They are called “conscience” rocks and there are piles of them in northern Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park.
Unlike the “pet rock” craze of past years, these rocks aren’t keepers.
The Arizona Daily Sun reports that some of the rocks were mailed back by people citing curses. Some were seized during inspections.
The rocks once had been wood, part of a large forest that existed 200 million years ago. Time and sediment had slowly turned the wood to stone quartz, preserving tree rings and bark so the modern world could marvel at the beauty.
Matthew Smith, museum technician at the park, says that the museum’s collection of letters sent with conscience rocks has about 1,200 pages written between the 1930s and now. Packages dropped off at the fee collection booths at the park sometimes come with letters, but not always. He gets three to six new letters a month.
The same myth occurs for rocks in Hawaii. It is said that the goddess Pele considers rocks her children and she gets peeved if you pick one up and remove it from her. The result is a string of bad luck. And, people send the rocks back to the Park service. It appears the same mechanism are at work here in Arizona.
The National Park Service estimates that about a ton of petrified wood a month is stolen, some of which is discarded along the road side or returned.
It is illegal to remove earth or plant material from National Parks in the U.S. But this curse myth seems to be even a BETTER deterrent than being charged with a misdemeanor and fined. It is suspected that, in the case of Hawaii national parks, the park rangers gladly promote the myth.
Is it true? No, certainly not. It would be better if people decided NOT to take the rocks because it is detrimental to the park and the large pieces lose a lot of their scientific value when removed from their place, particularly unique specimens, like fossils. A possible interpretation of the curse idea is that people feel guilty for taking the piece, and then attribute any bad occurrence to the fact that they took the rock and are jinxed. Just don’t do it.