Using New Techniques to Combat Graffiti

carved letters in a sandstone surface
Some time in April 2016, someone carved "ANDERSEN" into the rock wall of Frame Arch.

NPS/Chris Wonderly

Each year, park visitors hike up the steep, deceivingly difficult trail to Delicate Arch. Along the way, hikers encounter another natural wonder, Frame Arch. Also known as Twisted Donut Arch, Frame Arch truly does “frame” Delicate Arch when viewed from just the right angle. Unfortunately, in April 2016 Frame Arch was tragically damaged.

“ANDERSEN,” deeply chiseled and nearly six feet (1.8 m) in length along the base of Frame Arch was an act of vandalism park staff discovered that spring morning.

Vandalism: action involving deliberate destruction of, or damage to, public or private property.

Some American Indians believe, as their ancestors did, that Arches National Park is a sacred place. Some recognize arches as portals in space and time, allowing access to perspectives from the past, present, and future. Today’s technology allows visitors from around the world the opportunity to share moving experiences inspired by visiting Arches National Park. Over time, cross-cultural reflection has shown that arches are widely treasured.

So, for countless park visitors, graffiti applied anywhere in the park is a senseless and selfish act that alters a hallowed place. Graffiti upsets park visitors—and staff too.

Deeply incised graffiti often requires the use of power grinding and a skilled operator to rectify damage. But the harm to Frame Arch was too severe to grind away a six-foot-long, ¾-inch-deep (2 cm) area. Grinding would have drastically changed Frame Arch, destroying a large portion of what nature took so long to create.

a hand using a mortar and pestle to grind sandstone
Staff ground sandstone and mixed it with an acrylic bonding agent to fill carved graffiti.

NPS/Chris Wonderly

Fortunately, treatments to reclaim deep graffiti continue to be developed. Two methods include infilling with a mixture of ground sandstone and an acrylic bonding agent and in-painting with organic pigments.

In October 2017, after studying the damage and carefully matching colors, we began partial infilling and in-painting on Frame Arch. We completed repairs in 2018. We will continue to monitor the infilling and may use this same technique in other areas of the park.

Before and After

a rock wall with carved letters in it a rock wall with carved letters in it

Left image
Graffiti on Frame Arch before treatment
Credit: NPS Photo

Right image
Graffiti on Frame Arch after treatment
Credit: NPS Photo

a ranger uses a small tool to press filling into carved graffiti
A ranger fills in graffiti at Frame Arch.

NPS/Chris Wonderly

National parks are places where shared experiences bring people from around the world together. Why do a few people choose vandalism as a park experience? How can the act of defacing geological masterpieces be justified in the mind of one who vandalizes?

Regardless of the answer, we require vigilance to mitigate graffiti at Arches. We must act quickly to discourage additional harm by copycat offenders. Vandalism hurts.

Your involvement is crucial. Choose to leave no trace by not marking on rocks. Talk to friends and family about why graffiti is not OK, and promptly report any violations you witness. Moving forward together, our partnership of shared care and concern can help preserve our national parks and monuments.

Arches National Park

Last updated: December 3, 2018