Prescott National Forest covers about 1.25 million acres of north-central Arizona, in the mountains near Prescott. It has a number of recreation areas which receive many visitors who are interested in outdoor activities of various types, or who want to enjoy the often stunning scenery.
In October, one of those pieces of scenery went on an unexpected hiatus.
The feature is known as Wizard Rock, and is a large 1-ton black boulder with veins of white quartz running through it. According to a press release issued by the USDA, the rock disappeared from its spot in the forest near Highway 89/Whitespar Rd.
Jason Williams, a trails and wilderness manager at the national forest, told the Arizona Republic that the boulder probably had to be moved using heavy equipment, such as a backhoe, because of its size. It could have also been moved with a Bobcat and trailer, but Williams said that other than those two scenarios, he didn’t think it could be done.
Williams’ feeling is that the use of heavy equipment may even be why no one reported Wizard Rock had gone missing – folks tend not to be overly concerned when they see such machinery being used, since they assume it’s for official purposes.
— Bet Not (@BetNot) November 12, 2019
They often use stones or larger boulders at the forest as a way of either indicating areas where visitors can park their cars or to mark restricted areas where the public isn’t welcome, and sometimes that means moving rocks from where they were originally located, or purchasing new stones and having them delivered to their desired locations.
When the park has to purchase rocks, they usually cost between 100-$200 per ton, depending on the type of stone.
When the stone disappeared, park officials reached out to the public in hopes of getting any information they could about how and when the stone disappeared, and whether anyone has seen it since it was taken.
It is actually illegal to remove resources like minerals from national preserves, which are supposed to be protected areas. The thief, or thieves, would face penalties that could include six months in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both, if they are arrested.
Although it’s hard to imagine why anyone would choose to steal a rock at all, let alone one of that size and unique look, it’s not the first time that boulders have been stolen from Prescott National Forest. In the last four months there have been other incidences of boulder theft from the forest.
All of the missing stones have been of significant size, weighing in at between 700-2,000 pounds. Because all of them were so large, Williams assumes heavy machinery was used for each of the thefts, which, as already mentioned, actually reduced the likelihood that casual passers-by would realize that anything untoward was going on.
The staff still held out hope for the Wizard Rock’s eventual return. As unlikely as it sounds, it’s happened before. In 2009 someone stole an 80-pound heart-shaped rock from Granite Mountain Wilderness. The person who took it ended up returning the stolen rock after reading stories about how important it was to the local people.
That’s quite a magic trick https://t.co/Z170EJUMvg
— Patrick LaForge (@palafo) November 4, 2019
Apparently that hope was justified. In their coverage of the story, Smithsonian added an editor’s note stating that missing boulder mysteriously reappeared in its usual spot after being missing for about two weeks.
Sara Clawson, a ranger at the forest told the local paper that everyone was extremely happy that the stone was returned, and were grateful that whoever was behind the theft was conscientious enough to return it to the park.
She expressed her feeling that National Forests offer the American public many benefits, and one of them is the opportunity to enjoy the intrinsic beauty in nature.
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Who could have taken Wizard’s Rock in the first place, and why they decided to return it remains a mystery, but at least the people who live in the area can enjoy its presence again, and people who are just passing through can still take photographs of the beautiful stone.