When a suspect is identified in this story, it will likely topple the goblin-toppler story from last fall. If a perpetrator is found guilty, I hope it topples his or her right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I drive Highway 128 multiple times a week and am regularly disgusted to see where acts of vandalism have occurred on public lands. I see tire tracks in the sand where there aren’t roads, and new graffiti painted on boulders alongside the highway. Reminders of human-caused damage are evident where the Bureau of Land Management has removed graffiti from rocks, leaving bright orange patches where black desert varnish – an artistic medium that humans can’t replicate – used to be.
The frequency of this destruction seems to have lessened over the years but it’s still happening, and I am amazed and maddened. The recent theft of a dinosaur footprint from the popular Hell’s Revenge trail has hit a new low. The abuse underscores the gigantic job the BLM has in policing the vast acreage that is our nation’s playground.
When my brothers and I were little, our family would often go on summer picnics in the desert, especially when my cousins would visit from out of state. Some of my fondest memories are from those outings. Our parents would stay in the campground fixing dinner and enjoying the sunset while we kids would scramble onto the rocks and into the canyons. There were places where the sandstone fins we climbed on were a veritable newspaper rock of signatures. I suppose that’s where we got the childish idea – children that we were – that it would be OK for us to scratch our initials into the soft stone too.
I remember that we didn’t need to find sharp sticks or pocketknives to leave our marks; the visitors who had been there before had left straight pins in the little crevices of the rocks so that the next person could scratch his or her initials too. So, to follow suit, we kids took the pins and chiseled tiny little letters onto the giant whale-like rock, as if it were some kind of yearbook signing event.
When the next summer’s family reunion rolled around, we returned to the same area for an evening cookout. As our parents set about grilling burgers and hot dogs, we scoured the rocks looking for the initials we had left the previous year. But we couldn’t find them. “How did they disappear?” we wondered aloud.
When our parents overhead us talking about our little adventure, they informed us that the National Park Service had workers whose job it was to remove the carvings. But more importantly, they admonished us to never do it again. It was illegal. “What if everyone did it?” they sternly asked. “The rock wouldn’t look very natural, would it?”
So there, I confess to having had a young but brief dalliance with committing illegal activity on public lands. But my criminal history doesn’t make me understand why someone would break apart large chunks of rock to steal evidence of prehistoric life that has been in place for eons. It also makes me fearful for what few dinosaur tracks and petrified bones are left for the public to view in their natural settings.
Authorities have a suspect in the case, and they think evidence may have been dumped into the Colorado River near Dewey Bridge. That might be a dark and difficult place to find something, and we likely won’t see the footprint again. But I doubt the vandal in this case will be able to stay hidden for long.
I hope the punishment for this crime will be as dark as the muddy bottom of the river.