pages of guilt ridden
letters, the oldest "conscience letter" dates back to 1935.
Petrified Forest National Park.
This image available for photo prints
The letters describe the feelings and bad luck many have experienced:
"You're right, it's a curse to take wood from the forest. My
girlfriend of three years finished with me on the drive home. So
here's your damn wood back."
"These miserable rocks have caused pure havoc in my love life. By the
time these rocks reach you, things should be back to normal. If not, I
give up. Dateless and Desperate."
"Believe me, if I would have known the curse went with any of the
rocks, I never would have taken these. My life has been totally
destroyed since we've been back from vacation. Please take these so my
life will get back to normal. Let me start over again. Forgive me for
ever taking these."
"When we were there, we read the letters of the many people who had
returned wood to you with tales of bad luck, ruined marriages as well
as other stories of misfortune. At first, we did not believe the
ramblings of such obviously superstitious persons, but upon a review
of the life and lack of luck that our family member had these past 30
years, we have begun to wonder if possibly the legend could have some
truth to it."
"I picked up this petrified rock about 13 years ago when I visited the
national park. I came across it today and decided I should send it
back to you. I am sorry that I took it and wish for you to have it
back. Thank you. P.S. It has been bad luck to me."
It's truly a sad state of affairs, as tourists can purchase petrified
wood collected legally from private land in a number of nearby
businesses. These pieces are generally inexpensive, and, the curse
doesn't come with them.
Attention Would Be Thieves!! -- Head on down the road,
shell out a couple of bucks for your souvenir, and avoid the curse!
of America, updated May, 2017.
Arizona Daily Sun
National Park Service
the Painted Desert on Route 66
Petrified Forest - Painted Desert Slide Show
Arizona Route 66
Arizona Photo Print
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