There are innumerable small pieces of the colorful fossilised wood scattered around the Petrified Forest National Park
, which makes them very tempting for souvenir hunters but needless to say removing rocks is strictly forbidden. Some of the most visited areas are patrolled by rangers to help prevent thefts, and visitors are encouraged to report any suspicious activity. In late afternoon, access roads to the most densely forested areas are closed by gates and the whole park is shut before sunset. On leaving the park, all people are subject to brief questioning to ensure they have no unauthorised specimens. Of course, many people still take pieces of rock - estimated to amount to several tons each year.
A superstition, eagerly cultivated by park staff, suggests that bad luck will befall anyone who steals rock samples, and many letters in the visitor center seem to testify to this. Every week people return pieces of wood removed illegally, sometimes several decades ago, and often with accompanying tales of misfortune.
Thefts of Rock
Despite the thefts happening today (said to be over 10 tonnes per year), and the large scale removal of rock early this century, there is still a huge amount of petrified wood in the park, but it is possible that more access restrictions will have to be introduced if people continue to take samples. However, the park is unlikely to have the same fate as that of the Fossil Cycad National Monument
of South Dakota, which was closed in the 1950's after visitors had stolen all the fossils. It is estimated that in some places in the park, strata containing petrified wood remain uncovered up to 300 feet (100 meters) thick.
Instead, pieces of rock can be purchased from good quality gift shops (such as those run by the Fred Harvey Company) near the two park entrances, and in the surrounding towns. These samples come from nearby areas outside the park, and are apparently exempt from any bad luck. All of the rock-bearing land immediately surrounding the park is privately owned and fenced off to deter potential prospectors. Prices for petrified wood range from 50 cents for a tiny fragment to, for example, $30,000 for a length of trunk 2 m high and nearly three feet thick. Most pieces are cut and polished to emphasise their color and pattern, and nice examples start from around $20 for a segment of a cross-section; complete cross-sections cost rather more. Because of the hardness of petrified wood, large specimens can take many days to be prepared and polished ready for sale.