Vandals carved graffiti into ancient rock formations at Arches National Park in Utah, causing what may be irreparable damage to a structure that took millions of years to form, authorities said Thursday.
Names, messages and other markings, some five or six feet across and up to three feet high, were deeply gouged into the sandstone of Frame Arch sometime before a park employee discovered them last week, park Superintendent Kate Cannon said. The names include, “Staten" and "Andersen.”
The vandalism adds to what Cannon said was a “tidal wave” of graffiti at Arches and other national parks in recent years.
“It’s a small part of a huge problem,” Cannon said of the damage to Arches. She said she was unsure what was motivating the rise in graffiti.
Defacing structures in national parks can land vandals in jail for up to six months and fine them $5,000. Authorities said in 2014 they suspected one woman was responsible for vandalism at eight national parks.
Cannon said she was unsure if the Arches vandalism could be repaired. The gouges are so deep that brushes and sand that park staff and volunteers regularly use to remove graffiti may not work. Workers planned to fill the gouges, she said, but there was a risk the repairs may not hold and damage more of the arch.
The depth of the carvings suggest the vandals were chiseling at the arch for a long time, according to Cannon, and may have been seen by other park visitors.
Frame Arch is along a popular hiking trail to Delicate Arch. The National Park Service is appealing for anyone with information to file a report.
Most people who hike the trail take small detour to Frame Arch, Cannon said, as it provides a beautiful vantage for the majestic Delicate Arch, as if looking through a window frame.
Arches National Park, founded in 1929, is a treasure of the national park system. It is filled with more than 2,000 arches and hundreds of pinnacles of red rock, as well as balanced stones that appear to defy gravity. The rock formations give the eastern Utah park a surreal, almost Martian appearance. The formations took ages to form; some are as old as 150 million years.
Cannon said she hopes public awareness will help rangers find those responsible and shed light on what she called the “burgeoning” vandalism problem.