Since 1906, when Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park was established by President Teddy Roosevelt, visitors have been compelled to take away bits and pieces of the mineralized wood of trees that grew 200 million years ago. Sizes range from pieces small enough to fit in the hand to chunks large enough to require 2 people to carry off. Some of the petrified wood was seized during the theft or at inspections afterward and the rest of it was either left behind by visitors as they exited the park or returned after they got home - some of it years later. Reasons not to do so:
- Legal: The crime is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $350 and up.
- Scientific: “Anything that’s been moved can’t be put back. If we don’t know where it came from originally then it’s out of its scientific context,” explains Bill Parker, paleontologist and the park's acting chief of interpretation.
- Superstitious: Many letters returned with the rocks report bad luck and refer to a legendary curse that may date to the 1930s.