Less than 10 minutes from Socorro is The Box, a popular destination for rock climbers, highliners, hikers, photographers, and nature lovers. Recently, black spray paint was used in the act of vandalism inside one of the caves in Box Canyon. As if that was not bad enough, the paint was applied on top of an Archaic period pictograph that has survived approximately 3,000 years, relatively intact until this incident.
Bureau of Land Management archaeologists did an initial evaluation of the damage with standard photography and enhanced photographic methods. Various approaches were assessed for the repair of the damage and prevention of further damage to the site. There was a sense of urgency, as graffiti tends to attract more graffiti. The BLM, which manages The Box as a Special Recreation Management Area, found a contractor who specializes in removing graffiti from sensitive archaeological sites without causing damage to the pictographs and has developed processes to achieve this. Where new paint overlies prehistoric pigment, natural pigments are used to mask the paint so that further damage does not occur to the ancient images.
The taxpayer is on the hook for these expenses, and this kind of crime costs us all in more ways than one. The natural beauty of Socorro's surroundings is one of the things that draws visitors to our community and supports the local economy, as well as enhancing the quality of life for residents.
As one likely descendant of the people who created the ancient image stated, "First of all, I am deeply disturbed by the recent vandalism and probable destruction of the pictograph…for the blatant disregard to a culturally important and valuable New Mexico prehistoric site. Archaeologically, sites such as this are not only fragile but a significant tie to the past for Piros, the Pueblos of New Mexico, and the State of New Mexico."
Consultations with the State Historic Preservation Office and Native American tribes were conducted prior to the remediation work. A law enforcement investigation is underway, and the BLM is optimistic that the vandals will be identified. Criminal penalties for the crime under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act are up to two years in jail and/or $20,000 for the first offense, and civil penalties can run in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Public land belongs to all of us. If you see damage to public lands, please report it to your closest Bureau of Land Management office.
If you have information on this or other crimes, you can reach BLM law enforcement dispatch at 800-637-9152, and you can remain anonymous. You can reach the Socorro BLM office at 575-835-0412. We sometimes take them for granted, but it is these landscapes that make our community, and our state, enchanting.
Graffiti vandalism has also occurred recently at two other Socorro area treasures - San Lorenzo Canyon and Bursum Spring.