Dumb Crooks, National Parks Version

Photo by cdogstar via Creative Commons and flickr.

One might think that people who are involved in illegal activities would try to avoid attracting the attention of the Proper Authorities, but fortunately for the sake of law and order, that's not always the case. Three cases of Dumb and Dumber from separate parks confirm that crime still doesn't pay.

On August 7, two men set up camp near the north entrance to Petrified Forest National Park, thereby confirming it always pays to check on park regulations before planning to spend the night. At Petrified Forest, neither front country camping nor overnight parking is allowed, which means this pair's activity was a good way to meet a ranger.

Sure enough, Ranger Josh Wentz contacted the pair to investigate. This case of illegal camping soon became a lot more interesting when one of the occupants of the vehicle was found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia. Ranger Marc Schlauch then joined Wentz at the scene, along with officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Apache County Sheriff's Office.

A search of the vehicle was conducted and the occupants were found to be in possession of two baggies of powdered methamphetamine, several bottles of unknown liquids in glass containers, butane, scales, and assorted other equipment commonly associated with the manufacture of meth.

At least these guys won't need to worry about finding a campsite for a while. Both men were taken into custody on state charges by the Apache County Sheriff's Department, and a crime lab and haz mat field team cleaned up all items in the vehicle.

"Failure to do right" while camping also proved to be the undoing of another group of miscreants several years ago at Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma. This quartet invited a visit from a ranger by failing to pay the required fee for the campsite—and just for good measure, they also parked their vehicles illegally.

In due time, the three young men and a juvenile female were contacted by Ranger DeDe Mladucky, and during the ensuing conversation, a member of the group asked the ranger to help them jumpstart one of the vehicles, a Ford Expedition.

Ranger Mladucky, being a prudent servant of the public and a diligent law enforcement officer, ran a routine check of the vehicle registration, which revealed that the Expedition had been stolen from Oklahoma City. Two of the males, ages 19 and 20, and the female juvenile were arrested on the spot. The third male, another not-so-wise 20-year-old, tried to escape but was captured less than a mile away.

A check of the second illegally parked vehicle revealed that it was also stolen, and a subsequent search found that the car contained several items that had been stolen from as far away as Pennsylvania, including a wallet, credit cards, and a car CD player. Prosecutors in at least two states were undoubtedly happy to wrap up several cases thanks to alert work by the ranger—and sloppy planning by the crooks.

Considering the millions of visits to national parks each year, the number of vehicles reported stolen while in a park is extremely low. One of those rare cases a few years ago at Big Bend National Park added an unusual wrinkle.

A visitor to the park named Eric called Ranger Lance Mattson and reported that his car had been stolen the previous night. Eric admitted that he had consumed copious amounts of alcohol during the evening, and when he finally woke up in the morning, his vehicle was gone.

Ranger Mattson and Brewster County deputies questioned Eric and determined that he had stolen the car in question in Oklahoma and had driven it to the park. After his drinking binge, he lost track of where he had left the vehicle, so Eric figured the best course of action would be to call the authorities and report his newly acquired car as stolen. Maybe they could find it.

Further investigation revealed that Eric had been a little short of cash and didn’t have enough money to pay the park’s entrance fee, so he had taken a cross-country route in order to bypass the park entrance station. The vehicle was eventually found about a half mile into the desert, where it ended its trip after plowing through the park’s boundary fence.

Eric probably didn't need a vehicle for quite a while, anyway. He was extradited to Oklahoma, where, in addition to state charges, authorities were considering federal charges for interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle.

A theory has been offered to explain why some perpetrators of mischief act in otherwise inexplicable ways: bozone. “Bozone” has been defined as “the invisible substance surrounding stupid people which is impenetrable to bright ideas."

Here's some good news for the promotion of law and order: The bozone layer shows little sign of breaking down in the foreseeable future.

Part of this story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.