The “Conscience Pile”: A Fascinating Display of Repentance at Petrified Forest National Park

A remarkable sight has been seen at Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, as tourists and visitors alike have been returning items that they have previously stolen from the Park.

Dubbed the “conscience pile,” this collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils is made up of items that have been taken from the Park and subsequently returned by visitors who realize that they have done something wrong.

Stolen Petrified Wood Being Returned to The Park

The items in the conscience pile are made up of petrified wood, fossils of trees over two hundred million years old, with their cells replaced by minerals of every color.

According to park officials, visitors have been prohibited from collecting petrified wood for years, with large signs near the park exits threatening vehicle inspections and hefty fines for offenders. However, a display in the visitor center warned that rocks were disappearing at a rate of twelve tons per year, meaning that soon none would remain for future generations. This led to an emotional appeal, as well as the suggestion of a ‘curse’ that would strike anyone who moved the petrified wood.

This phenomenon of returning stolen specimens has been documented in a book called “Bad Luck, Hot Rocks,” edited by artists Ryan Thompson and Phil Orr and published in November by The Ice Plant. The book contains more than fifty specimens from the conscience pile, along with some of the letters of apology that accompanied their return.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

The letters vary greatly in content and form. Some are written on stationery or letterhead, some are written in all capital letters, some contain detailed maps of the item’s original location, some are even accompanied by poems. Several are from women who tried to prevent their men from stealing the rocks, and who have felt bad ever since.

You can see all of the letters along with the specimens that they were sent with here on the the books website.

The book includes numerous letters from repentant thieves, expressing remorse for their actions and attributing any post-visit misfortunes to their stolen rocks. Matthew Smith, the curator of the park museum, has suggested that many of the rocks returned were not even taken from the Petrified Forest in the first place. In addition, because the provenance of the returned specimens is unknown, it is impossible to scatter the rocks back into the Park as it would spoil sites for research purposes.

The conscience pile is a unique reminder of humanity’s complicated relationship with geology, and serves as an inadvertent monument to people’s attempts to understand their glimpses into late Triassic times.

Share This Article With a Friend!

Love rocks? We do too!
Rock Seeker Club & Community
  • Online rock and mineral club for collectors of all levels!
  • Find community with like-minded rock and mineral enthusiasts.
  • Monthly Giveaways!
  • Free Access to Entire Digital Library of Products (annual memberships)
Join Now!