Message #286:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Helpful Vistor Syndrome And Worse
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 1997 19:22:52 -0700

Natural formations acessible, vulnerable

FORT BENTON, Mont. - Fifty-six miles down the Missouri River from this
shove-off point for rafters, the destruction this summer of a famed
natural stone arch hit federal land managers with a sledgehammer

Even landmarks as sacred as the Eye of the Needle aren't safe from
mindless vandals. 

With the summer vacation season in full swing, more alarms are going off
as unprecedented numbers of adventurers and tourists flock to the USA's
recreational lands and national parks, especially here in the West. 

Federal rangers and archaeologists are seeing a steady assault on some
of the nation's most valuable scenic, historic and prehistoric
treasures. It includes both deliberate theft and unintended damage. 

In Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park, tourists filch 12 tons of
fossilized wood a year. At Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, some
visitors still toss coins and junk into the park's delicate,
temperamental geothermal springs, despite repeated warnings. In Utah and
Arizona's Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, vandals scrawled
obscenities this year on petroglyphs, the rock carvings that ancient
native peoples left behind. 

Overall, vandalism in the national parks continues to creep higher, from
3,570 incidents in 1991 to 4,356 last year. Other transgressions include
archaeological sites unknowingly trampled or intentionally plundered,
Civil War battlefield markers broken or stolen and rare reptiles, plants
and even butterflies poached for black-market sale. 

"It's a wake-up call," Marilyn Nickels of the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) says of the Eye of the Needle destruction. 

The agency's 268 million acres of public land include the north-central
Montana bluff where unknown culprits pushed the Eye of the Needle, a
fragile, 11-foot sandstone arch, over a riverside cliff during the
Memorial Day weekend. 

"The fact that people were so surprised by the Eye of the Needle
incident tells you that people assumed these places that were fairly
remote were well-protected," Nickels adds. 

Remote? Not when the market is booming for four-wheel-drive sport and
all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that can take recreationists farther and
faster into once-deserted backcountry where many natural and
archaeological treasures lie. 

Well-protected? Not when deep budget cuts for the federal government's
principal land agencies - the National Park Service, BLM and the U.S.
Forest Service - have left woefully thin staffs to patrol hundreds of
millions of acres. 

Visits to the BLM's public lands jumped from 51 million in 1994 to 59
million last year. Besides land-use responsibilities, BLM must try to
protect 4 million to 5 million archaeological sites and properties. 

The Park Service, meanwhile, has 166% more acreage to manage than in
1979, while the ranks of its law-enforcement rangers have shrunk 17%.
Not surprisingly, more vandals and thieves go free than are caught and

All three agencies say that most recreational visitors are responsible,
careful and ethical. But sheer numbers, plus a few troublemakers, can be
disastrous for delicate sites. 

"I think most of the folks mean well," says Art Hutchinson,
superintendent of Hovenweep National Monument, a loose cluster of
prehistoric Indian sites in the Four Corners borderlands of Colorado and
Utah. "They just have no idea that every time someone looks under a rock
or takes home a few potsherds (pieces of broken pottery), that place is
changed. Mostly, it's people kind of loving it to death." 

Easier access in four-wheel drives and ATVs is one reason. 

"More and more people are finding the backroads," says Hutchinson, who
last week saw workers finish paving the last stretch of dirt road
between Hovenweep monument and Cortez, Colo., the nearest town. 

But well before that, the Park Service asked the American Automobile
Association to remove the names of several Hovenweep ruins from the
club's popular "Indian Country" travel map to ease the growing visitor

Range of damage extensive 

Across the West, the crimes and misdemeanors are as varied and numerous
as the natural and cultural wonders they violate: 

Geology. At Petrified Forest, researchers are studying how and why
tourists persist in pilfering hunks of 208 million-year-old tree fossils
when numerous signs and park staffers repeatedly tell them it's

Still more signs confront them a mile before the park exit, warning that
cars are subject to inspection. Enough visitors toss their petrified
souvenirs out their windows that staffers gather as much as 100 pounds
of castoff rock a month from the roadside. 

