We've all experienced a spate or two of bad luck at domestic national parks — perhaps you got bumped from a choice camping spot in Yellowstone, or maybe you had to batten down the hatches against a week's worth of foul weather at Rainier. But at least you didn't have to worry about a hunk of granite from Yosemite's Half Dome bringing a curse down on your whole family.
Visitors to Australia's famous Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (formerly known as Ayers Rock) have long pilfered chunks of red stone from the famous crimson monolith, flouting the requests of both park rangers and the indigenous people, who view it as sacred. But the national park receives at least one package a day from remorseful rock thieves who are seeking to return pieces of the monument. In an even more bizarre twist, recent research indicates that 25 percent of those packages contain apology notes claiming that the stolen stone has brought misfortune upon its abductors; by returning it, they hope to undo the curse.
[University of Western Sydney PhD student] Jasmine Foxlee, who has been analysing the phenomenon, told the Australian newspaper The Sunday Telegraph that about a quarter of them believed they had been cursed for pocketing their souvenir. They told stories that included marriage break-ups, family illnesses, and even deaths, which they attributed to their mementoes.
One British tourist explained: "Things were good in my life before I took some of Ayers Rock home with me, but since then my wife has had a stroke and things have worked out terribly for my children – we have had nothing but bad luck."
While most of the returned pieces of Uluru are pocket-sized, officials once received a 70-pound chunk from a remorseful couple in South Australia, and packages have come from as far away as Germany. Those who haven't been "cursed" by their piece of Uluru generally just want to see it returned to its natural place of origin.
"Interestingly enough, a lot of the others were more about people wanting to see those rocks returned to their rightful place," [Foxlee said]. "There's quite a deep-seated uncertainty about Aboriginal spirituality and culture, and often we err on the side of caution when we don't know something well, so I think there's an element of, 'if I return it, it's a bit of a safeguard for myself'."
Wow. Even if you don't believe in aboriginal curses or karmic vengeance from the natural environment, it might be nice to retroactively apply similar legends to the sensitive parts of our national parks. The next time I see a kid picking a flower in an alpine meadow in RMNP, I can say, "sure, you can go ahead and pick that flower if you want, kid. But that flower's cursed — you might kill your whole family. Of course, it's your choice."
— Ted Alvarez