The theft of petrified wood is an ongoing problem at Petrified Forest National Park, so it was gratifying to learn that a tip from a visitor resulted in the apprehension of a group of thieves earlier this month. The bust of the group travelling in a converted school bus also netted some other items of interest to authorities.
Park officials estimate that several tons of petrified wood are stolen from the park each year, a problem that over time represents a significant reduction in a key resource from the area. That's a loss to all of us who value the park, so it's encouraging to hear about a visitor who took the time report a recent "theft in progress" in time to snare the group.
According to a park report, Ranger Lindsey Pruett responded to a visitor report of other visitors collecting pieces of petrified wood at Crystal Forest on the afternoon of January 9th. She contacted one occupant of the bus who turned over several small pieces of petrified wood.
When asked if there was any more on the bus or anything else Pruett needed to know about, the situation got a bit more interesting. He told her that there was also a quantity of marijuana on board.
It was clearly time for a bit more help, and Ranger Marc Schlauch arrived and assisted Pruett, followed by a county sheriff's office canine unit. The dog positively alerted on the bus, indicating the presence of a controlled substance.
The subsequent search of the bus and all twelve occupants yielded approximately twelve pounds of petrified wood, two pounds of rocks, three pounds of marijuana, nine pounds of food with THC content, and a small quantity of bath salts and hashish. Numerous smoking pipes and $2,941 in cash was also found with the hashish and marijuana.
No one in the group admitted to any knowledge of the drugs on the bus, so after further investigation two occupants were arrested and brought the next morning to the federal magistrate in Flagstaff; the remaining individuals were issued violation notices to appear in court later that week.
Seven of the ten individuals showed up for court and were found guilty of class B misdemeanors for the resource and drug violations. They paid fines of $610 each, were placed on a year’s unsupervised probation, and banned from all national parks in Arizona for one year.
The two people who were arrested were each fined a total of $1,025 for the petrified wood and drug violations, along with the same sentences for probation and exclusion from parks in Arizona. One of the three remaining individuals was a juvenile and had her tickets dismissed. The two people who were no-shows in court were arrested several days later on failure to appear warrants.
Park officials point out that pieces of petrified wood are readily available for sale in the vicinity of the park...but those legal souveneirs are obtained from private property outside the park.
If you're in the park and observe others in the process of stealing pieces of our shared heritage, contact a ranger as soon as possible. Yellow emergency phones are located at Puerco Pueblo, Blue Mesa, and Crystal Forest, and the park number for emergency use only is 928-524-9726.
That information, and lots of other great tips to help plan a visit, is included in the park Visitor Guide which you can obtain at the visitor center, or download here prior to your trip.