One-Ton Boulder Returned to Arizona National Forest Following Brazen Theft

The thief (or thieves) likely used heavy machinery to commit the crime

Wizard Rock
“It’s unfortunate when we lose a treasure such as the Wizard Rock,” says district ranger Sarah Clawson. “These boulders belong to the public, and should be enjoyed by locals and visitors for years to come” Courtesy of Prescott National Forest

Editor's Note, November 4, 2019: A Prescott National Forest employee reported the rock's return to its rightful place on the morning of November 1. As ranger Sarah Clawson tells the Arizona Republic's Weldon B. Johnson, "We are thrilled the Wizard Rock was returned, and are grateful that whoever took it was conscientious enough to give it back to the public. National forests provide so many benefits to the American people, and when something like this happens, it highlights the intrinsic value of natural beauty in all its forms."

A hulking one-ton boulder known as Wizard Rock is one of the most popular landmarks in Arizona’s Prescott National Forest. Located along a highway that cuts through the sprawling property, the boulder is striking to behold—it’s black, with ribbons of white quartz running through it—and drivers often pull over to admire its beauty. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Wolfe and Saeed Ahmed report for CNN, Wizard Rock disappeared from its longtime spot on the side of the road around two weeks ago.

Prescott National Forest staff announced the brazen theft in a recent statement appealing to the public for information on the boulder’s whereabouts. It is illegal to remove minerals from National Forest lands without a valid permit, and those who violate the rules face fines of up to $5,000 dollars or a six-month jail sentence. Some offenders receive both punishments. Permits are required to remove most items, including firewood, plants and trees, from forests.

Because Wizard Rock is so large, staff believe the thief—or thieves—used heavy equipment to cart it away. “The easy way to do it would be a backhoe,” Jason Williams, Prescott’s trails and wilderness manager, tells Weldon B. Johnson of the Arizona Republic. “But, if you had a trailer positioned properly and didn’t mind beating some things up you might be able to do it with a Bobcat. But you surely aren’t going to be able to do it any other way.”

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that one of Prescott’s huge rocks has been stolen. According to the statement, the forest has dealt with “two separate incidents of boulders being removed” from its lands over the past four months. All of the missing boulders weighed between 750 and 2,000 pounds. Because the thieves likely used heavy machinery to commit their dastardly deeds, it’s possible passersby didn’t even realize they were witnessing a crime.

“I think what happens is the general public, if they see somebody working with equipment in the forest, they see the equipment and assume it’s an authorized thing,” Williams explains.

The value of these boulders is not especially high—Williams tells Johnson they might fetch between $100 to $200 per ton, depending on the beauty of the stone—but as Prescott staff note, Wizard Rock was particularly “special to the community.”

“It’s unfortunate when we lose a treasure such as the Wizard Rock,” says district ranger Sarah Clawson. “These boulders belong to the public, and should be enjoyed by locals and visitors for years to come.”

Clawson adds, “Our hope is that [Wizard Rock] will be returned to us.”

All hope isn’t lost: Back in 2009, an anonymous individual returned a heart-shaped 80-pound to the state’s Granite Mountain Wilderness region after the Daily Courier ran a story about the incident. As the statement points out, the thief evidently “didn’t know it meant so much to the local people familiar with it.”

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