Checking the news, message boards, Facebook, and a couple of subreddits are part of my morning ‘coffee and news’ routine before digging into work for the day. As I went though my daily ritual, I stumbled across a thread (now removed) that showed a picture of graffiti discovered by a packer along a trail near Vernal Falls. This graffiti was signed with a name “creepytings”.
The name on the graffiti corresponded to an instagram account (now private). Within the first page of pictures on the account, I saw two more pictures of graffiti in National Parks. One at Crater Lake:
And another on Telescope Peak in Death Valley:
Scrolling through her other images, it quickly became clear to me that this account was linked to a New Yorker on a long trip through the parks of the western US. Within a few minutes I saw she had also visited Bryce, Zion, Joshua Tree, and other public lands. She seemed proud of the ‘art’, and appeared to take a lot of pride and happiness in the ‘work’, based on the image comments.
At this point, I posted a link to the above image on the Death Valley National Park Facebook page, where it quickly gained traction. People browsed the tumblr account (NSFW) she linked to from her instagram account and soon found evidence of defaced rock in both Zion and Canyonlands. She actually posted a picture of a person defacing rock near an archeological site in Canyonlands.
Fortunately, an investigator from Yosemite National Park quickly responded to the original reddit thread and has the information above despite the accounts being made private (nothing can be unseen on the internet!) The vandalism has been reported to the parks in which she posted pictures of the ‘work’, and undoubtedly more examples will turn up along the path of destruction through the West.
My first reaction is naturally anger – what gives anyone the right to make land that belongs to all of us their personal canvas? Then it turned to sympathy – maybe this poor person has never experienced the feelings these awesome places give us, and this was their way of expressing joy. Maybe they had never been taught the principles of Leave No Trace. Maybe this was just an example of someone not being educated enough? Is it chalk? Will it wash off? Then I saw this comment on the image of the vandalism at Crater Lake:
Oh, she knew. Back to anger.
In my mind, there are two things that lead to people defacing public lands: ignorance and narcissism. After seeing that comment, this person clearly falls into the second bucket. The question is, how do we turn this into an opportunity to educate the ignorant and (frankly) embarrass the narcissists? I doubt this is the exposure the ‘artist’ was looking for. There’s no going viral with these ‘beautiful’ images, they’re going viral as an arrogant vandal who is a mediocre artist at best.
Right now it is the hands of the authorities. While vandalism is common, I don’t recall any case of such damage by the same person across multiple National Parks. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. I hope the next time I am on Telescope Peak I see the responsible party up there, scrubbing away the awful ‘art’ with their own personal toothbrush.
Update: This post has gotten a lot of attention and inbound links. Hello reddit!
The original goal of sharing this vandalism was to bring it to the attention of the necessary authorities so the proper procedures could be followed to bring this vandal to justice. It appears that this goal has been met.
I’m a bit (a lot) disturbed by a lot of the responses of hate speech and advocating of violence. I know a lot of you are angry (I’m with ya) and want to vent, but that kind of speech gets us no where and reflects poorly on you, not the vandal. I’m looking forward to her time in court and (hopefully) appropriate punishment.
I think a much more valuable use of our energy is a discussion about how to prevent this in the future and handle these situations when we come across them in our own time in the back- and front-country.
Update #3: The Tumblr is back up with plenty of statements that indicate zero remorse or regret for what she has done. Maybe the work of a hacker, maybe not.
Update #4: According to Trailmob.com, the vandal has turned herself in and is cooperating with authorities.
Update #5: I was asked to write an Editorial that was published today on theguardian.com about why this is terrible and why we should care.
Update #6: Casey Nocket has officially been named the suspect under investigation in this NPS press release.