As a Farmington native and outdoors enthusiast, 31-year-old Tyler Jordan long has made a habit of taking advantage of the natural wonders the Four Corners area has to offer. One of his favorite local treasures is Anasazi Arch, aka Cox Canyon Arch, which he makes a habit of visiting three to four times a year.
It takes a little effort to get there, which is part of what makes the arch so special. The site is located approximately 12 miles north of Aztec, just south of the Colorado border and west of U.S. 550, on Bureau of Land Management land. The path from the trailhead is not long, only a half mile or so, but there is an elevation gain and some climbing involved that causes it to be rated as very strenuous in terms of its accessibility.
So it's not hard to understand how Jordan felt when he visited the trailhead on March 10 and discovered that a recent visitor had marked the trail with pink streamers tied to posts that had been driven into the sandstone, presumably to serve as a guide to the arch.
"I'm a nature guy," Jordan said. "That's not something I enjoy seeing."
Worse yet, when he arrived at the arch, Jordan found, to his dismay, that someone had tied a rope swing over the arch itself, wearing a small groove into the relatively delicate sandstone.
"I think angry was my first feeling about it," Jordan said. "I didn't understand how people could be so ignorant to think that it was a good idea."
Jordan removed the pink streamers but couldn't reach what remained of the rope. He settled for expressing his irritation about the vandalism on various social media sites when he returned home, hoping to raise awareness of what had happened.
Jordan described Anasazi Arch as one of his "favorite little hidden hikes around here," and he fears that the site has been permanently scarred. That perspective is shared by Ed Kotyk, the projects manager for the city of Aztec, who has spent a great deal of time and effort in recent years documenting and cataloging the dozens of arches that exist in the area for presentation on the city's website.
"It's annoying as heck," Kotyk said explaining that he had not been out to view the damage at the Anasazi Arch site, but that he had been made aware of it.
Kotyk emphasized that the arch sits on BLM land and the city of Aztec has no authority over the site. But he considers the arch — and others like it — regional treasures that need to be protected.
He recalled a visit he paid last year to Octupus Arch in Ditch Canyon northeast of Cedar Hill, a natural structure notable for the fact that it had three legs instead of two. Kotyk was distressed to find that one of the legs had collapsed, and he didn't know if that had happened through natural erosion or whether a visitor had climbed on the leg, causing it to collapse under his or her weight.
Either way, Kotyk bemoaned the development.
"It changed the character of that arch," he said.
The discovery illustrated to Kotyk how fragile many local arches are and how easily they can be destroyed.
"It just irks me that you get people out there who do those kinds of things," he said of the Anasazi Arch damage.
The rope swing and the other materials at the Anasazi Arch were quickly removed by BLM personnel when the agency was alerted to the situation by a hiker, Ranger J.J. Montgomery of the Farmington field office said. He described the damage as minor and said it was the first time he had seen that kind of vandalism at the arch.
Ranger Cole Blevins, also of the Farmington field office, said an individual could be charged by BLM officials if he or she is observed damaging agency property, but those instances are rare, given the difficulty of catching someone in the act. He said any such charges would depend on the amount of the damage and the significance of the object itself.
He said in a typical case, the perpetrator would face a Class A misdemeanor and a likely citation of $250, although in some cases, the law can provide for stiffer penalties, including a much higher fine and up to a year in jail.
Doug McKim, the BLM's outdoor recreation planner for the Farmington field office, also described the damage to the Anasazi Arch as minor and said he was hopeful the groove worn into the sandstone by the rope would even out through natural erosion.
Even though they are rare, he said the reaction by members of the public to such incidents of vandalism is negative, and he said the agency discourages visitors from impacting the appearance of public lands.
Kotyk noted that the region's sandstone arches serve as a tourist attraction, and any damage done to them certainly doesn't help draw visitors to San Juan County.
"I think the people who did this probably don't have respect for the outdoors like (outdoors) enthusiasts do," he said. "One of the things we try to promote on our website is leave no trace behind. That means take out your garbage and show respect for the land."