More Joshua Tree closures have been announced by the National Park Service, and it isn't because of budget cuts or the sequester. Instead, it's the work of vandals engaged in a campaign of what the park service has called "continued malicious desecration" of both the scenic canyons and ancient archeological ruins. The graffiti campaign started in January and has only gotten worse.
Rattlesnake Canyon will be closed through the end of April for the emergency clean-up. On April 30, officials will reassess the closure. For now, the public is absolutely forbidden to enter the Rattlesnake Canyon area.
Pat Pilcher, a park spokesman, told NBC News that around 17 sites, many large scenic boulders up to 50 feet in diameter, have been defaced. The vandals have spray-painted over prehistoric petroglyphs with vulgar or obscene words and images. "During my career I worked at five other national parks and I've never seen the damage to this extent," he said.
In addition to allowing park workers time to repair some of the damage, the Joshua Tree closures will give them an opportunity to investigate the crime. The park officials strongly suspect the vandals are involved in a social media campaign which involves sharing photos of their graffiti on Facebook.
However, they haven't revealed if they're looking at specific Facebook pages or if they have any leads on specific criminals. They did ask if you see something to report it to park workers.
Barker Dam, also in Joshua Tree National Park, was closed in February, and for the same reason. In that case, the vandals were actually carving their initials into the face of the dam in addition to spray-painting graffiti. As a result, no one is allowed to make the once-popular hike to the dam.
Volunteers from the Urban School of San Francisco have said that they will assist in scrubbing the graffiti off the granite rocks.
One frustrating element for park officials and the 1.3 million legitimate visitors a year is the fact that April is one of the most popular times to visit, since the desert scenery is less than pleasant to explore in the heat of summer. Many hikers this year will miss some of the park's highlights because of the Joshua Tree closures.
[Joshua Tree National Park photos by Brocken Inaglory via Wikipedia Commons]