“Petroglyph Patrol” Fights Vandalism in Utah

“This is them telling their stories to us. This is part of our history.” – Susan Crooke, Group Coordinator of Petroglyph Patrol

Unfortunately, people are dumb. Tourists are sometimes even more so. All you have to do is visit historical sites that were popular before the 1990s to know this. In Rome, ropes are getting moved farther and farther back. Statues have their bronze and gold finishes worn off from curious hands, sites are missing little bits of arrowhead and stone because somebody wanted a free souvenir, and people sneak over ropes and fences to carve their name into the side of sites like the Parthenon and Coliseum. Believe it or not, there are even little pock-marks all over the floors of ancient Greek theaters and great Roman roadwork because of tourists’ high heels! Well, one group has had enough.

Over the last few years, vandalism to historic petroglyphs, paleontological sites and important natural resources has been a serious problem, especially in Southwest Utah. People are going around carving their names across ancient rocks, defacing the art left there by Native Americans hundreds of years before. In answer, a group that calls themselves the “Petroglyph Patrol” is visiting all the most popular tourist destinations in Utah to keep a vigilant eye on these sites. The group is made up of dozens of people and covers hundreds of sites across the state. They aim to educate visitors and to try and keep an eye on anyone who might try to deface the history there.

One of the most recent victims of vandalism is the Anasazi Valley Trailhead, a few miles East of Santa Clara. It’s been reported that vandalism involving spray-paint, marker, or just people scratching the artwork with charcoal or knives has all occurred in this area. People, being people, also like to stand on it or touch it, wearing away important artwork that has been there for hundreds of years.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the outer rock is chipped away, the lighter rock underneath is revealed, creating the petroglyphs. There are hundreds of thousands of petroglyphs all across the United States. They appear most often in the Southern United States, left by the Pueblo people, or in the Pacific Northwest in California, Oregon, and Washington. They make up an important part of our national heritage and narrative, a vast library carved into stone revealing the thoughts, imaginations, and pantheons of the native cultures that came before us. It would be a sad loss to the archaeological community if these important pieces were worn away by thoughtless tourists.

The Petroglyph Patrol is hoping that by educating tourists on the glyphs’ importance and by keeping a watchful eye over the groups that come through the trailheads, they’ll be able to preserve this valuable history for the following generations of young Americans.