by Michael Boyinkemail@example.com
The National Park System in America is a vast and wonderful resource.
Without destinations like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, or any of the other 419 National Parks, Preserves, Monuments, Memorials, Rivers, and Scenic Trails, people embarking on the “Great American Roadtrip” would have few places to visit.
We learned to watch for brown signs while traveling. A brown sign meant there was a location nearby that was special for its natural beauty or historic significance.
We followed brown signs to Crater Lake. To Gettysburg. To the Grand Canyon.
And many, many more places.
Once we arrived at a particular place, however, both the tone and content of the signage often changed.
We saw signs that said:
“Stay on designated paths.”
“Please don’t touch any of the displays.”
“Even by breathing, you are changing this environment.”
“Take only photographs, leave only footprints. Actually, if you could not even leave footprints that would be great.”
I may or may not be embellishing.
Less than you might think, however.
Overall, if the signs at many National Parks were written honestly they’d say:
“In the interest of preserving this national treasure for future generations, we’d prefer you didn’t visit. But since you came anyway, please give us money.”
The Petrified Forest National Park was a particularly egregious example of a National Park with a passive aggressive attitude towards its visitors.
First were the rangers at the check-in booth. After accepting our entrance fee, they gave us a short lecture on not removing any petrified wood from the park.
We didn’t think it was an unreasonable request.
No one is going to pay $10 per car to look at where some petrified wood used to be.
Driving further in, however, we encountered the same message in sign form.
“Collecting Petrified Wood Prohibited.”
We get it.
We parked at the visitor center and went in.
National Park Visitor Centers often have films about the park. The film will talk about the history of the park, illustrate its beauty with sweeping videography, and guide you to various points of interest within the park.
And, in the case of the film at the Petrified Forest National Park, go over the top in convincing you to not steal petrified wood.
Most of the film was a dramatization of a young white male getting chased down by TWO ranger vehicles, pulled over, yanked out of his vehicle, spread-eagled, and frisked.
And found to be carrying a chunk of petrified wood large enough to explain why his pants were falling down.
The movie (and other NPS communications) claimed that petrified wood disappears from the park at the rate of 12-14 tons per year.
Which begged the question.
How do you weigh something that isn’t there anymore?
The movie wasn’t done yet.
Knowing that humans don’t always respond to logic and reason, the film delved into voo-doo.
I’m not kidding.
By removing petrified wood from the park, you are placing a curse on your life that won’t go away until you return the wood.
The movie didn’t say that directly of course. But it featured interviews with and quotes from people who believed it.
The visitor center lobby had a display of letters from the accursed souls who had stolen petrified wood and returned it in an effort to stop “bad things” from happening to them.
The returned rocks can’t realistically be put back to whence they came, so the NPS dumps them in a “conscience pile” next to a private service road.
Where no visitor will ever see them.
Your tax dollars at work.
We ended our visit to the Petrified Forest National Park Visitor Center by visiting the gift shop.
You might guess what we bought.
A small chunk of petrified wood.
Guaranteed curse-free, of course.
Located on Interstate 40 between Flagstaff, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Petrified Forest National Park has a website at nps.gov/pefo.