A towering redrock monolith in southern Utah’s Cathedral Valley was damaged last week by vandals who etched a drawing of an eye into the sandstone so deeply that national park officials say they may not be able to remove it.
“It’s just disturbing that people feel like they need to leave a mark on the landscape,” said Capitol Reef National Park Superintendent Sue Fritzke. “It really bothers me.”
The graffiti was first reported by visitors on June 6 at the Temple of the Moon monolith in the park’s North District. The rock structures there are part of the iconic Cathedral Valley that stretches for miles in the desert with spires rising out of the ground.
The etching is more than 2 feet wide and 17 inches tall and “gouged into the rock,” Fritzke added.
The superintendent said it appears someone was standing on a stool or chair based on how high up the marking appears on the monolith. She asks anyone with information on who made the drawing to call 888-653-0009 or submit an anonymous tip at www.nps.gov/ISB.
Defacing any structure in a national park is a federal offense and can result in jail time and fines.
“That’s a definite mark on your record,” Fritzke said.
Capitol Reef staff will assess the damage. They’ll try to determine if the scratches can be sanded off or if the rock can be colored to hide them. It’s possible the park will not be able to remove the drawing. Cost and further defacement are both factors.
Fritzke said she’s seen more graffiti happening at Capitol Reef in recent years; over the past five, visitors have doubled. More than 1 million people stopped there in 2017.
Most of the vandalism, the superintendent said, is happening at the park’s petroglyphs. Those have rock art figures attributed to the Fremont and Puebloan peoples dating back more than 1,400 years.
Many of the sites within the park are spread out and not closely monitored. Visitors traveling to see Cathedral Valley, where the damaged monolith is, drive on a winding dirt road. The sandstone of the structures was deposited 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period, according to the park’s website.
Recently, Danger Cave in Utah’s West Desert was also damaged. In May, thieves looted the site — which has evidence of some of the earliest humans here — tearing fixtures from the walls and stealing a small number of remaining artifacts inside. No one has been apprehended.
Fritzke with Capitol Reef encourages visitors at all historic, geologic and archaeologic places in the state to take photographs and experience them “in a way that’s not going harm the resource that you were there to see.”
She added: “We encourage people to respect the landscape that they’re in.”