Graffiti in Grand Canyon


   Graffiti on subway cars, buses and underpasses. Spray paintings in alley ways and prominent rock outcroppings above town. Such acts of vandalism are common to the inner city and suburbs of America. But in Grand Canyon National Park, along the corridor of its celebrated Colorado River?

   Vandalism in the depths of the Grand Canyon has been evident since the beginning of this century, but two apparently related incidents occurring last year are particularly disturbing. Sometime during a two-week window in April 1994, a “Bar N” logo was engraved at two sites in the Mile 31 corridor only hundreds of feet above river level. The first site is located at the petroglyph boulder at the South Canyon Anasazi archaeological site, a popular stop for river runners. The second site (detectable with binoculars) occurs between Stanton’s Cave and Vasey’s Paradise in a solution cavity visible from river level.

   An active investigation is still ongoing by Park Service rangers; though few leads have surfaced. General speculation holds that the graffiti depicts a ranch livestock brand but its intended meaning is unclear. According to Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park Archaeologist, petroglyph panels throughout the Southwest are popular sites for target practice among vandals. Because of its remote location and relative inaccessibility, Grand Canyon has not suffered as much as Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and other popular archaeological sites. Balsom speculates the damage, which was quite deliberate, was chiseled by hikers without permits and involved a technical climb to the solution cavity in the redwall limestone.

   The disfigurement at the petroglyph rock is temporarily hidden by a strategically placed stone. The Park Service plans to mask it permanently with mortar or by affixing a rock covering. The site at the cavity will likely remain a lasting eyesore. Balsom, in trying to find some favorable outcome, suggests the destruction can serve as an example, an educational tool to the public.

   What can we do as river guides to halt such sacrilegious alterations of our community? It is our responsibility to preserve this resource, to be willing to participate in its protection. As the most consistent and pervasive eyes and ears of the Canyon, we know that education and observation are our first defenses. If we see someone out of place or acting strangely (re: carrying rock chisels and spray paint), we can note the time and place, take photos, and notify the Park dispatch or river rangers. We can continue and perhaps strengthen our general preservation messages to our passengers, thereby exponentially increasing awareness. Our continuing renewal to our commitment to the Canyon and the river is our greatest strength against those whose annoying and misguided motives are so destructive to our experience and enjoyment.

Mary Ellen Arndorfer