The site, located immediately southeast of Sand Dune Arch deep inside the park, was closed April 8 to ”prevent further defacing of natural sandstone surfaces by scratching, carving, and other forms of vandalism that result in significant damage to park resources,” according to an order issued by Arches Superintendent Kate Cannon.
“Other measures including public outreach, an active messaging campaign, and ranger patrols have not been sufficient for preventing vandalism in this location,” according to Cannon’s order, which cites federal regulations that give park superintendents the authority to impose temporary closures for a variety of reasons, including protection of resources.
Park officials first learned of the vandalism last September when it was discovered by family members of volunteers who were helping remove graffiti at Arches as part of a National Public Lands Day project, said Mark Miller, the park’s chief of resource stewardship and science. In November, after the federal shutdown ended, Miller personally examined the vandalized area.
He said the damage to the site, which can only be accessed by climbing a sandstone ridge near Sand Dune Arch, “appears to have accumulated over many years.” Park officials hope the closure will prevent further vandalism, Miller said.
“Our view is that graffiti invites more graffiti, so to leave the area open didn’t seem the appropriate thing to do,” he said.
Miller said the sandstone wall is approximately 20 feet by 30 feet in size and is completely covered with deeply etched carvings, including names and initials. Other nearby rocks have also been vandalized, he said.
“It’s the worst I’ve seen in the park,” he said, adding that the site will remain closed indefinitely while the park’s resource staff conducts a more detailed assessment of the damage to determine how, or if, the graffiti can be removed.
Graffiti and carvings on rock surfaces in the park are typically removed by rubbing sandstone rocks over the surface to smooth out the damage, but Miller said that method will not work due to the size of the rock wall near Sand Dune Arch, and the depth of some of the carvings.
“It’s so extensive and so deeply etched that our standard mitigation techniques will not work,” Miller said. “Mitigation would mean grinding down the sandstone wall up to an inch or more over this large expanse. And we don’t even know at this point whether that’s possible or feasible.”