Vandals defaced a thousand-year-old rock art panel in a popular zone outside of Moab, Utah, this week, carving “white power” and other obscenities over Ancestral Puebloan pictographs just weeks after a climber bolted over another pictograph-laden rock face in the Moab area.
In a statement, the Bureau of Land Management said it was offering a $10,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction” of the parties behind the vandalism. It also said that it was working with “professional conservators” to remove the graffiti, and asked members of the public not to attempt to remove or repair it on their own.
“It is up to all of us to protect public lands for future generations to learn from and enjoy,” the statement read. “The BLM encourages everyone who visits public lands to practice Leave No Trace principles and visit with respect.”
The vandals struck an area known as Birthing Scene Rock off of Kane Creek Boulevard, a major road that follows the Colorado River. According to a report from Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, it was a local guide, Dustin Ferre, who discovered the damage on Monday.
“It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, so it definitely angered me. It’s super frustrating,” Ferre told the station. In recent years, the BLM had placed a wooden fence around the rock to deter visitors from approaching it too closely.
The incident comes two weeks after rock climbers in Moab discovered and removed three sport routes bolted through petroglyphs north of Arches National Park. The Colorado climber who equipped the routes, Richard Gilbert, later came forward, apologized, and is reportedly cooperating with investigators; he faces potential penalties including a $20,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
In an Instagram Live video, Dr. Len Necefer, the CEO of Natives Outdoors, compared the two incidents to recent statements by former senator and CNN political commentator Rick Santorum that settlers “birthed a nation from nothing,” and drew a line between the petroglyphs’ defacement and the erasure of Native peoples in American historical narratives.
“It doesn’t surprise me that ‘white power’ was scrawled on one of these petroglyphs, because at the end of the day, at its core, that’s been the policy of this country, to replace Native peoples,” he said.
Some locals say they’ve built personal memories around Birthing Rock. Mary McGann, the chair of the Grand County Council, recalled distributing birth announcements with pictures of the rock art panel for her first daughter, Kelly. After Kelly passed away of SIDS at two months of age, Birthing Rock became a refuge for her to “pray, reflect, and find comfort.”
In an email, McGann said that the county council would be taking some kind of action in response to the vandalism, but it hadn’t decided what kind yet.
“I am pained, angry and confused,” McGann wrote. “Why would someone destroy such a unique antiquity?”
This is a developing story, and we will update it as more information becomes available.