At New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns, self-guided tours were suspended in
popular King's Palace cave because too many tourists were breaking off
pieces of cave formations for souvenirs. 

Archaeology. In southwestern Colorado's rich artifact belt, vandals in
late 1995 dismantled and toppled into a canyon most of a 2-story,
700-year-old stone tower built by Indian villagers at the BLM's
"Cannonball" village site. "They didn't take anything. They just tore it
down and left," laments agency archaeologist Kristie Arrington. 

Worse, ATV users returned this spring and carved three new motor trails
through the fragile landscape surrounding the once-isolated site,
inviting more invasions. 

In northeastern Utah, gang members from the town of Vernal recently
spray-painted gang signs and obscenities on a popular petroglyph. And
authorities did catch the thieves who stole a 1,500-year-old infant
mummy from its burial place in a rock crevice. 

Vegetation. In Washington's Olympic National Park, poachers steal ferns
and mosses. In Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, thieves dig up
orchids, trees, shrubs and medicinal roots. At Oregon's Crater Lake,
armed poachers compete for mushrooms that sell for hundreds of dollars a
pound in Japan. 

And in Arizona's Saguaro National Park near Tucson, rustlers with
chainsaws steal dead saguaro cactuses whose woody skeletons are prized
by landscapers and furniture makers. They are easier to swipe than live
saguaros, whose massive bulk and roots make digging up and transplanting
a much bigger job. 

The value of saguaro skeletons on the black market has doubled in three
years to $2,000 or more. The live ones are still vandalism targets, says
chief ranger Paula Nasiatka: "It's very common to find people
target-shooting at the saguaros. And someone actually put explosives
inside a saguaro and blew it up." 

Wildlife. Besides illegal hunters who kill big-game animals out of
season, black marketeers steal rare reptiles from public lands for a
thriving illicit pet trade. Gila monster lizards fetch $4,000 in Europe.
Twin-spotted rattlesnakes can bring $5,000. 

General vandalism. In central Wyoming, someone uprooted newly installed
BLM mileposts on the Mormon Pioneer Historic Trail, just days before a
wagon train celebrating the route's 150th anniversary passed through
this summer. 

River rafters in Colorado's Dinosaur National Monument break into
re-creations of ancient tribal sites, even after rangers tell them that
archaeologists long ago excavated the sites. 

Some of the nature wreckers are greedy pros, like the poachers of
animals and cactuses. Some are amateurs who can't resist taking fossil
or pottery souvenirs. A few are senseless vandals. 

Many just blunder around 

But the majority aren't plunderers, they're blunderers. Despite public
education campaigns, they may not realize they're trampling fragile
landscapes or destroying archaeological clues. 

Nancy Coulam, archaeologist at southeastern Utah's Canyonlands and
Arches national parks, says the blunderers often have "helpful-visitor

Tourists pick up potsherds or arrowheads at a Southwest Indian site and
pile them on a rock for others to view. But moving the pieces wipes out
the field context that scientists need to solve the site's mysteries.
Coulam says some even pile more stones on broken walls to "improve"
ancient ruins. 

Although Coulam can understand such behavior as benign ignorance, she
and other archaeologists have no sympathy for those who trash the
petroglyphs and painted pictographs that make the Western outback an
outdoor gallery of primitive rock art. 

This year, Coulam helped win guilty pleas from two Colorado college
students who defaced petroglyphs during a spring-break camp-out last
March at Canyonlands' popular Peekaboo formation. 

Besides paying repair costs, they'll do community service - cleaning
urban graffiti. 

"You'd never go to the Louvre in France and pick away at the Mona Lisa,"
says Hutchinson at Hovenweep National Monument. "Somewhere down the
road, we need to look at these sites as American art treasures and not
the place for a jungle gym." 

By Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY 

PHOTO: National Park Service workers replace piece of wall knocked over
by vandals at Kingsly Plantation on Ft. George Island, Florida on May 7,
1997 (AP file).

PHOTO: Pottery shards taken from Chaco Culture National Historic Park in
New Mexico by a tourist (Tim Dillon, USA TODAY).