Rangers are investigating vandalism at Arches National Park after discovering large graffiti that was carved so deeply into a famous red rock arch that it may be impossible to erase.

Ranger superintendent Kate Cannon says that the carvings are “very large and deep,” measuring about four feet across and three feet high, and carved so deeply that authorities estimate it would have taken an hour or more to carve, according to an article by Reuters.

The destruction discovered on April 15 was at the Frame Arch. Defacing surfaces is illegal, and anyone caught vandalizing a national park can face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Unfortunately this latest incident is just part of a growing number of acts of vandalism in Arches and other national parks in recent years.

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Two years ago, eight national parks – mostly in the western US – had similar incidents and began the delicate task of cleaning up graffiti and paintings marring their famous landscapes. Most of the damage was initially discovered through images shared on social media.

Social media seems to be the driver in the increased vandalism taking place in our national parks, where individuals do the damage and then post pictures of their “work.” Cannon says that seeing this destruction is “really overwhelming” and she hopes that public outrage and increased ranger and visitor vigilance can ease the problem.

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The damaged Arches rock formation is located near a popular hiking trail in the park where visitors often stop to look through it to view the iconic stand-alone formation Delicate Arch.

Park workers will try to reduce the carvings visibility by grinding down the rock around it, but that likely will cause some further damage to the rock surface. They may also attempt to fill the deep etchings with a material that blends with the rock – a worrisome solution since it is unclear if that could last. The damage is so great that it is probable any repair will be noticeable.

Superintendent Cannon says that rangers are always out in the park on patrol but unfortunately “can’t be everywhere” so they must rely on good behavior by visitors and their assisting the rangers by immediately reporting any acts of vandalism they see taking place.

Cannon thinks increasing public awareness about how damaging graffiti is and emphasizing that it is illegal may be the only way to stop it.

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Photo credit: UtahArches.com