Damaged Petroglyphs

[Bureau of Land Management]

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking information about who may be responsible for recent vandalism of petroglyphs in Mill Creek Canyon. Photos of the damage show "Petroglyphs Taylor Trey Wes Travis Aug. 3, 2021" scratched into rock faces over ancient petroglyphs.

BLM Public Information Officer Rachel Wootton said the agency was informed of the vandalism on Aug. 10, and professional BLM archaeologists spent a few hours conducting an emergency restoration treatment at the site.

Wootton said that the Moab BLM Field Office is receiving an increasing number of reports of vandalism. A particularly disturbing instance happened this spring, when racist messages were scratched into the unique petroglyph site on Kane Creek Boulevard known as the Birthing Rock. [See “1,000-year-old petroglyphs marred by racist graffiti,” Apr. 27 edition. -ed.]

Investigations into the Birthing Rock incident and the more recent incident in Mill Creek Canyon are ongoing. Penalties for the vandals, if caught, could include up to a year in prison and $10,000 in fines.

The damaged Mill Creek petroglyphs are estimated to have been made between 350 BC and 1300 AD, and are characteristic of the Northern San Juan tradition of the Ancestral Puebloan culture. Wootton added that petroglyph sites are still a part of living traditions for local tribes; BLM officials contacted local tribes of the damage. They also completed a required National Historic Preservation Act consultation before beginning the emergency treatment.

Meanwhile, Wootton said the emergency treatment at the Birthing Rock is complete. The BLM is considering hiring a rock art restoration specialist to conduct further work on the site. She emphasized that BLM archaeologists and recreation staff have specialized training in restoring damaged rock art, and that untrained members of the public should not attempt it—the sites could be further damaged by the use of improper clean-up or attempted restoration methods. Those interested in contributing to restoration efforts can contact the BLM office about volunteer and training opportunities.

The BLM does have recreation officers and law enforcement patrolling popular sites and engaging with visitors. The agency also partners with other local agencies like the county Sheriff’s Office. Still, Wootton noted, officials can’t be everywhere at once. The Moab BLM Field Office oversees 1.8 million acres of public land. The agency conducts education and outreach through signs, information on its web sites, and social media as well as face-to-face conversations with visitors. The goal, Wootton said, is to reach visitors both before they arrive and while they are enjoying the area.

“These sites are wonderful for folks to learn from and enjoy, but they need to do so respectfully—because we can’t get these back,” said Wootton.

If you have information about who is responsible for this vandalism, which occurred sometime prior to August 10, 2021, please contact BLM law enforcement at 435-259-2131. You can remain anonymous.