Industrial outdoor rec leads to degradation of ancient Native American site

Some visitors have vandalized this ceremonial place with graffiti written on the red rock walls. They have slept overnight without a backcountry permit, started fires in the location, dug into the land and they’ve messed with rock formations — all major park no-nos and even violations of federal law.

Carter Williams

KSL.com

“The last straw”: Canyonlands park staff close popular False Kiva over latest vandalism incident

MOAB — False Kiva isn’t officially listed on the Canyonlands National Park map, but it’s not hard to find with a quick search online. With a breathtaking vista of red cliffs that seem to go on for miles, the kiva has become a hiking destination over the years.

Despite the name, it’s also very much a real kiva with plenty of history with the Native American tribes that have lived in Utah.

“It is considered, if not sacred, at least very ceremonial to a number of tribes,” said Terry Fisk, chief of resource stewardship and science for the southeast Utah group of national parks.

However, there’s a dark side to its popularity that park officials have dealt with for more than a decade.

Some visitors have vandalized this ceremonial place with graffiti written on the red rock walls. They have slept overnight without a backcountry permit, started fires in the location, dug into the land and they’ve messed with rock formations — all major park no-nos and even violations of federal law.

Now, after a vandalism case discovered in mid-July, park officials ponder if it’s worth allowing visitors access to the kiva’s alcove anymore. While the trail — which exists but remains off park maps — is open, Kate Cannon, the park’s superintendent, made the decision to close the False Kiva alcove on July 20.

J.T. Blenker, with the photography blog Fstoppers, first reported the incident on Sunday. He wrote someone had started a fire within the kiva and used ashes “to place handprints at the site.” Either that person or someone else then tried to clean it up and made it worse.

“I would say (the vandalism case) was on par with some of the previous vandalism,” Fisk said. “Whoever did it tried to erase some previous graffiti and, in doing so, kind of caused more damage than the original graffiti. It’s just a bad situation.

“It wasn’t necessarily that it was more egregious this time than in the past, but it was kind of the last straw,” he added. “We came to the conclusion that we can’t let the situation continue on its own because it’s just spiraling out of control.”.

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