Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest, edited by Ryan Thompson and Phil Orr


Skylight Books (Los Angeles)


The Petrified Forest was established in Northeast Arizona in 1906 to preserve and protect a significant deposit of petrified wood dating back approximately 200 million years. In a concerted effort to protect the rocks, the National Parks Service has employed a powerful campaign of superstition, resulting in a growing archive of “conscience letters” (sent with returned rocks) often explaining in detail the bad luck that befell the thieves. 

In Bad Luck, Hot Rocks, these letters are paired side-by-side with photographs of rocks from the “conscience pile” (returned rocks cannot be scattered back into the forest and are instead collected in a pile along a service road). The reader of these letters sits on the priest’s side of a confessional booth—a non-denominational one, sanctioned by the Parks Service. This offers a distinct and fascinating perspective: throw your problems next to something 200 million years old, step back, and take a look. As you read these painstakingly handwritten confessions, it is possible to see the thieves’ cancers and kidney stones in beautiful lumps of rock, trace broken marriages along cracks that were once tree rings, and feel something hard for fleeting moments…a funny thing. This book is timeless, as deep or as shallow as you want it to be.

Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest is published by The Ice Plant and distributed by DAP/

$32.50   PB   144 pages with 140 color photographs   ISBN: 978-0-9897859-1-4   Pub date: November 2014