Hikers carve initials, damage park for all

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — There are two photos that stand out in my album from our trip to Joshua Tree National Park. The first captures the engraved initials on the trunk of a palm tree at 49 Palms Oasis. The second shows painted petroglyphs on rocks near Barker Dam.

I did not take these pictures because I thought they complimented the beauty of the twisted Joshua Trees, or landscape view of the desert valley taken from the top of Ryan Mountain. On the contrary, they make a stark contrast to the natural form of the trees and the rocks found in the desert.

At right, the 49 Palms Oasis at Joshua Tree National Park. (Photos by Hannah Romig).

And so, I shot these pictures as a reminder; a reminder that we need to commit to preserving nature and human history in their original forms because the engraved palm and the ancient rock art display a violation of such efforts. They show how humans have had an impact on some of the most protected areas in the United States.

National parks like Joshua Tree seek a balance between maintaining a certain area of land and making it available to people for recreational activity. Because I favor this effort, it disappoints me to see park visitors abusing the privileges that the park grants in their access to places like 49 Palms and Barker Dam.

The hike up to 49 Palms Oasis was not easy. The path wound up and around a number of mountains and we were forced to shuffle down steep pathways after straining our calf muscles to reach the height of a peak.

At left above, visitors have carved their names and initials into fan palms at the 49 Palms Oasis. At left below, ancient petroglyphs left by Native Americans have been painted by modern-day visitors to the park. And below, another view of the painted petroglyphs.

In the end, however, the hike was very rewarding. The desert oasis was much more than I expected it to be with the number of palm trees and the puddles of water.

It felt like we had discovered a green paradise in a desert valley and within the dry, rocky mountainside.

I was so amazed at the sight of the oasis, which is why I think I felt taken aback when I saw that one of the palms had initials carved all over its trunk.

Our hike to Barker Dam was a similar experience. I felt so much anticipation in arriving to the well-known dam and reservoir that, at times, is filled with water, but along the way my trance of being in such a pure natural environment was broken when we saw painted petroglyphs in the crevice of a boulder.

I understand that this case of vandalism is a little bit different from the engraved tree trunk in that the dated signs have considerable historical value with an older human civilization in the area, but I was still uncomfortable with the human stamp on such natural formations. And, to make matters even worse, the ancient rock art had itself been defaced by more recent efforts to paint it and add color.

I would hate to return to Joshua Tree in the future and find that all palm trees and rocks are covered in graffiti.

Hannah Romig ’13
University of Miami

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