Make Memories & Leave No Trace

Examples of graffiti and park staff working hard to remove it.

Examples of graffiti and park staff working hard to remove it.

NPS Photos


by Patricia Ortiz

My eyes stare in wonder, my breath grows deeper and I can’t seem to stop taking pictures. I’ve come here from somewhere totally different. Where I live, the views are not as vast, the colors not as vibrant, the air not as fresh, and the skyline not formed by magnificent rock towers. I have come to a national park: a place of such significance it was deemed worthy of special protection. Arches National Park was created to protect “gigantic arches, natural bridges, ‘windows’, spires, balanced rocks, and other unique wind-worn sandstone formations, for the preservation of which is desirable because of their educational and scenic value.” I have traveled far for this experience.

As I marvel at this extraordinary landscape, I notice something out of place: someone has “tagged” the rock with their name. I think, “Graffiti? In a national park?” And then I remember: over one million people visit Arches every year. Many may not know that in a national park and on other public lands, graffiti is vandalism. Graffiti can be words or shapes drawn, carved, scratched, or painted on the surface of rocks or other features no matter how small or superficially drawn. It can be expressions of love, tic-tac-toe games, offensive drawings, names, initials, or dates.

Leaving a mark is in our nature. Here in the park and across the Colorado Plateau, Native American cultures and the first settlers and cowboys to explore these desert lands all left signs of their presence. These marks are part of our history, dating back hundreds of years. But the world is a different place now: there are more people, more development, and we have chosen to protect these places of beauty and history for the future. Today, graffiti is prohibited by law.

I imagine park employees scrubbing the white chalk and etched names from the rock with wire brushes. Graffiti appears throughout the park: under arches, on boulders, atop fins – even across ancient petroglyphs. It is a problem that is widespread in many national parks. The process of removing graffiti must take time, care, and a lot of elbow grease.

Luckily though, I know that graffiti is easily prevented and there are many other ways we can mark our journey here: a spectacular photo, an unforgettable hike, a quiet moment of reflection. When I think about the National Park Service mission,

“to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations”

I am inspired. We can all do our part to achieve this mission. I invite you to join me in protecting Arches National Park by not leaving your mark. Make memories, take photos...but leave no visible trace of your visit.

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