Ancient Rock At Arches National Park Permanently Scarred By Sprawl Of Graffiti

Shelley Hazen

For an hour, unknown visitors to Utah's Arches National Park gouged graffiti into the surface of the ancient Frame Arch. Staff believe it took an hour because the markings were carved so deep into the sandstone, and there's little chance they'll be able to fix the damage.

Because they suspect the job took so long, they believe other visitors likely witnessed the act and have turned to the public to track down the vandals, The Associated Press reported.

If they're found -- and based on the graffiti, their names may be "Staten" and "Andersen" -- they could be thrown in prison for six months and charged a $500 fine.

Officials pointed out that the red rock arch took millions of years to form.

According to Reuters, the defacement was discovered by an Arches employee last Saturday. The vandalism includes names, numbers, messages, and other markings, and spans 6 feet across the ancient formation. The AP reported the graffiti to be 4 feet across and 3 feet high.

The site is near a hiking trail that leads to a main attraction of the national park, the 64-foot-high sandstone Delicate Arch, which can draw hundreds of visitors at once. One of its most appealing features it that tourists can look through the Frame Arch to view the Delicate Arch, as if in a frame.

The graffiti has been described as being gouged or carved; therefore, Arches officials doubt any of the standard cleanup methods will work this time.

It's possible that the vandals have permanently scarred the ancient rock formation.

"It is utterly inappropriate in this place," said the national park's superintendent Kate Cannon.

Volunteers usually use brushes and sand to rub down the rock and effectively erase graffiti, Huffington Post explained. But that method only works on less severe cases.

"In this case, we are going to try filing them but that may still be quite visible if we can't get the color exactly right, and it may not be sustainable. There's really no way to fix graffiti of this sort."

Cannon also said it's possible for park workers to reduce the visibility of the graffiti by grinding down the rock surrounding it, but this will damage it even more.

In 2014, eight national parks in the western U.S. were defaced with "graffiti-like paintings." Authorities suspected one woman was responsible and images of her work were shared on social media.

Though this behavior is actually nothing new, it has gotten worse with the rise of social media, which appears to be driving recent activities. Officials spend hours erasing the damage every year and the only way to stop it is to increase public awareness about how damaging it is, as well as stressing that the act is illegal.

"It is really overwhelming. We take great pains to be out in the park and around where people are. Unfortunately, we can't be everywhere all the time."

Arches National Park was founded in 1929 and includes more than 2,000 arches, hundreds of red rock pinnacles, and gravity-defying balanced stones. Some of these formations are 150 million years old.

[Photo by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock]