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Dateline: St. George—The Scar Makers

John Taylor

You know the warning you get in expensive stores— “You break it, you own it”? Well, it doesn’t apply to national treasures in Southwest Utah. They’ve been getting trashed by feral visitors during the last year.


Don’t call them tourists. These marauders are unencumbered by good intentions or fear of consequences. They’re hell-bent on leaving sometimes indelible stains for the caring public and paid public servants to address.


Maybe it’s a “jail break” mentality from the pandemic. Or a lifetime of bad manners never corrected.


They’re trying risky stunts in rock climbing and on ATVs. They’re doing beastly things to manmade and natural relics. And they’re leaving behind piles of human waste.


Debris is spreading like measles along I-15 as the pandemic has sidelined inmate road crews and citizen volunteers. There’s plastic, plastic everything, along with bedding and the odd sack of potatoes.


Volunteer rescuers are being overwhelmed by hikers, hang gliders, campers— the capable and the clueless—who stumble into misadventures, injury or death.


And state and national parks, like Zion and Bryce Canyon, are being scarred by graffiti.

A 200-year-old petroglyph was vandalized in Gunlock State Park near St. George in May 2020. 


The glyph was an image of a person riding a horse, likely done by an artist from a Southern Paiute tribe.


The rock was dug up—with no small effort—and pushed into the reservoir.


The crazy people are a minority, but potent.


This isn’t on the scale of the Taliban blowing up thousand-year-old statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, but nothing’s so bad that it might not get worse. Consider these behaviors:


- Taking a .30-30 Winchester to blast rural road signs on a Friday night isn’t lawful, but isn’ the same as reckless target shooting that starts a fire incinerating endangered Mojave Desert tortoises.

- Spray-painting a freight car on a railroad siding is wrong, but it isn’t the same crime as toppling gravestones and scrawling vile slogans on houses of worship.

Sure, Southwest Utah is hungry for a business boom. But tourist boards and chambers of commerce need to fashion a potent public education campaign hinged on personal responsibility and consequences. And a few well-placed remote cameras.


Maybe it’s time to amend the familiar Utah brand to something like: “Utah: Life Elevated. Don’t Bring It Down.”